[aclug-L] Why we use Linux
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This is the message I wrote in reply to John Dodge's article in PC
Week at http://www.zdnet.com/pcweek/opinion/0608/08week.html. I hope
it makes for interesting reading.
Subject: Why we use Linux
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From: John Goerzen <jgoerzen@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: 11 Jun 1998 11:44:25 -0500
I read with interest your latest column in PC Week. As a long-time
Linux user and developer, I appreciate the opportunity to comment.
First, let me explain why we use Linux at work and why I use it at
home. Then I'll respond to some of your comments about Linux.
Finally, I'd like to point you to some concise resources about why
Linux is a better OS than Windows.
I work as a system administrator in the Computer Science Department at
Wichita State University. Linux is an obvious choice for us there --
we are always strapped for cash since our equipment costs are much
higher than most other departments. We need to do heavy-duty
computing research requiring large amounts of computing resources; a
Linux cluster is a cheap and effective way to do that. We need to
provide computing capabilities for thousands of students on hundreds
of computers, with an system administration staff of only 2.
Most of the research being done in our department simply cannot be
done on Windows NT because NT does not have the appropriate
capabilities, so right away we are lured to Unix.
The timesharing model of Unix has saved us at least tens of thousands
of dollars and probably hundreds of thousands. In this way, we can
deploy "X terminals" throughout the department. An X Terminal, or
"XTerm" for short, is a simple and inexpensive box. It has a network
controller, a monitor, keyboard, and mouse but no real local CPU. All
of the programs run on a separate server but are displayed on the X
terminal. Using this concept, our collection of X terminals that are
over 6 years old are still modern performers. All we have to do is
upgrade a few servers and the whole department sees the speed
increase. Furthermore, this eliminates the CPU waste that occurs with
Linux comes with all sorts of servers -- web, mail, ftp, etc. that
would have costed thousands of dollars if we were to use Microsoft
versions. Plus, the Microsoft versions lack needed capabilities.
At home, I use Linux for programming -- one simply cannot find a
better development platform anywhere. Linux comes with top-notch
development tools like XEmacs and gcc.
Now to reply to some of your comments...
You talk about multitasking and multithreading being largely
irrelevant to the "computing masses". This is simply untrue. A
system with poor multitasking, like Windows, will have poor
performance with modern apps. You can easily witness this behavior by
comparing the speed of a heavily loaded Linux webserver to that of a
heavily-loaded NT webserver. The Linux one will serve up more
documents with greater speed because it is better able to handle
simultaneous requests. For users, it makes a difference in that you
can be compiling your latest program without any noticeable slowdown
in other apps.
Regarding making inroads against Windows, I've got several things to
say. First, the idea behind Linux was to make a good OS for those
that want it, not to try to win people away from other OSs -- although
this is changing. Secondly, estimates place Linux usage at 15 million
or greater (instead of the 6 million you reported). This makes it
more popular than NT or OS/2. Third, over 50% of new ISPs being
created use Linux on their servers. In the past year, we have
witnessed an incredible increase in press coverage of Linux. The mere
fact that you are talking about it indicates that it has been making
Finally, regarding difficult installation, this is no longer true.
Please take a look at the Linux Myth Dispeller at
http://www.KenAndTed.com/KensBookmark/linux/index.html for more
Now then, I have put together a web page describing a number of
reasons that Linux is a better choice than Windows. You can find this
page at http://www.aclug.org/info/linuxreasons.html. I think this is
probably the "concise" listing of points for Linux that you were
looking for; however, I am the first to admit that there are a huge
number of Linux benefits not touched upon in that page. For your
convenience, I'm including a text version below (the text version is
designed to be viewed with a monospaced font).
Thanks for listening.
Air Capitol Linux Users Group: Info: Reasons to Use Linux ACLUG
Reasons to Use Linux
Linux is rapidly becoming the choice OS for many professionals,
researchers, and hobbyists. This page explains why Linux could be a
good choice for you.
Linux has legendary stability. This comes from its true flat 32-bit
(64-bit on some systems) architecture. Linux's memory management is
far superior to that of Windows 95. It employs complete memory
protection, meaning that it is not possible for one program to
overwrite the memory of another. This behavior is one of the most
common causes of crashes under Windows.
Furthermore, the open nature of the Linux kernel means that it has
been reviewed and debugged by thousands of people and companies
worldwide. This tremendous benefit is evident whenever you use Linux.
You will see none of the typical crashes that you get from Windows.
There is no "Blue Screen" error in Linux because those errors simply
do not occur.
In today's Internet-connected world, it makes little sense to use an
operating system with only a buggy and partial implementation of
TCP/IP. TCP/IP is the protocol spoken on the Internet and many
Linux, and the Unix/POSIX platform in general, trace their networking
roots back to the early 80s. The support for Internet networking is
far better, more evolved, and faster than that in Windows 95.
Consider a few examples. With any Linux distribution, right out of the
box, you can:
1. Set up a router, firewall, or bridge
2. Provide Network Address Translation (NAT) for your network
3. Run the world's most powerful mail server
4. Run the world's most popular web server, Apache
5. Run an FTP server
6. Provide timesharing and true graphical remote login capabilities
Not only that, but all of these capabilities are fully functional and
non-buggy. There is no need to shell out huge sums of money for
partially-working solutions. Furthermore, Windows platforms are simply
not capable of doing some of the items above.
This is one reason why Linux is an ideal platform for an ISP -- the
people that require the most heavy-duty networking servers. Over 50%
of new ISPs being created across the country are using Linux.
In another interesting article, Computer Currents has a report that
starts out with the words "Linux beats NT at its own game". The
article further goes on to explain how the total cost for a Linux
server was $49.95 while an NT server doing the equivalent task costs
Linux can speak not only to the huge installed base of
Internet-speaking machines, but also to various other machines in your
location. Linux can talk with, and act as a file or print server for,
Microsoft Networking systems, LanManager systems, NetWare, OS/2 Warp
Connect, Sun, Unixware, SGI, NT, and many more.
Linux has been designed from the ground up to be fast. Operating
systems such as Windows 95 carry around a lot of 16-bit baggage from
the DOS era, which really hurts performance.
Linux features a number of technological advancements that have not
yet made it into the Windows line of operating systems. All these
combine to make an extremely fast operating system. Here are a few:
* The merged VM/buffer cache integrates the disk and directory
caching with the virtual memory subsystem. This allows the disk
cache to dynamically shrink and expand as the demands on the
system change. This produces a minimum of swapping and a maximal
* Linux's second extended filesystem (aka ext2fs) is designed in
such a way that disk fragmentation is prevented 98% of the time on
many disks. This means that there is no need to have any sort of
defragmentation tool; the filesystem does such a good job of
avoiding fragmentation that such a tool would be a waste of time.
Not only that, but the filesystem contains many other
optimizations that make it much faster and more reliable than
Windows' FAT or NTFS systems.
* Linux has superior multitasking compared to Windows. This fact is
readily apparent when one attempts to do something that simply
cannot be done on Windows. For instance, at Wichita State, there
are some login servers. One server, a Pentium Pro with 128 meg of
RAM, is capable of handling over 70 simultaneous logins. That is,
70 people can be running their compilers, editors, programs, and
games all at once with almost no degradation in performance to the
other 69 people. Windows does not even have the facilities to
permit more than one login at a time, let alone good enough
multitasking to permit 70.
Linux's legendary low resource requirements allow it to act is a low-
to mid-range web server even on hardware as old as a 386. There is an
interesting report available detailing the use of Linux as a server
on low-end machines. Considering that Linux can cause a 386 with 8 meg
of RAM to serve dozens of Web hits per second, imagine what it can do
with a Pentium Pro or Alpha server!
Power and Functionality
No other operating system even comes close to matching Linux in terms
of power and functionality. Here are a few of Linux's unique features:
* The virtual filesystem allows Linux to support a huge range of
filesystems from Linux and other operating systems -- about 25 in
all. This includes FAT and VFAT from DOS/Windows, NTFS from NT,
ufs from BSD-derived systems, HPFS from OS/2, HFS from Mac, the
Network File System, the SMB system from Microsoft, ISO9660 for
CDs, and many more. In a location where there are computers from
different platforms installed, the ability to exchange data with
ease can be very important.
* The X Window System is the GUI of choice in Linux. It is unlike
any Microsoft GUI because of one important principle: X was
designed from the ground up as a networked GUI. This seemingly
small item makes a huge difference. For instance:
+ You can change your user interface dynamically -- without
even restarting any applications. Your window manager
controls the appearance of programs on the screen. While
Windows offers you only one window manager, Linux offers you
dozens. You can instantly switch Linux from a look that makes
it appear exactly like Windows 95 to a much more powerful
+ X allows you to run programs on many different computers
around the office and around the globe. These programs can
all display on your machine and interact with you as if
they're running on your own computer. You can have programs
from your computer and many others appearing on the same
display at once -- and they are so perfectly integrated that
you can't tell the difference.
+ Powerful toolkits and development tools such as GTK and Tk
allow developers to create state-of-the-art graphical
applications in far less time than it takes to create a
similar application in Windows.
* Debian GNU/Linux boasts one of the most powerful package
management systems available today. With this system, not only
does it take only seconds to install or remove any application, it
also is possible to upgrade the operating system with ease. Even
for a major system upgrade, the computer often doesn't need to be
rebooted. For servers, the server may be down for only a few
seconds instead of the hours or days it takes to upgrade a large
* Linux gives you a choice with everything. You get to pick which
interface to use -- graphical or shell -- and you can dynamically
switch between them or use them both simultaneously. You can also
pick which graphical interface to use, and switch among those
without closing any applications. All interfaces are fully
customizable. You get to pick your favorite text editor from a
selection of dozens. Windows gives you one inadequate editor --
Notepad. Linux users can pick from dozens of tools to do word
processing and typesetting. Microsoft provides one, Word, and even
that pales in comparison to LaTeX/LyX on Linux.
Ease of Administration
Linux is ideal for large computer installations. The reason is that
Linux's other features, such as powerful security and package
management, make administering a Linux machine far easier than a
corresponding Windows machine. Let's examine a few reasons for this.
* Linux makes it impossible for any person to mess up the operating
system. With Windows, it is trivial to totally mess up the GUI or
even the entire system. Under Linux, it is possible to let people
have full privileges to get all their work done but still not be
able to mess up the system.
* Linux is immune to most viruses for the same reason. Viruses
cannot penetrate Linux's security any more than users can.
* Linux's logical filesystem layout prevents many headaches. Linux's
security model strictly enforces a separation between applications
and the user's data saved in them, and between one user's data and
another's data. This provides a number of advantages:
+ Backing up a system is as easy as backing up the "home"
directory tree and the system configuration area. There is no
need to back up anything else because it can be restored from
the CD in minutes. This reduces the backup time and cost
+ There is true isolation between users. No more problems with
one person changing settings and bothering others with the
change. Due to Linux's security model, all changes effect
only the one individual user (unless the administrator wants
to set global defaults).
+ It is always easy to find data files. They are not buried in
some arcane path with the application itself; rather, they
are stored in the user's personal data area (called the home
directory in Linux).
+ Once you know how the filesystem is laid out, you can
instantly tell where to find a particular application's
executables, documentation, or libraries -- even though a
Linux system can contain millions of files without any
All of these things combine to make Linux a virtually zero maintenance
platform. That is, once Linux is installed (which only takes a few
minutes itself), there is no need to continue messing with it -- it
just runs. Period.
A Developer's Dream
Linux is one of the best platforms for program development. There are
several reasons for this. Linux comes with some of the world's best
compilers and development tools -- free with the OS. Also available is
the world's most powerful programmer's editor, XEmacs -- also free.
You get a wide range of industrial-strength languages such as C, C++,
Java, assembler, and Perl, plus other languages such as Tcl, Fortran,
COBOL, BASIC, and many more. There is VisualTCL which closely
resembles VisualBASIC, although VistualTCL is based upon a much better
language and has better performance and functionality.
Linux also comes with powerful version control software. This lets to
archive all the changes to your project so you can easily find
differences or go back to a previous version later. This can of
functionality is unparalleled in the Windows world.
Linux has a huge selection of applications. Consider:
* The GIMP is widely becoming the tool of choice for web
graphics, often replacing PhotoShop.
* LaTeX is a text-processing (compare word processing) system that
runs circles around Word.
* Perl is already the language of choice for Web scripting.
Windows has no real scripting language.
* XWave is a powerful sound editor for Linux.
* SOX can convert between dozens of different sound formats.
* StarPresents is a powerful presentation module in StarOffice,
which is free for non-commercial use.
* Netscape, the legendary web browser, is of course available for
* Mathematica is a powerful professional math tool that is available
* WordPerfect is already available for Linux and other Corel apps
will follow shortly.
* Blender is a powerful 3D application. Others, such as PovRay,
SCED, and the BMRT (derived from Pixar) are available as well.
* A large selection of games, including Quake.
* Many, many more -- see the Linux Applications list.
This is one of the best things about Linux -- it is free or very
inexpensive. You can download and install it for free off the
Internet. You can have your own mirror and install it over your LAN.
Or you can go out and buy a CD for only $3 that contains the entire
system. Or you can purchase a boxed set from $49.95 to $150 that comes
complete with commercial support, CD, complete manual, and bonus
software. But what's more -- that one investment of $3 or $50 contains
all the software you'll need. Linux comes complete with web servers,
browsers, compilers, servers, routing software, etc. You would end up
spending tens of thousands of dollars to get the equivalent software
under Windows -- and some of the software has no equivalent under
Computer Currents has a report that compares a $49.95 Linux setup
very favorably to a $4600 NT setup.
New security holes are being found in Microsoft operating systems
every day. It is trivial to crash any Windows machine connected to the
Internet -- even from across the planet due to security holes. This
obviously does little to improve reliability.
Windows 95 machines are so insecure that they are widely regarded as
having no security at all. NT machines have a bit more security, but
they are easy to infiltrate as well, as has been reported by agencies
such as CNN. Microsoft's web server, IIS, has a number of huge
security loopholes, especially when combined with FrontPage. These
holes allow others to change what appears on your website -- which can
be very embarrassing at best and can destroy your company's reputation
The Linux filesystem is designed from the ground up with security in
mind. The same goes for the memory management and networking systems.
In Windows, security is largely an afterthought and it is trivial to
circumvent; Linux has none of those problems.
This is the best part -- the secret to the success of Linux. Linux is
designed using the Open Source model. This means that instead of
one company and a few programmers working on the OS, Linux has amassed
thousands of programmers from all across the world. These include some
of the best-known programmers on the planet -- researchers into
cutting-edge technologies at universities, NASA, the Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory, and many other reputable institutions
worldwide. Anyone can examine the source. This means that Linux has
tapped a huge pool of developers and debuggers. The result: a free
system of the highest possible quality.
* Linux Myth Dispeller is an excellent site to visit. People
like Microsoft would have you believing that Linux is hard to
install and insecure. This couldn't be further from the truth.
Read here to find out why.
* CheapBytes, Linux Software Labs, and Linux Mall are
three places that sell Linux CDs at discount prices.
* The Open Source page describes the open source concept, why it
works, and how it can make your company more profitable.
* The Air Capitol Linux Users Group provides regular Linux
events, talks, and the like.
$Date: 1998/06/11 16:07:10 $ aclug@xxxxxxxxxxxx
The information on these ACLUG pages is provided in good faith, but
neither John Goerzen nor anyone associated with ACLUG takes any legal
responsibility whatsoever for the content and accuracy of the data
contained herein. Please notify the author if any error is found.
John Goerzen Linux, Unix consulting & programming jgoerzen@xxxxxxxxxxxx |
Developer, Debian GNU/Linux (Free powerful OS upgrade) www.debian.org |
Visit the Air Capitol Linux Users Group on the web at http://www.aclug.org
This is the Air Capitol Linux Users Group discussion list. If you
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