Since I often hear from friends and people on the Internet about
things they can’t do in Linux that they could on Windows, I thought I’d
write up a list of things I can do in Linux that I can’t do in Windows.
- Update every single piece of software on my system with a single action. This
is one of the main reasons I run Linux. Sure, Windows has Windows
Update, but that only updates the operating system, Office, and a few
other things. For every Linux distribution I’ve used (Gentoo, Red Hat,
Suse, Ubuntu), updating is simple. When you update, you have every
application, every library, every script – every single piece of
software upgraded automatically for you. And on most of them, they
will check for updates automatically and notify you. This is great for
security, fixing bugs quickly, and getting the latest in features.
- Update nearly everything on my computer without a reboot.
On Linux, there is only one thing that requires a reboot after
updates. The kernel. And even then you can continue to run on the
previous kernel. You just need to reboot to get the benefit of using
the new kernel (say, if it has a bug fix or a new feature). In
Windows, many of the updates to even non-critical software require
- Keep my system secure without software that consumes my system resources, requires my time, and frequently nags me. Basic requirement for a secure Windows box include:
- Running antivirus protection. AV software consumes resources and requires routine scans.
- A software firewall like ZoneAlarm or the one built into Vista that
constantly asks you if you want to allow software to contact the
Internet. More time on your part.
AdblockAdaware and/or Spybot Search &
Destroy on a routine basis, consuming your time, and requiring your
manual intervention. People often forget or don’t “get around to it”.
- Never trusting software. You have to go through life assuming
every bit of software and every website on the Internet is going to
screw you over. What a sorry state of affairs that is.
All of this requires your attention, slows your computer, and ruins
the open experience of the Internet. None of this is necessary in
Linux. You get your software through your distribution. As long as
you can trust your distribution, you can trust the software available.
Having a firewall is a good thing even in Linux, but most of us have a
firewall built into our Cable and DSL modems, or our wi-fi router. A
software firewall in windows is as much used to keep malware from
calling out as it is to keep outside intrusions from coming in, and you
don’t have the same concerns in Linux (since, as I said, you can trust
- Run an entire operating system for free without pirating software, and without breaking the law.
Most Window’s users seem to accept that breaking the law is okay,
because it is pretty much required. Either you break the law, or spend
countless thousands of dollars on the software you need. You may not
think it is a big deal, but if you own a home like I do, you are
putting it at risk. While unlikely, the potential is there for
software companies to come after you just like the RIAA has come after
countless people. With Linux, this isn’t necessary. You can run the
software you need without paying for it, and without breaking the law.
I know I sleep better at night.
- Take my settings with me where ever I go. In
Linux, all your personal settings are stored in your Home folder, most
in folders that begin with a period (like .gaim). So, I can copy all
these settings from one computer to another. I can put these settings
on a USB drive. When I switched from Gentoo to Ubuntu, I kept all my
settings. On Windows, some settings are under your home folder and
some are in the registry. So your settings are not portable.
- Run Internet Explorer 5.0, 5.5, 6.0, and 7.0 on the same desktop. I have all installed thanks to the wonderful IEs4Linux
project. I can even run them side-by-side if I want. For a web
developer, that’s huge. Testing browser compatibility to that level on
Windows requires multiple machines or something like VMWare. Further,
when I run IE under Linux, I don’t have to worry about any malware or
virus getting onto my system.
- Understand everything that is going on in my computer. Using
Windows is like working with a black box. You can see the outside, but
you have no idea what is going on inside. If you hit snags, your only
option is to hope Microsoft fixes it. Or, perhaps you can submit a bug
report to Microsoft, spending your time improving software
that a company makes billions from. Under Linux, you can look at the
system logs, where you can see most issues. You can search for the log
messages on Google, and can usually track the cause and often find a
fix. If not, I can even go look at the source code to find the
offending problem. Granted, most people aren’t capable or don’t have
the time to look at the source code. But the fact that
tens-of-thousands of geeks do is often very, very helpful. And if you
do spend the time filling out a bug report, you are helping other
people just like yourself, not contributing your time to a rich
- Customize every aspect of my desktop. In Windows,
you are more or less stuck with what you are given. Sure, you can
install buggy skinning engines, or you can pay Microsoft extra for the
ability to put skins on your desktop. But even these aren’t very
adaptive. It’s just a new coat of paint on the same desktop. Under
Linux, I can choose the window manager, the desktop environment, the
theme, the GTK engine, the icon theme, the special effects (see Beryl
or Compiz), the filesystem browser, and so on. Nearly every aspect of
the system has competitive options. If you look around the internet at
screenshots of various Linux desktops, you rarely see two that look the
- Benefit from competition between projects for each system on my computer.
As I mention in point 8, there are options for every aspect of the
Linux desktop. Not only is it fun to try the various options, but it
leads to better software as multiple projects compete against each
other to be the best. Can you imagine competing printing backends,
competing desktop environments, or competing USB mounting systems on
Windows? I’ve been a Linux user for 3 years now, and I’ve seen
remarkable changes in systems used on the Linux desktop, from critical
systems (XFree86 switched to X.Org, auto-mounting systems) to
non-critical (my CD-Rom eject button works!).
- Run thousands of great pieces of software that only run on Linux. Just like Windows, Linux has software that doesn’t run on Windows. Great pieces of software like Amarok, Bluefish, Neverball, Gnumeric, K3B, Beryl, gdesklets, and MythTV.
I know this is a chicken-and-egg point, where Windows has the exact
same situation. Too often I hear “I can’t switch to Linux because it
doesn’t run [insert Windows software]”. My reason for pointing it out
is just to make it clear that this is a two-way street.
- Learn about, support, and appreciate the value of free software.
I believe free software is important to us all. Even if you use
non-free software, the free software movement ensures checks and
balances on non-free software by offering an alternative. By running a
free operating system and becoming involved in the community, I’ve
contributed to free software, even if only in a small way.
The main point I frequently try to make is that you can’t expect
features to be 1-to-1 when switching operating systems. We like Adobe
Photoshop or Microsoft Office because we have used it for years, and we
are used to it. We hate change. It’s natural that people
have a desire for everything to be identical. Did we expect Windows to
be exactly like something else when we started using it? Probably not.
When you learn closed-source proprietary software like Photoshop or Office, you have spent your time
indenturing yourself to a lifetime of spending $700 every so many
years. And the same goes for every company you work for that you
insist you need Office or Photoshop. And if you don’t think that your
company’s expenses affect your salary, think again.
Conversely, if you take the time to learn open and free systems like
Linux, Gimp, or OpenOffice, you now have given yourself a lifetime of
perpetually free software. The value of that is quite profound. No
more worrying about installing Office on more than one computer and
running into activation issues. I have OpenOffice installed on all 5
computers I own, and my flash drive where I can run it on any computer I wish.
Bottom line is, yes, you will have to spend time learning Linux and
the software running on Linux if you choose to switch. But by doing
so, you’ve set yourself up for a lifetime of free computing. For many
of you, that’s going to be 40, 50, 60, 70 years. A period of learning
isn’t so hard to swallow, when you can see the value of doing so.
My advice, should you choose to try Linux, is to forget about making
it exactly like Windows. You will spend countless hours, and you will
fail. Once you spend signicant time on Linux, every time you use a
Windows computer you will say “Bah, I could do xyz if I was on Linux”.
If you are a Linux user, and you have other things you think should be on this list, please contribute comments below.
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