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Who Should - or Shouldn't - Use Linux?

Who Should - or Shouldn't - Use Linux?

Is there a type of person who absolutely should be using Linux? Would that include only developers, programmers and admins, or does it encompass anyone whose needs would mostly be met with FOSS? On the flip side, is there a category of person that should probably keep as far away from Linux as humanly possible?

By Katherine Noyes
07/01/10 5:00 AM PT

Independence Day may come only once a year here in the land of stars and stripes, but the topic of independence is one that's never far from Linux bloggers' minds.

Freedom, in other words, and all the myriad benefits that go along with it. It's an oft-cited reason for using our favorite operating system, and it's also a topic that got examined up close recently by the inquiring minds over at TuxRadar.

"We want to know whether the primary reason you use open source software is for its freedom or for its function," the inquiring minds wrote -- referring, of course, to freedom of the "speech" and not the "beer" kind.

They didn't have to wait long to find out. More than 50 bloggers fairly tripped over themselves in their haste to weigh in with their own perspectives, which included not just numerous variations on "function" and "freedom" but also "the penguin with no pants."

Yes, well, ahem. Moving right along ...

'10 People Who Should Use Linux'

It seems clear that freedom is a quality that's valued more by some than others. The same could surely be said of Linux's many other virtues, of course, which is why Linux Girl was so intrigued recently by a related post over on the Foogazi blog.

"10 People Who Should Use Linux" was the title of that post, which goes on to classify the types of people for whom Linux seems to make the most sense.

"Geeks and people who enjoy tinkering with computers" is one such type the post suggests, not surprisingly; so is "people who want easy security."

The topic got Linux Girl wondering: Who should -- and, equally important, who shouldn't -- use Linux?

'People Who Use the Computer for Basic Needs'

"I think the most important point of all, and one I'll be elaborating on in the near future, is the 'people who use the computer for basic needs'" category, Foogazi's Adam Kane told LinuxInsider.

"I've learned over the years that a vast majority of 'everyday people' buy expensive machines, purchase expensive software licenses and never even use half of the computing power of their machine, let alone all of the unnecessary software," Kane explained. "Most of these people live in their Internet browser."

Those are people who should be using Linux, Kane asserted: "It's free, faster and more secure. And an Internet browser can run on any platform."

'A House of Pain'

Alternatively, people who should use Linux include "businesses, governments, educational institutions and other groups which have an IT staff to handle the intricacies of managing a network of computers and which don't have heavy dependencies on legacy software," Slashdot blogger Daengbo offered.

Those who shouldn't, meanwhile, are "people who are inextricably tied to a piece of software or a platform not available on Linux-based OSes," Daengbo added. "Trying to use Linux while in this situation is just a house of pain."

Indeed, "If you have all the applications you need on Linux then you should be using Linux," Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed. "Otherwise ... sorry, but continue with Windows until moving makes sense."

'Programmers, Server Admins, Embedded Developers'

There are only three types of people who should use Linux, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet opined.

Specifically, "programmers, server admins and embedded developers," he asserted. "You can add 'those that are curious and know their way around an OS install,' but like me, I doubt they'll stay more than a year -- it is just too much work," hairyfeet asserted.

Advantages for programmers include the fact that "you can control the entire OS with scripts -- it makes the entire OS a programmer's playtoy," he explained. "Server admins? Windows CALs are expensive with a capital E, and LAMP is an easy way to set up a Web server, no problems there."

As for embedded, developers "don't have to worry about drivers and can strip Linux like a used Buick, squeezing every Kb of memory and every watt of juice, again a no-brainer," he added.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, however, are "normal folks," hairyfeet said. "Too unstable, too much CLI, too many 'update foo broke my hardware.' In short, too much of a PITA."

'Everyone Is Missing a Different 10 Percent'

Not everyone saw it the same way, however.

"Who should use Linux? Anyone who wants to, anyone who'd be more productive or be able to do more, and anyone who can without sacrificing large amounts of functionality," Slashdot blogger David Masover said. "We seem to be in a holding pattern where Linux does 90 percent of what most people need, but everyone is missing a different 10 percent.

"My 10 percent right now is gaming, and with Valve coming to Linux, that's likely to matter less," Masover added.

'Who Should Use That Other OS?'

Blogger Robert Pogson took it even further.

"From what I have seen of hundreds of people using GNU/Linux for reading, writing, viewing and presenting, almost everyone should be able to use GNU/Linux profitably," Pogson asserted. "The question should be, 'Who should use that other OS?' in view of its cost of acquisition, maintenance, insecurity and slowness."

Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site, took a similar view.

According to Hudson, those who should use Linux or *BSD include those who:

  • "Want off the 'three years and you have to replace the hardware' treadmill;
  • Want to use less energy;
  • Think it's stupid to have to mouse around for 10 minutes trying to change something that can be done with a one-line command;
  • Have to do that at random reboots anyway because their changes don't stick;
  • Have ever dealt with the stupidity known as the Windows Registry."

Alternatively, "Windows runs YOU!" Hudson asserted, if you:

  • "Need to justify a two- to three-year hardware refresh cycle;
  • Think BP is 'green';
  • Need to 'look busy' by 'fixing' your computer all the time;
  • Think Clippy was innovative;
  • Don't want to switch because you'll lose your FreeCell high score."

'A Fund to Hire Some of Tony Soprano's Boys'

People don't use Windows because they like it, Hudson explained.

"A few years ago I asked people in the office if they would be willing to contribute (US)$100 each to a worldwide fund to hire some of Tony Soprano's boys to 'take care of' Microsoft's big cheese," she recounted -- stressing that the fund doesn't actually exist.

Nevertheless, "the response was unanimous," she recalled. "100 percent of Windows users were quite taken with the idea; some would have kicked in a month's pay. On the other hand, 0 percent of Linux users would."

Linux users, in other words, don't exhibit "that sort of visceral 'strip the veneer of civilization' personal hatred towards Microsoft," Hudson noted. "Sure, we make fun of Monkey-Boy, but we'll miss him when he's no longer around."

'For Windows Users, It's Personal'

Asked why they didn't just switch away from Windows, the Redmond-haters in Hudson's office tended to respond, "'I can't!' -- even though they were in daily contact with users of desktop linux systems that met 100 percent of their requirements," she said.

"Psychologists have a name for this: learned helplessness," Hudson added.

In short, "Microsoft can run 'It's MY Windows 7' commercials until the sun goes nova, but it won't change the resentment of users who feel they're trapped," she concluded. "For Windows users, it's personal."


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