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Editor's Note: Created As Unix, Perfected As Linux?

Jul 07, 2006, 23:30 (19 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Rob Reilly)

By: Rob Reilly
Contributing Editor

Why do I use Linux?

As Linux seemingly approaches mainstream status, I've pondered that question for the last couple of months. Also, why doesn't Linux click with my friends, neighbors, family, and others?

While shaving this morning, my hand slipped off the bathroom counter and I bumped my head.

Suddenly I understood...It's because of Unix.

It All Started With Unix

Back in my college days, I liked the interactivity of the Unix command line. My computer dungeon mates appreciated it too.

Mind you, these were pre-IBM PC days.

With the invention of the personal computer, instantly, everybody had pseudo-cutting edge calculating power on their desk. But, if you weren't involved with some flavor of Unix or Sun machine, computing was limited to a single-user/single-tasking experience in the form of DOS, Windows, Apple, or even a TRS-80.

Toward the late 90s, everybody got connected and jumped onto the Web. Lately, all types of applications have appeared via a browser and network connection. Tabbed browsing came out a couple of years ago, but I've seen few outside of the Open Source and Linux community using the feature regularly.

Shazzam, Gomer...most users have missed out on any real multi-user, multi-tasking computing experience.

Linux just doesn't fit their perceived model of a computer.

Multi-User, Multi-Tasking Desktops?

Successful users today create documents, calculate numbers, send emails, listen to music, and watch videos using the one-user, one-machine personal computer paradigm.

But, think about it.

If you've grown up with a traditional PC being what it is, how could you possibly value a multi-user, multi-tasking machine when it's never even been on your radar?

Maybe we've missed the Linux desktop boat, simply because users are unaware of the hidden benefits provided by that type of operating system. No obvious new benefit, so why switch?

Would a regular user ever want to serve Web pages from his laptop? How about a MySQL database? Is there any situation where a PC user would want to turn accounting on and track his login time and activities? Why should a regular desktop user ever care about logging into another machine, in the office, remotely?

Those things are taken for granted in the (whatever)NIX community. In a single-user, single-tasking context, these questions make very little sense. Furthermore, how can these features be effectively used to solve a businessman or everyday consumer's problems.

The Linux desktop is a great solution, that's looking around for a problem(s) to solve.


Several big things jump out at me that differentiate Linux from other operating systems.

Multi-user, multi-tasking automation

Ask your friends or customers about the advantages of a multi-user, multi-tasking system and then think about their response. What multi-tasking desktop benefits are not currently being exploited? Backups, file consolidation, and system monitoring are just a few of the things to automate. Don't forget the shell, cron, and all those tools that are built into virtually every Linux distribution. Many of them have no analogue in other operating systems.

One distribution installation on multiple platforms

How convenient is to to use one DVD to build all your desktops AND your servers? Menus, partitioning, and installation scripts become standardized with very little trouble. Seems like a small business or home sysadmin's dream come true. This stealth benefit definitely doesn't show up in other OSs.

Indoctrination of our 'Youts'

As we speed into the early 21st century, it pains me to see 'youts' growing up in what has evolved into a mostly desktop/browser window computer world. Many adults are wringing their hands over the universal loss of competitive math, science, reading, and writing skills. A single Linux CD offers a computing toolbox that is unrivaled, for learning.

So why do I use Linux?

Because I was fortunate enough to use Unix years ago. Those guys at AT&T created a model of computing that has been perfected in the Linux and Open Source community.

It simply satisfies my multi-user, multi-tasking, multi-machine, and multi-desktop lifestyle.

Rob Reilly
Contributing Editor