For those of you who are Linux cognoscente, yes, I know technically Linux is just a kernel. But these days Linux is also a marketing term that means an entire operating system with graphical user interface based on the Linux kernel and distributed under some other name. In marketing it is necessary to have short, easy to remember and catchy names for a product. Even for a "free" product with liberating license terms. In this case "Linux" has become that catchy name. I have chosen to live with that. You do not like the idea of "marketing Linux"? Then this article is not for you.
This question popped into my head today while I was reading my Linux based RSS feeds and URLs from Digg and Reddit. Almost all Linux based articles that try to "sell" Linux do so by comparing Linux to some other operating system. Not one of these articles I have seen recently attempts to market Linux on its own merits. In some cases, such as politics, comparing yourself to the other guy will work. In other cases, again thinking politics, such comparisons may well blow up in your face. I have been guilty of making these comparisons using Linux and some other operating system myself, but are these comparisons doing what we want? Or are these comparisons doing as much, or more, harm than they are doing good?
With Linux I think we need to concentrate more on the question of, "Why is Linux good?" and as in the title of the article, "What makes Linux compelling to use?". I think some of us have set up unintended expectations in end-users that try Linux by making comparisons to other operating systems. Based on these comparisons the end-user comes to Linux thinking it is just a no cost, a.k.a. "free", option to that other operating system and ends up disappointed, disgusted and disgruntled when Linux does not perform to false expectations.
We humans tend to think in terms of comparisons and attempt to base our decisions on what is "better" than something else. Unfortunately "better" is a relative idea and is rarely objective. What is "better" to me is likely not going to be "better" to you. So, saying Linux is "better" than system X and system Y is a recipe for failure with some people who expect to make a comparison based on that assertion. Instead of making such comparisons we could just state why Linux is a great system all on its own. Let the end-users of other systems make their own comparisons and draw their own conclusions. We can concentrate on what is good about Linux and work on the parts that still need work. However, being like some other operating system is not a part of Linux that needs work, it needs to be forgotten.
What Makes Linux Compelling to Use for Me
I find Linux to be an excellent general purpose computing platform for day to day personal and small business use. I like the fact that Linux does not cost me money. No, my time is not worthless, but I have wisely spent the time I needed learning how to install, configure and use Linux and the free, open source software that comes with it. I can almost do that in my sleep now. Once I have Linux set up to my liking it just works and the tinkering is over. I also like the fact that I can give Linux to my acquaintances, friends and family without breaking any laws doing so. I do not need software from Intuit, meaning QuickBooks, to run my business. If I needed such software I would not expect to run it on Linux unless Intuit released a native version for Linux. I do not try to compare my Linux based SOHO business computer to some other computer running some other operating system. I just use it as it is and enjoy what I can do using Linux and all the software and tools that come with Linux.
My accounting software is GnuCash. I can create PDF invoice documents from GnuCash and send those in e-mail to my clients. Or I can print the invoices on my laser printer and mail them if that is required by the client. GnuCash does not include payroll, which is something I knew when I chose it. I do not need payroll software for my SOHO micro-business. If I did need payroll I would be using some other Linux based accounting software, such as NolaPro® perhaps. Should I get to a point where I need an accountant, that accountant had better be able to learn to work with the software I choose.
I use OpenOffice.org office suite on Linux regularly. While using it, I do not compare OpenOffice.org to some other office suite, I just use it as is and enjoy the fact that it has all the features I need and more. I do not expect OpenOffice.org to be able to perfectly convert some closed document format that is a constantly moving target. I have no need to use closed formats for 99% of the documents I create. When I do receive a closed format document, what I see and what I can do with it using the tools I have on Linux is good enough for my purposes. If I needed to have "perfect" conversion of closed source documents I would, grudgingly, use the restricted, closed source software that created the document. If that closed source software did not have a native Linux version then I would, again grudgingly, run it in a virtual machine under Linux on its closed, restricted, native operating system. The fact that I could do this is another reason I find Linux to be compelling to use.
I send and receive e-mail using Evolution Groupware Suite, after converting from Kontact. Evolution does everything I need an e-mail, contact and calendar with scheduling application to do. It will even display the horrid HTML based e-mail that comes from closed source e-mail applications. I did set that to not display by default so I can have control over it.
As my SOHO micro-business is a small computer system builder I find Linux to be very compelling for building new PC systems for internal use and for resale. I can guarantee that the system I build works with the Linux distribution I or my clients choose to use. All the software tools I need are included with the distribution. I can load these software applications during installation using a preconfigured list or install them later as needed if I want to just get the system up and running quickly.
If I were not in the business of building computers then I would look for small, independent system builders that offered Linux based computers. Some of the places I would look would be: Naked Computers and LXer. If I were only interested in computers from large vendors then I would probably get a Dell with Ubuntu. Since I am no fan of Ubuntu I would then reinstall it with my Linux distribution of choice. The fact that I can switch from a Linux distribution I do not want to a Linux distribution I prefer without having to spend any money doing so is another compelling reason for me to use Linux.
These are just a few of the reasons I find Linux compelling to use for myself. There are more reasons than I have covered here. What are some of your compelling reasons for using Linux?
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