Linux is one operating system that is loved and loathed in equal measure. There is a good number of users who would never touch Windows or Mac OSX at all, using Linux for all their day to day activities. Conversely, there are those who would never touch a Linux machine at all, preferring to go the Windows or Mac OSX way. Whichever direction you take, the choice made must have been driven by a number of factors based on what works best for you to be productive.
In essence, of the three major desktop operating systems, Linux has the steepest learning curve. It is not lost to anyone that this has been the biggest barrier to its penetration in desktop market. In fact, I could go as far as stating that Linux was not created for everyone! As such, its users are a select few and most come into the fray as a result of interest and sheer determination especially in the initial period when things seems so cryptic and tough to learn and use. In any case, once you get the hang of Linux, it is so hard to make a comeback to the other operating systems.
I took the dive into the world of Linux in early 2015. I started off dual booting Linux and Windows until my hard disk crashed. From there on, I decided to install Linux (Kali Linux 2.0) as my primary and only operating system for a period of 10 months or so. From thereon, I bought a separate desktop for home use where I have installed SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 12. You may ask why I decided to take the step to adopt use of Linux. Well, for starters, I’m quite the tinkerer and always curious what happens under the hood. My biggest fascination is centered on how the Kernel works. Not that I want to write a Kernel in the foreseeable future but the need to just know how that control is passed from the point of pressing the power button all the way up to the point a computer is up and running is what ticks me. Linux gives me the option to study the boot process in depth, from the BIOS/UEFI to the bootloader, the handover to init and all the way to the login screen. It also gives me the option to change the boot settings right from the sysconfig file of the Kernel including setting up the secure boot. This may mean nothing to someone, understandably so. To me however, it’s the epitome of fascination and discovery. In retrospect, the only regret I have is not having learnt Linux while in campus.
Good as it may seem, Linux is devised for certain uses only. There are things that Linux works best in, and others that it totally sucks. I will enumerate the strengths of Linux first;
- Security: Linux secure compared to the other operating systems
- Tweak: Linux give you the freedom to tweak things around. This can be attributed to its open source nature
- Learning: If you are interested in knowing what happens under the hood, Linux should be your best friend
- Linux can run on almost any hardware you can find out there. Think of an operating system that runs the Raspberry Pi, or Arduino with unimaginably limited system resources. There are actually Linux operating systems that are below 100MB in size like RancherOS
- You can customize Linux to do anything you want provided you have the expertise
- Linux is free. If an avid student in Kapenguria, Pokot wants to start studying Linux, he or she will just need internet access and download a distribution of their choice
On the flip side, Linux has drawbacks that includes
- Word processing and the entire office suite application. LibreOffice does not have the flair compared to the competition. Microsoft office suite is the king in this area
- Games: This is partly attributed to the limited hardware support. Plus Linux ecosystem does not have cutting edge games
- Graphic design: At least it tries with the use of GIMP. But GIMP can only do as much. compared to Microsoft, Linux does not have an array of choice as far as graphic design applications are concerned
- Steep learning curve: Most people will shy away from Linux in learning how to use it. What with passing commands in the terminal to execute tasks? Some people will argue, what’s the point? Well, there are instances when it comes in handy. And these instances are many, i tell you!
In terms of usage, Linux is the most popular operating system in the world, strangely enough. Whilst Linux lags behind in desktop market, it is a pioneer in the server space and this is where its strength comes into play. Statistically speaking, Linux, Unix and Unix-like systems powers 77% of web servers. In the supercomputer category, Linux boasts of 99.79% share while that of mainframe, Linux and Unix control 100% of this area. In the smartphone and tablet arena, Linux and Unix control 84.5% market share (Android at 64.89% and iOS at 23.56%).
Seen from the above statistics, it is clear that Linux and Unix are operating systems are mostly focused on the server space side and high end deployment that are mission critical including nuclear reactors, satellite, military installations like drones among others.
Linux is not for the faint-hearted. In my journey to learning Linux, I would be discouraged time and again especially when things are not working your way. Yet that is the point you are supposed to push on, a point that you start getting to know the nitty-gritty.
As earlier indicated, my regret is not having learnt Linux during my university days. If Kenyan universities could adopt the use of Linux and Unix for technical courses, especially electronics, engineering and computer science, the graduates will be more equipped in not only their skills but it will also bolster interest in research, which happens to be the core objective of academic institutions. The use of distro like Scientific Linux by the university technical staff could also shore up their training skills.
Still in education, Linux can be used for learning in primary to secondary institutions. There is a case study of Macedonia which adopted Linux (Ubuntu) that was deployed to every student in primary school back in 2007. This was possible because, with the free nature of Linux, the cost of such a deployment reduced drastically. Additionally, they modified the Ubuntu distro to suit their needs. This also helped built capacity for the local software engineers who undertook the customization jobs and maintenance of any future releases. The same case has been witnessed in Russia, Philippines, India, China, UK, Switzerland, Brazil, Indonesia, Italy, Germany.
In local authorities, there is always the mention of Munich that ditched proprietary software in favor of Linux. The migration was hard to implement, especially with the skills gap on the part of the users in adopting Linux. It however saved the Munich council millions in Euros. Others like Turkey have developed their own custom Linux distro, Pardus, that is deployed across government departments. Closer home, the South Africa Social Security Agency has also adopted the use of Linux for 50 of their rural sites. Other examples include Russia, China, India, Philippines, Malaysia, Cuba, Brazil, US, Austria, France, Germany and many more.
Since we are a developing country with resource restraints, it will be prudent to start adopting Linux in some departments of education, government, military, transport, albeit this can be done in a phase-wise approach. We will end up saving a lot that can be invested in other sectors of the economy.
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