Linux is an operating system used in everything from phones to cars to complex supercomputers, but you can also use it to power your PC. The desktop may not be where you're most likely to encounter Linux, but it is more than worth your consideration.
Far from being just another tool for the job, there are several great benefits that come from taking the time to try out the Linux desktop, learn, and maybe even stick with it. Here are four benefits of moving to Linux:
1. A free course in digital ethics
The free and open source community views software differently than on commercial operating systems. On Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, most apps are only delivered as binary files and you have no access to their code. While this binary is sometimes available for free, it is generally a product that you pay for.
The Linux world is not focused on the binary, but on the code itself. That code is a language, and the only way to know what it is doing is to read it. If you (or other Linux users) cannot read the code, there is no way you can know what it is actually doing. You can only have the word of the developer.
Free software is based on the four freedoms. Here they are, as defined by the Free Software Foundation:
The freedom to run the program at will, for any purpose.
The freedom to study how the program works and modify it to do your calculations the way you want. The prerequisite for this is access to the source code.
The freedom to share copies so you can help others.
The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. That way, you can give the entire community a chance to benefit from your changes. The prerequisite for this is access to the source code.
These freedoms provide built-in protection against many of the evils currently plaguing the commercial software world. It's much more difficult for a program to spy on your behavior and send that data to a remote company when everyone is free to see this unwanted behavior and remove it from the app.
But it's not just about avoiding exploitation. They also see these freedoms as an emphasis on both personal benefit and helping others. For these reasons and more, many people refer to free and open source software as ethical software.
Learning to use Linux can teach you that you don't have to take or leave the software on your computer. You can take control of what is happening on your computer and process your computing with a higher level of confidence.
2. The chance to try new things
When you first use Linux, every aspect of the system can feel new. You are embarking on a new adventure in which, often for the first time, you have the freedom to change virtually every aspect of how your computer works.
For many newcomers to Linux, this often results in a constant period of trying new things. There are not only thousands of free programs to discover, but also completely new desktop environments and interfaces.
If you want something familiar, you can use your computer to make it feel like Windows or macOS. But if you want something different, these experiences are also available and you are given the building blocks to create your own.
There's a difference between discovering new things on Linux and the Apple, Google, and Microsoft operating systems. There are thousands of apps to try on these platforms, but it can be difficult to know which software to trust.
It's not uncommon to stick to a handful of programs you know and avoid the rest for fear of infecting your computer. This situation is especially known on Windows and is a major problem on Android, but Apple's platforms are not immune either.
The theme and customization options are also typically much more limited on these commercial platforms. There are third-party tools available, but you can only go that far before you risk damaging the operating system.
When you understand the four freedoms of Linux and are used to the fact that free software programs are not free to inject adware or spyware, you can try new things on your computer to an extent that many have never been comfortable with felt. This is an advantage of Linux that does not result from technical superiority, but from the values of the community.
3. Experience building your own operating system
There is a lot you can learn about how your operating system works as you install Linux and try new things. You will learn about various components such as the kernel, the display server, the sound server and the desktop environment.
These are components that all operating systems have, but on other operating systems this knowledge is obscured and unnecessary. You cannot change the desktop environment in macOS. There is only "the one".
Some Linux distributions may be recommended precisely because of the value of the learning experience. Arch Linux, for example, has a relatively long and complicated installation process, but by the time you're done you'll have learned a lot about how Linux works. You can learn even more by trying an even more sophisticated distribution like Gentoo or Linux From Scratch.
Is it a waste of time using the more difficult Linux distros? This can be when your priority is building a system that you need for work or school. In this case, opt for one of the many easy-to-use distributions such as Ubuntu, Fedora or elementaryOS.
There are even easier-to-use versions of Arch Linux, such as Manjaro. But when it comes to the knowledge you are looking for, it is hardly a waste to go the harder route. But on the contrary. Some consider the experience invaluable.
4. An introduction to collaborative development
Image source: Pankaj Patel / Unsplash
In the Linux world, software is developed outdoors. You can find the source code for a free software program online, leave comments, send feature requests, file bug reports, or even submit your own patches. You can join mailing lists or forums and often communicate directly with the developer of an app.
Whatever role you play, as long as it is constructive, you will participate in the development of this software.
This is in contrast to software development in the proprietary world, where usually only the employees of a company have access to code. Or maybe the program is an individual developer's passion project or a passionate team.
In either case, your biggest stake will be in deciding whether or not you buy what they can do. You might be able to make feature requests or report bugs, but you have limited insight into what the developers are actually doing.
Collaborative software development takes time, but working outdoors has the added benefit of helping you develop social skills and providing you with a clear résumé when you apply for a similar job.
Learning Linux could change your life
This is not a mere exaggeration. Quite a few Linux users try to use free and open source software wherever possible, are no longer satisfied with or no longer trust most of the alternatives.
Or you can just make friends in the community or get a dream job. Last but not least, you may be the one breathing new life into your friends' old PCs.
14 lightweight Linux distributions to breathe new life into your old PC
Do you need a lightweight operating system? These particular Linux distributions can run on older PCs, some with as little as 100MB of RAM.
About the author
(330 published articles)
Bertel is a digital minimalist who writes from a laptop with physical privacy switches and an operating system recommended by the Free Software Foundation. He values ethics over functions and helps others take control of their digital lives.
From Bertel King
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