This is a translation of my original post in Marathi which can be found here.
As you all know, Linux is a computer operating system just like Apple Mac and Microsoft Windows. Due to many misconceptions about Linux, the common user still prefers to stay away from it. This article seeks to clear these misconceptions.
Before we get started, let’s take a look at what Linux is all about and its Target User Base. When we accuse Linux of being difficult to use, that it does not run your usual software etc, then it is necessary to check whether Linux is really made for a user like you or not. Otherwise, there will not be any difference between you accusing people of another culture that their food choices or recipes are difficult to prepare, spicy, disgusting or useless and your accusations against Linux.
Linux is part of the open source movement. Without open source movement and the Internet, Linux would not be able to reach you today. Many of the allegations against Linux are also against the open source movement. So let’s first learn about the open source movement:
What is open source and the history of the open source movement:
An open source system is a technical system (mostly a software) whose source code or design is legally available to all users to view, to modify and to legally share the modified/unmodified version with anyone. By taking the source of such a computer system, we can use it as we wish, we can make any change in it with legal authority and we can use such modified system legally for commercial gain. In doing so you are required to maintain and display the credits list of the person or organization who first created the system or who made some additional changes to it and to document their contributions. This is broad definition of open source. It has many licenses and their subtypes. As with every license, there are many minor changes to the original definition. But the basic structure is generally the same.
The open source movement has existed in the history of modern computers since its inception. It did not had an official name, the Open Source Movement or the Open Source. Ever since the computers of enormous size were limited to research institutes and the military, all users of those computer systems have been informally sharing the source code of computer algorithms. That was mostly without expectation of any financial gain and without fear of IP theft! The main purpose behind this was to not reinvent the wheel already done by someone else, to make your work benefit others (without any compensation) and to learn a lot while doing all this. Of course, researchers, students and teachers were involved in this. Later, when Unix came and people had to buy a license to use it, and there was no legal permission to share its resources, dissatisfaction grew among all these people. From that time onwards, one branch of Unix became open source and many sub-branches were formed after it (1). Today’s leading computer system, Apple Mac, is based on the type of Unix from the past!
Who are the expected users of the products in the open source movement? (Are you?)
You may have noticed that, the open source movement has been a movement run by the people for the people (without any financial compensation). Not everyone who is part of this movement comes to this movement thinking, what another person or organization can give me in return. The user/contributor comes because he want to implement his own idea or he may want to get rid of the bugs/problems in existing computer system.
Now you tell me, if you decide to use an open source product of your choice, and you find that it lacks something in it, something is not working properly, then do you have a moral right to blame this product maker or this product? This open source product was not made specifically for you. Additionally, if you want to use this product, you are expected to contribute to fix those bugs/shortcomings. Because – this is a movement run by the people for the people. Everyone has an equal responsibility.
Comments like Linux is hard to use, there’s a problem in it, some popular software doesn’t run on Linux – and hence Linux is useless – are all baseless and without logic . The Linux kernel is a computer system of millions of lines today. It involves thousands of people and hundreds of organizations. It’s all made up of millions of working hours. It is very wrong of someone to blame any open source software, without contributing anything of his own.
Do you have any idea that today’s internet is mainly run by open source products? The biggest contributors are Linux and BSD. (2) It is the preferred service choice of Internet. Imagine if millions of servers were to be run using a computer system that requires a license to buy, such as Apple Mac or Windows, how much would those licenses cost?
Wait. Do not immediately conclude after reading the license price in the previous paragraph that people who cannot afford to buy Windows / Mac or do not want to buy it, run open source movement. Remember there is nothing free in the world. Everything has a price. Open source products are freedom, not free. Free in Free and Open Source Means Free as in Freedom. Not Free as in Zero Price. The same allegations were made against those who fought for net neutrality in order to discredit and defame them, saying that they want free internet because they want net neutrality. But these accusers were forgetting that even today we all use our internet by paying and if we continue to buy it, then where is the issue of free internet?
Sacrifice and hard work are required for every freedom. Each independence has its own price.
What is this freedom for?
- I want full rights to the product I own. (Do you own a car?)
- I should be able to open this product and look inside it. In the case of computer systems, its source code. (Can you open your car and see the engine inside? Can you open the car and explain to your children how a car works?)
- I should be able to make the changes I want in this product. (Can you modify your car? Or take out one part and replace it with another part of your choice?)
- I should be able to use my owned product at my discretion for a short period of time or for permanent use by my family members, friends or anyone in the community. (Do you let your friend ride your bike? Can you share your four-wheeler with other people who come with you for picnic? Can you donate your car to a social organization or a needy person for free if you feel like it? Can I disassemble it? Can I change it? Or can I sell it legally?)
- I should be able to sell this product as it is or change it to make a profit. It does not have to pay anything to the original manufacturer. However, I will mention the names of the original and other producers. (Can you sell your car? Can you make a profit on it? Can you make a profit by selling your modified car? Do you have to pay the original car company to sell it?
If your answer to the questions related to your own car is, “Yes, I have all this freedom on the car I own” – then consider the freedom you have on your own mixer grinder, hammer, bed, house, bicycle, musical instruments, farming tools, painting materials, kitchen utensils and other things, such as garden pots and plants. Why not have that freedom on your fully owned computer and its software system, which you bought with full payment?
This basic idea of freedom is behind the open source computer system and movement.
F.A.Qs (Problems, Fears and Accusations):
- Linux is not Windows:
How can two systems, which are not designed by the same person for the same purpose, be the same? Shouldn’t we have some patience while learning a new system? You can read more about this difference in this link: Linux is Not Windows
- How to trust open source?
Since this system is free for anyone to modify, can anyone add any code? How do we know that, that code not harmful?
It is true that Linux is free for anyone to come and contribute. But it is also a kind of democratic process! Therefore, new contributions are not immediately incorporated into the original product. Its source is looked at wherever possible. It is thoroughly tested by many volunteer testers in different situations and in different hardware. There is a proper automated testing system to verify that all checks/tests passes. Then only that code is included in the main product. Closed source products like Mac and Windows do not have the facility to view their source, hence the average user cannot do anything about any bug/issue t unless the company understands the problem and takes action.
- Linux is too difficult to use:
This is a common misconception. Previously, Linux was limited to system admins and persons with high technical knowledge, it was built to their liking and was limited. But over time, that has to changed. For more information you can read about the famous KDE desktop environment used on Linux here: https://www.kde.org/
- Linux also contains viruses, so the claim that Linux is more secure than others or does not contain viruses is false.
Linux also contains viruses. Linux is not virus free. There are currently 40 (forty) known viruses that affect Linux. Now take a break here and if you know a person or company who has been using Linux for the last 10-20 years, ask them how many times they have been bothered by this virus? How much money lost? How many times did the work stop? Do the same survey for Mac and Windows now and check the data for both. After all, no computer system in the world is 100% secure. A 99% secure computer is one that is not connected to the Internet. A 100% secure computer is one that is powered off!
It is true that it is technically possible to create a virus on Linux, but these viruses cannot spread like an epidemic. If the virus does not spread, will it harm others?
In the near future, as the number of Linux users increases and hackers see the financial gain in hacking Linux machines, then such viruses will increase a lot and then they will be real danger. But right now there is no such thing. When that time comes in the future, due to the free design of Linux, there will be the same amount of effort for security and the same efforts will keep you safe from it.
Interesting facts about Linux usage:
List of governments and other large organizations around the world where Linux is used:
Kerala is the first state in India to take the initiative to use the entire open source system in government offices:
Anna University, Chennai is the first university in India where you can get a Government-recognized postgraduate degree in “Open Source”:
Microsoft is finally looking to make its own Linux:
All the supercomputers in the world use Linux. Here is an example:
NASA uses Linux in many of its activities. About Linux in the International Space Station: http://gizmodo.com/the-iss-has-ditched-windows-entirely-for-linux-499593441
French police accounts are increasingly using Linux:
(1) – Unix has its own history and how it became an open source and how its subsections were formed is the subject of a separate article. Since it is not important here, such a sentence is written as a short review.
(2) – B.S.D. It is an open source branch of Unix just like Linux.