Linux’s ‘Killer Feature’: Impossible to Choose Just One

Well, June has arrived for another year, and that means the dog days of summer can’t be far behind.

Scorching temperatures have already begun to beat down upon parts of the Linux blogosphere, in fact, which may be why there’s nary a barstool to be found down at the seedy but well air-conditioned Punchy Penguin Saloon, where Linux Girl plans to stay until, oh, say, October or so.

There’s been plenty to discuss in recent days, of course, what with Computex going on and all the excitement over Oracle’s OpenOffice move, but many bloggers have preferred to keep their spirits up with a spirited debate instead.

The topic? None other than Linux’s many glorious virtues.

‘It All Automatically Updates Itself’

Indeed, “What is Linux’s killer feature?” was the topic of an open ballot poll over at TuxRadar recently, and it’s inspired more than a few geeks to count all the many ways they love their favorite operating system.

“I think the number one feature that takes Windows users’ breath away is: Linux does not make your computer get slower over time,” offered Paul Gideon Dann in the TuxRadar comments, for example.

“The thing I like is the fact that as most software is installed via a repository, it all automatically updates itself,” suggested Mark Fraser. “With Windows each program has to constantly check to see if there are any updates.”

‘Freedom, With a Capital F’

Alternatively, “I’d say it’s the window management,” opined werner.

Then again: “The killer feature is Freedom, with a capital F,” asserted haakin.

Nearly 100 comments later, it soon became apparent that picking just one killer feature is the challenge. Linux Girl couldn’t resist conducting a similar poll from her frosty bar-room perch.

There, as on TuxRadar, opinions were nothing if not diverse.

‘The Power to Adapt’

“Linux’s killer feature is its near-infinite level of flexibility,” offered consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack. “What other OS has a single kernel source that manages everything, from desktops to servers and phones to firewalls and even TVs?”

Similarly, “Linux’s killer feature is flexibility,” agreed Thoughts on Technology blogger and Bodhi Linux lead developer Jeff Hoogland. “The power Linux has to adapt to nearly any computing situation is what has put it on the map.”

Linux has dominated the server market for some time “and in recent years has taken over the mobile market,” Hoogland noted. “While Linux has yet to enjoy the thriving success on desktop computers that it enjoys elsewhere, there is no doubting what a flexible desktop Linux is.

“Don’t like KDE? Try Enlightenment. Don’t like Ubuntu? Try OpenSuse,” he added. “You get the idea.”

‘Anything to Anybody’

The answer depends on “what Linux is supposed to kill,” Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, told LinuxInsider.

“Linux’s killer feature vs. Solaris and other UNIXes? Lower sysadmin learning curve, better shell-based administrative interface for common tasks,” Travers explained.

“Linux’s killer feature vs. Windows and Mac OS X? The fact that Linux can be anything to anybody instead of everything to everybody,” he asserted. “That’s right. I think that all the software choices, and the flexibility to tie them together in previously unimagined ways, is the killer feature here.”

‘A Blessing and a Curse’

In Slashdot blogger hairyfeet’s view, Linux’s killer feature is the fact that it’s “free as in beer” — and “I’d say it is both a blessing and a curse.”

It’s “a blessing in that it allows anyone the ability to make anything they want out of it, without worrying about patents and copyrights,” he explained. It’s a curse, however, in the way that “it takes away serious R&D funding that companies like Red Hat could use to further Linux and its ability to compete.”

Blogger Robert Pogson, on the other hand, found it difficult to settle on just one killer feature.

‘Freedom From Malware’

“GNU/Linux has many more than one killer feature,” Pogson began. For instance:

  • “Package management makes it very easy for a single PC or thousands to stay up to date and to install software”;
  • “Modular design with assurance that one package will not interfere with another due to corruption of ‘the registry’ increases the reliability of IT tenfold”;
  • “Modular design with loadable kernel modules helps make a single build of the kernel work with most of the hardware one meets ‘out of the box'”;
  • “Networked displays through the X window system allow thin clients to work immediately without having to add anything to the usual desktop system” while also allowing “an application to run where it works best while a user interacts with it anywhere, and makes it simple to set up a distributed computing system with multiple powerful systems available to multiple users in a transparent way”;
  • “A high degree of freedom from malware”;
  • “FREE SOFTWARE licensing, which permits recipients of the software to run, examine, modify and distribute code freely, is a huge advantage for individuals and organizations of all sizes”; and
  • “A kernel designed for performance for the user and not some corporation.”

There are many more, Pogson concluded, “but the overall system is amazingly flexible, inexpensive and performs very well.”

‘Good Enough’ Computing

Finally, for Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site, Linux’s killer feature “is that nothing is obsolete until *I* decide it’s obsolete — not my hardware, not my software.”

Hudson used to be on a three-year hardware update cycle through which “I’d buy a new computer, and my old computer became my ‘second’ computer … and I’d quickly stop using both at the same time because the older one would become more-or-less unusable with time.”

Now, by switching to LXDE, “that seven-year-old desktop can still run the latest versions of heavy applications like Eclipse just fine, side-by-side with my three-year-old laptop running KDE,” she explained. “Barring a major hardware failure, I already know that old desktop will be running the latest linux distro at the 10-year point, and that if it gets too slow to use as a desktop, it will continue to be able to run the latest server software.”

Microsoft, by comparison, “is going to EOL the copy of Windows Vista Service Pack 2 sitting on the first drive on my laptop in less than a year,” she noted. “Will they extend it two more years with the release of a third service pack? Only Microsoft knows for sure …”

So, “for me, today’s killer Linux feature is that it really does enable ‘good enough’ computing,” Hudson concluded. “That’s good for my purse, and for slowing down the e-waste cycle.”


  • ONE: If "killer" is intended in the old VisiCalc sense, then it has officially joined the long list of buzzwords that have been bereft through overuse of all semantic content.

    Back in ca. 1981 (yes, I’m old enough to remember) VisiCalc, the original spreadsheet program, was benighted as the original "killer app" — meaning an application so essential that businesses who previously had no intention of being separated from thousands of their hard-earned dollars for something of such dubious utility as a desktop computer were suddenly tripping over their doormats in their frenzied dash to IBM’s door.

    Now the term is employed simply as an excuse for self-indulgent show-and-tell. "Flexibility", "Freedom (with a capital F)", and (PUH-LEASE!) "window management"?! If these are the "killer features" that are supposed to do for Linux what VisiCalc did for the nascent desktop computer industry thirty years ago, then "myopic" may be too kind a word for this sort of narcissism.

    TWO. If I hear "free as in beer" one more time, I think I’ll close up my laptop and switch to needlepoint. I’ve been using Linux for ten years and I’m STILL not sure what that’s supposed to mean (especially since, around here at least, beer ain’t free). Is the rest of the world supposed to have a clue? High time we put this nag out to pasture.

    If the best the Linux community can do in its quest for "killer features" is to cut-n-paste the talking points from last month’s local FOSS users’ love-in, world domination may be in serious jeopardy.


  • Actually none of this is coming from slashdot. What Ms Noyes has is a little round table where she poses the question of the day and we each give our own personal thoughts on the subject. While many of us also belong to Slashdot (as do many geeks and IT folks) speaking for myself everything I’ve written in response to Ms Noyes is for here and ONLY for here and I’m sure that goes for the rest of the round table as well.

    We also monitor Ms Noyes’ articles and are more than happy to respond or elaborate on whatever subject we have posted our comments about. Each of us comes from a different angle, from the uber Linux zealotry of Pogson (who STILL refuses to say or type the word MSFT like it is a curse or something) to Barb the IT gal to myself, a small town PC retailer. Having such a varied group gives a wide range of opinions and like the others that is why I write these thoughts down for Ms Noyes. But it is NOT a rehashing of anything we wrote on /.

  • How do I get a job as easy as reading slashdot and repeating what people say there? I notice mainstream media completely overlooks such reputable sources as Linux Girl, too. Nice scoop!

    • She has a group of people she asks for opinions and sorts through those. My quotes for instance only appear here and not Slashdot.

      I’ll also point out that this is not her only news pieces she also has more "normal" pieces published around the web as well.

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