Why would I want to use Linux?

I'm perfectly happy with Windows. Why would I want to switch to a new operating system?

The simple answer: XP. By accepting the license agreement for Windows XP, you are not only acknowledging the fact that Microsoft owns the operating system, you are giving them de facto ownership of your computer.

Everyone is familiar with the My Computer icon on the Windows desktop, but few users have ever questioned the perspective of that caption. XP makes it apparent that Microsoft is telling the user: It's not your computer; it's my computer.

I've heard a lot of hype about the XP User Agreement. What's in there that's really so bad?

Here are some of the highlights, in plain English:

  • The EULA gives Microsoft the right to install 'security updates' at their convenience. If you have a dialup connection, this process will probably steal your bandwidth for several minutes each time you connect to the Internet.
  • If Windows crashes (if?), you must contact Microsoft for permission to re-install it. Once you've installed it 50 times, you must buy a new copy of Windows.
  • If you upgrade your hardware, XP will check to make sure you haven't changed too much (whatever that means). If your hardware has changed too much, you will have to contact Microsoft for permission to use your computer. I'm not making this up.
  • If at any time Microsoft decides that your hardware has changed, you have installed 'untrustworthy' software, or the moon is the wrong shade of blue, they can shut down your installation of Windows through your modem or network. Your only recourse will be to buy a new copy of Windows.

Fifty times? What's the big deal about that? I've only re-installed Windows 98 ten or twenty times.

You used to have the ability to install Windows an unlimited number of times. From unlimited to fifty is a much bigger jump than from fifty to one.

Can I get viruses on Linux?

This is a hot topic of debate on alt.os.linux.mandrake. Most users use the term virus to refer to any program or script that invades your computer, and either reproduces and distrubutes itself, or harms your computer. This definition includes viruses, worms, trojans, and other scripts, but to simplify matters we will use the term virus for all of them.

There are about a dozen known Linux viruses (actually worms). That's it. In order for anything to invade your Linux computer, it has to gain root access. (In Windows NT terms, that's like logging in as Administrator, but harder to do.) For most users, a standard Linux installation provides better security than the most advanced Windows firewall.

Wait a minute! Windows NT got a C2 rating from the US military! That means it's secure.

It's easy to get a high security rating on a computer with no network connection.

Besides, the US military has thrown its Windows NT servers out the window because they're sick of being hacked!

But Microsoft is concerned about security. They've just launched 'Trustworthy Computing'.

Yes, seventeen years after releasing Windows, Microsoft has acknowledged that "Our products are not engineered for security" (MS executive), and launched Trustworthy Computing.

You know those automatic security updates? They won't be automatic anymore. You'll have to pay for each one. (Or maybe they will be automatic: automatically billed, that is.)

If I don't want Microsoft to shut down my computer, can I just use it without an Internet connection?

Congratulations. You've achieved a C2 security rating.

But you have to be a computer geek to figure out Linux, right?

The short answer: no. The long answer...

If you are using Linux at work, it will be just as easy to use as Windows was, with the added bonus that you don't have to call IT support several times a week, or wait half a day to send e-mail every time your Exchange server goes down. The disadvantage: 'The server is down' will no longer be an excuse to goof off!

If you're using Linux at home, you will need to know more about how your computer works than you did with Windows. Think of it like your car. If you're on a business trip, and you rent a car, you tend not to worry about how long it's been since the oil was changed, or whether the tires have less than 10,000 km left on them. It's not your car, so it's not your problem.

If you own your car (or even lease it), you tend to pay more attention to its maintenance. You don't need to know how to change your brake shoes, or even change your oil by yourself, but you keep track of things like when you had the oil changed and how old your tires are (I hope).

Well, guess what? With Linux on your home computer, you will be changing your own oil, brake shoes, and even replacing the whole engine, and it will be easy. Don't be too impressed when a Linux user tells you he compiles his own applications; for the most part that means he types three commands, and the computer does the rest. I compiled an application this morning; it took me twenty seconds.

Not everything will be easy. If you have a video card with an NVIDIA chipset, you will probably mess up the installation the first time, not because it's difficult, but because you have to follow about ten steps, in order, without interrupting the process to do something else. It's not rocket science, but it's more involved than clicking 'Next' six times.