What is it that makes people leave the safe confines of the Windows/Mac world in order to use a comparatively obscure and allegedly 'Hard to use' operating system?
Coming from someone who has never used Linux before or has little knowledge of it, this is indeed a very valid question to which there are equally valid answers;
- It's free. Not a cent needs to be paid unless you feel like donating a bit of money to Linux developers or your favourite distribution team (trust me, they really do appreciate any and all donations!). Even after-market support is free, Linux users (myself included) are more than happy to offer assistance to new users on chat channels, forums, blogs etc etc.
- Linux isn't hard to use, especially distributions such as Ubuntu and OpenSUSE. The only reason many believe it to be 'Hard to use' is because it initially appears different to Windows/MacOS. As of the 10.04 release of Ubuntu, Linux can be said to have the same level of 'out-of-the-box' functionality as Mac OSX with built-in music store and a collection of software pre-installed that allows the user to immediately get stuck into whatever takes their fancy.
- Hardware support. Despite what Microsoft tells you, Windows is not compatible with much hardware at all, in fact it only supports very very basic devices without having to install additional drivers. The Linux kernel has built-in support for a huge variety of hardware ranging from mice/keyboards through to video cards and audio devices. As always though it never hurts to do a bit of research before buying a new Linux computer just to be certain!
- Money is not an issue for developers. Very rarely will you see an unfinished piece of software (*cough* Vista *cough*) being produced because its developers had a deadline to meet. Despite this, the Ubuntu team still keeps to a self-imposed deadline of 6 months between major updates...
- Regular updates. Leading in from what I mentioned 5 seconds ago, Ubuntu is updated twice a year – once in April (hence the 10.04) and once in October (hence 10.10). This means that the entire OS gets a major update twice a year plus regular little updates between then, and as I mentioned in earlier posts these updates are more or less automated and cause very little discomfort to users. Contrary to this, Microsoft releases a new 'Windows' approximately once every 3 years with infrequent updates between versions. Needless to say you need to pay for new versions of Windows as well...
- Control. Like driving a manual car, this isn't a huge deal for everyday users, but power users who want to get their teeth stuck into Linux can really make good use of the total control they have over their computer and customise it specifically to their liking.
- Viruses. They pretty well don't exist. Thats not to say a Linux computer is 100% secure, but without any extra 'Anti-virus' software having been installed, your average Linux computer is very unlikely to ever run into virus related troubles. Still that doesn't mean you shouldn't be careful on the 'Net – once information has left your computer it ends up on other computers which may or may not be as safe as yours. So when doing online banking or buying stuff online, make sure the website your using has some form of security, usually denoted by a padlock icon in the address bar of your browser.
- Software is available not only for free, but (in most cases) has to be approved by the distribution developers before it can find its way onto the official 'repositories'. On this note, all the software you could ever need (again, in most cases) can be found in big lists (aka. 'repositories') that are provided by developers. This allows you to browse through these lists at your leisure and tick boxes next to what you want installed.
- Lightweight. Lets compare the minimum specifications of Windows 7 and a lightweight distribution called 'Slitaz' shall we?
1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit processor
1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
To be honest no one can say for sure, but people have succesfully installed and ran this on 14 year-old computers that have specifications inferior to most current mobile phones.
Of course to use a full graphical version of Ubuntu with desktop effects and the like enabled, you will probably *want* similar specifications to what is required for Windows 7. The differences being is the *minimum* requirements for Windows 7 and about the same as the *optimal* requirements for Ubuntu 10.10.
These are just a few of the reasons why people choose to use Linux, but I encourage everyone reading this to try different versions of Linux and compare them to their experiences on Windows/Mac.