Robert Pogson

One man, closing all the windows.

A Bunch Of Reasons Why I Use The GNU/Linux Operating System

Linux in Education, Teaching, technology

A Bunch Of Reasons Why I Use The GNU/Linux Operating System

I just read a trollish/clickbaitish article, you know, one of those “umpteen reasons to use that other OS…” things. It was sickening. All the usual arguments evanglists of M$ use wrapped in a “user-friendliness” package with a ribbon were there. I won’t even link to it. It was just too far gone. I will write my own such article based on real experiences in the real world.

I used to put up with that other OS when it crashed a dozen times a day. I saved files early and often… When almost every PC on Earth shipped with that, what was the choice? I knew about UNIX but the last time I checked folks wanted $1000 for permission to use it. I had never heard of Minix and I though GNU/Linux was just for computergeeks or huge companies. I had seen a guy attempt to install GNU/Linux just once. It was a disaster and lead to a CLI (commandline interface) that was foreign. I had used DOS a lot but this was different. Nevertheless, I was in the Arctic with five PCs running that other OS, Lose ’95 flavour, and one or another crashed almost hourly. What I had tolerated as an individual user for years was intolerable to me when I was a paid professional teacher in charge of the futures of two dozen real human beings entrusted to me by their parents.

I read that GNU/Linux didn’t crash and I had to have it. It took 10 days of nights and weekends at dial-up speed to get one CD of Caldera e-Desktop. I had never installed an OS before except copying DOS to a hard drive, but I figured it out and the installation was flawless, except I couldn’t get the GUI to run. I needed to look up data for our five different monitors and put the sweep frequencies into a file. So, a day or two later I had five PCs that didn’t crash. They ran six months without a single crash. I was sold.

M$ had been able to sell that crap because they had exclusive deals with OEMs, retailers, ISV’s (not so Independent Software Vendors) and had extended the monopoly granted by IBM to the ends of the Earth. IBM had adopted GNU/Linux a year or so before I discovered it so M$ had to change but GNU/Linux was far ahead in the stability department. I was amazed that a dying application could not lock up the OS. I learned about “Xkill” and carried on. We had an office suite, StarOffice, and a browser, Netscape, that did everything I knew how to do on a PC about education. I and my students were free of M$.

No student complained that GNU/Linux was not that other OS or that some list of applications would not run on it or that other OS was prettier. No one cared. The PCs loved it. The students loved it except for a couple whose parents thought more than 15 minutes per day was excessive use of a PC. My students were getting more than 60 minutes per day. It was like having another teacher in the room. I worked out lessons for students and distributed documents or papers to those PCs and the students took care of the rest. Vocabularies improved. Writing skills improved. I was able to give more attention to the rest of the class. What’s not to love about GNU/Linux?

Since then, the things I was able to get GNU/Linux to do for me multiplied greatly. I learned about file-sharing and printing and X and openSSH so I could control one or a hundred computers as if they were one bringing more computing power to each user as needed. The use of the hardware was only limited by my imagination and the imaginations of students and teachers, not some stupid EULA…

Let me tell you about M$’s EULA (End User Licence Agreement). First off, it’s not an agreement. You are forced to say you agree to it if you want to use your PC. That’s not an agreement. That’s extortion. Pay us if you want to stay in business… Further, the “agreement” is unconscionable. You have to agree not to connect more than X PCs together. Yep. A school with 100 XP machines on a LAN would be in violation if they shared files or ran thin clients. M$ wants you to cripple your PCs so they can sell you a “server” licence with a per-seat charge. Then there’s the thing about not studying the OS. You are not legally able to study M$’s OS and figure out what it’s doing to you. M$ also wants you to agree that M$ should be able to install whatever malware it wants on your computer. M$ wants to use the hardware you own to work for M$. For agreeing to this enslavement, they also charge a fee. That’s insane.

GNU/Linux on the other hand runs on FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) licences. The common theme is that you can run the software any way you want on as many computers as you want making as many copies as you want and you may study the software including source code and/or modify it… Oh… Vive la difference…

That’s Software Freedom, actually freedom for developers and users to make the best use of IT. If you are a developer you will like the fact that you can start a huge project from scratch and reuse and modify all the software you can get legally and without a fee in most cases. That enables anyone to start a huge project that could go far for very little cost. That’s perfect for students, young folk and start-ups as well as individuals and organizations. It doesn’t get any better than that. If you’re a user, you can use your hardware to full advantage with few restrictions, very little cost and no organization can tell you what to do with your hardware. It doesn’t get any better than that.

GNU/Linux largely uses open standards so whatever applications and computers you have can all talk to each other and speak the same languages. That allows you to turn a lab or a school into a super-computer as needed. That allows you to set up as many databases, search engines, web-servers, clients thick (resourceful) and thin (using resources of a server), as you need, want or can afford. Basically, you don’t need a brand new PC to get great performance if you can connect to another powerful computer running the software you need. GNU/Linux lets you do that transparently.

Let me give you an example. I like the application, GNUmeric, for doing spreadsheets. It makes the lovely graphs I display on my blog. They are SVG so they scale nicely no matter what size your screen. They take just a few seconds for me to set up from templates and they are infinitely customisable. The latest version of GNUmeric does not run directly on the version of GNU/Linux I have on my main PC, Beast. It wants the latest version of GNU/Linux. So, I set up another PC, a virtual one, that runs on Beast, installed the latest version of GNU/Linux from the Debian organization, and interact with it as if it were installed on Beast in the usual way by creating an icon that runs this simple command, ssh -Y jessie “gnumeric”. The “ssh” part runs a remote secure shell on the other computer, jessie. The “gnumeric” part runs GNUmeric for me on the other PC and the -Y part connect the application to my PC in a transparent fashion, a window automatically appears in front of me and I’m off. I also share the directories where I download and keep my documents so the apparent file-structure on Jessie is identical to my normal one. It’s all transparent to me, the user. I basically get to use two PCs as if they were one. If necessary, I could make Jessie some powerful super-computer and get better performance, or I could run more applications simultaneously by having more RAM on two systems than I could on one or… See? It’s only limited by my imagination, not some crazy EULA designed to sell more licences to remove crippling. The city of Largo in Florida does this for all their major applications. There are a bunch of powerful servers running their pet application for hundreds of users who access the application from small cheap computers on their desks. This is the lowest cost and the highest performing system you can have. Essentially, you don’t need a noisy, bulky heat-source in your working environment. It can be cool and quiet and serene thanks to GNU/Linux. M$? They charge extra for that and you still have all the other problems of that other OS: malware, re-re-reboots and the damned EULA.

So, we’ve covered reliability and flexibility and freedom. What about the actual design of the software? GNU/Linux has many parts. The GNU part is an ancient imitation of the UNIX OS from the olden days. The Linux part is a kernel that knows just about every bit of hardware you can connect to a PC and a benevolent dictator, Linus Torvalds, herds the Linux developers/cats in good directions, keeping things from breaking as much as possible and always trying to improve performance and security. On the other hand, M$ is anxious to sell as many licences as possible by every trick in the book including breaking things so a new licence will fix things until M$ needs more money, inviting malware in so computers slow down or “fail” and they are not above installing stuff that slows down your computer so you constantly feel the need to buy a new one, hoping faster hardware would save you from M$. M$ is run by salesmen. GNU/Linux is a product of the world which can and does make its own software to work for us not against us.

Have I missed anything? Probably. I will finish with some of the fabulous software I use in my home doing the computing that I do. There’s no lack of valuable software available from the Debian GNU/Linux repositories and I can install any of it in a few minutes by typing simple commands or clicking a mouse a few times.

  • Gnumeric, which I have described above,
  • LibreOffice, a general office suite which does almost everything perfectly for me except huge documents and the graphs in spreadsheets,
  • Lyx is what I like to create huge documents like books. It allows the writer to concentrate on content rather than formatting,
  • Inkscape is a programme designed to create and modify SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) images,
  • FireFox web browser,
  • ImageMagick, a toolbox for handling image files,
  • Gimp, a complex image editor, capable of almost anything for images used on the web or computer screen,
  • VLC, a video viewer/streamer/convertor,
  • Mplayer, a video player,
  • OpenShot video editor,
  • SoX, audio toolbox,
  • Audacity, audio editor,
  • Apache web server,
  • MySQL/MariaDB database,
  • PostgreSQL database,
  • Swish-e search engine,
  • Recoll search engine,
  • AutoKey, which inserts various strings in my texts by typing simple “hot keys”,
  • APT software packaging system,
  • and thousand of others

Notice that several of these are usually found on servers, not PCs, like Apache or MySQL. That’s OK. GNU/Linux doesn’t limit your freedom to run whatever you want wherever you want. Remember? Some trolls might mention that most of these can run on that other OS but if I don’t have to sell my soul to use my PC, why should I run that other OS? I don’t owe M$ a living. I don’t own M$ anything. If anything, I should send M$ a bill for the thousands of re-re-reboots they inflicted on me over the years.

There, I’m done. There are no good reasons for me to run that other OS and plenty for me to run Debian GNU/Linux. You should too unless you’re a slave and want to remain a slave.

10 Comments

  1. Robert Pogson

    Arik Cohen wrote, “I have yet to receive a single challenge which I was unable to solve (or even overkill) using GNU/Linux software!”

    That’s the key. What EULAs take away the GPL/FLOSS licences give and the creativity of the world flows through with everyone getting what they need, developers and users. As a teacher, I often had teachers come to me asking to have program X for that other OS installed on our GNU/Linux systems. I asked them what they wanted to do with it and figured out what combination of FLOSS applications would do, apt-getted the packages and demonstrated the result in real time for the teacher who could then go back to his/her client PC and have immediate access. I helped teachers get databases, word-games, custom vocabulary and spelling software, endless collaborative stories, individual websites for each student, encyclopedia etc. sometimes within minutes of the request. I don’t think there was ever a case where I could not meet the need unless it involved illegal copying. Typically, in schools, acquiring software is a “next year” thing that has to be fitted into the budget. Some new teachers cannot get anything that wasn’t ordered by the previous teacher. GNU/Linux is perfect for education despite what all the trolls and sycophants of M$ claim.

  2. Robert Pogson

    wolfgang wrote, “If you have to work, use what company gives you.

    “What company gives you” brings fond memories… As a teacher, I always liked to start early. I arrived at one place where IE on XP was the only browser. I hated IE and wanted FireFox. The XP systems were “locked down” and you couldn’t download and install stuff from the web, but I found a way. You see, they had a stack of Lose ’98 machines in storage and no one was around to tell me not to use them. It turns out their “lock down” involved IE conforming to the rules, so I fired up the Lose ’98 machines and linked to them by file-sharing. That wasn’t supposed to work but there was a hole while browsing with Explorer… so I was able to get whatever I wanted, including FireFox. I later set those ’98 machines to boot PXE and built Beast from parts to start a whole new infrastructure in the high school without anything to do with that other OS. I fished LAN cables through a hole in the wall to the next room… OK. I travelled with hundreds of feet of CAT 5. Doesn’t everyone? Anyway, the whole high school had better IT than the rest of the school and never needed to visit the lab except a time or two which improved accessibility for the rest of the school so everyone was happier. Eventually a rule was promulgated but it was all in the present tense so I felt free to ignore it. Chuckle. The good old days…

  3. wolfgang

    …sounds more like hobby all the time…

    if enterprise wants to use it, fine. No one here in control of any enterprise, though. just using Linux at home for hobby. build computers for hobby or hope Microsoft go out of business for hobby. if you want internet on the go, buy nexus. If you have to work, use what company gives you.

  4. Arik Cohen

    Could not agree more. I started my programming career on the “other os” route back in the late 90s and thought the world started and ended there. Windows seemed to have been etched into the hardware at that era. Mac had the name of being “for designers only” and Linux was “black magic” for the few that heard about it. Working as a freelance programmer I had to pay for “other os” products on a project-by-project basis which made my services much more expensive to my clients. Building your own email server? running your own internet website? connecting to another machine? creating your home-grown server/client setup? using M$ products? get ready to donate a kidney. Few years passed by and I came to learn about Linux. By then it had matured quite a bit, was fairly easy to download and install, had dirt-simple package managers that allow a baby to install software and best of all it was free! And unlike the capitalistic intuition might suppose, “free” did not mean “low quality” – not by a long shot. I was running software like the Apache Web Server and the Postfix mail server which are not only a hundred times more secure than their IIS and exchange counterparts but they were infinitely more powerful as far as their configuration goes and had the quality of “just working”. I was in love! Now, I run linux on my desktop, on my servers and on my phone too. I have yet to receive a single challenge which I was unable to solve (or even overkill) using GNU/Linux software!

  5. Bob Robertson

    Wolfgang’s comment that Linux is only good for hobbies is absurd. Over and over, Pogson points out the benefits to the Enterprise of using Linux rather than Windows, yet it’s only for hobbies.

    My own experience machest that of the rest of the people here.

    I started using Debian Linux in 1995, because I had learned Unix and wanted that same functionality at home. Solaris86 didn’t work, Coherent had no desktop, I didn’t have the money to spend on a Sun box at home, so when Linux came up I jumped at it.

    There was no autodetection, so I had to be intimately aware of my hardware to get sound and Xwindow working correctly. Yes, I, too, had to create a MODLIN with the correct frequences in order for my monitor to work. That quickly changed, as every release, every distribution has gotten easier, with more successful hardware detection, driven to a great extent by the LiveCDs, an innovation that Microsoft simply cannot match.

    My disgust with Microsoft came early, when they refused to refund unused Windows licenses for people who used Linux rather than the Windows that came on their PCs. I used Win95 for games until my last Win95 crapped out on me in 2000. While I’ve purchased Windows pre-installed on hardware a couple of times since then, the Linux install disks are in when I first boot the machines, and Windows is erased as quickly as I can do so.

    I have to use Windows at my work. It is professionally maintained, carefully controlled, and even then Win7 has in fact crashed on me.

    Why would I pay for something that is so unreliable?

  6. wolfgang

    …very interesting…

    but only good for hobby, I think. I started using Android when I bought nexus 7. looks same as apple but lot less money. nexus has better screen, too. pc still comes with windows and mac still comes with apple stuff. wife has iPhone but I still use flip phone. smaller and fits in uniform shirt pocket with no lump.

  7. Mats Hagglund

    Red Hat 5.2 was “difficult but not impossible” to install and use. There was certain kind of problems with

    -lack of device support
    -lack of useful application

    It was in 1999. That’s the reason why i stayed away from Linux many years – actually too many years. I should have moved to Linux at the latest in 2004 not wait until 2007. My history of adapting Linux is rather typical: Windows was terrible. I even couldn’t install XP Service Pack 2. The whole pc was in terrible condition, both malwares and conflicts between hardware/software. Linux was my last refuge. Money wasn’t any issue, i could have bought Mac. It was friend of mine who recommend using Ubuntu. And i was amazed who easy the install and learning to use it really was. It detected all my devices, there were no real problems. The TomTom car navigator issue (can’t update it in Linux desktop) made me even more stronger Microsoft ecosystem reviewer. I won’t buy any device with “only Windows compatibility” and i have told it to all salesmen.

  8. ram

    Went to Linux fairly early on (kernel 2.2) while still working on OS/2 (and some DR-DOS) platforms. If Linux had a genuine working DOS compatibility mode the switch would have immediately total.

    Linux then “drove” the same as Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, and IRIX which I was long experienced in. It permitted my company to make a host of new data recording and processing devices. Later that was expanded to digital automation and control products. Initially for the mineral resource sector and later to include a variety of special projects for the media creation industry.

    Having seen every private company that we had exposure to that used Microsoft products go bankrupt, we have never used anything from Microsoft and never will.

  9. ssorbom

    Most of the user-end stuff has ports to Windows.
    But not the Desktop Environments.
    I love GNU/Linux for BASH and KDE (Dolphin beats explorer.exe hands down). Technically KDE has a port too, but it doesn’t work very well.

  10. lpbbear

    Similar story. Probably told it here before but will again for the purposes of your post. I started using Linux out of frustration with Windows. During approx. the mid 90′s I was working with a local IT service/networking company. We did a lot of Windows business networks where WinNT was used as a server to Win95 clients. I had set up a WinNT system in my home office handling basic file and printer sharing for the purpose of keeping up with the operating system and its usage. It was constantly having problems. Lost print jobs, crashes etc. About the same time I had picked up a multi disc set of Linux distributions from the local software shop. It had set ignored in a drawer until one day when I lost my temper with yet another failed print job from WinNT. I was seeing similar problems with customers WinNT systems. Anyway, I had read that Linux could act in a similar manner so I decided to wipe the abomination known as WinNT off the system and blunder my way through installing Linux, Slackware in this case. I managed to get Linux installed, managed to get printer sharing going, and managed to walk my way through setting up Samba based on various howtos on the Internet. Despite my newbiness it all worked perfectly. That system ran for a year and a half with zero failures and zero shutdowns. 100% uptime! I got bored with it at the end of that time and installed a newer version which did the same thing, perfect performance. It was about then that I made the move to a workstation running Linux and have remained a Linux user ever since. Flirted with BeOS for a period until Microsoft killed them, sad, was a good OS. Other than that have had zero interest in any version of Windows since, only look at it for customers. Everything I need to do can be easily done with Linux.

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