The Top 12 Myths About Linux

Myth 1:   Linux is too difficult for ordinary people to use.
Myth 2:   Linux is insecure.
Myth 3:   It is not worth learning Linux because most companies use Windows.
Myth 4:   Businesses can't make money from Linux because it is free.
Myth 5:   Linux is a type of software piracy because it was copied from other operating systems.
Myth 6:   Free software is a kind of socialism and it destroys intellectual property.
Myth 7:   Linux has few application programs.
Myth 8:   Linux has poor support because there is no single company behind it.
Myth 9:   Linux is obsolete.
Myth 10:   Linux cannot survive because it is too fragmented.
Myth 11:   Linux cannot compete in quality.
Myth 12:   Linux has a higher TCO than Microsoft Windows.

Myth 1:   Linux is too difficult for ordinary people to use because it uses only text and requires programming.

The truth:   Although Linux was originally designed for those with computer expertise, the situation has changed dramatically in the past several years. Today it has a highly intuitive GUI (graphical user interface) similar to those on the Macintosh and Microsoft Windows and it is as easy to use as those operating systems. No knowledge of programming is required. This ease of use is evidenced by the fact that more and more people, including elementary school students and others with no previous computer experience, are starting to use it every day. Moreover, once people become familiar with Linux, they rarely want to revert to their previous operating system.

In some ways Linux is actually easier to use than Microsoft Windows. This is in large part because it is little affected by viruses and other malicious code, and system crashes are rare.

Myth 2:   Linux is less secure than Microsoft Windows because the source code is available to anybody.

The truth:   Actually, Linux is far more secure (i.e., resistant to viruses, worms and other types of malicious code) than Microsoft Windows. And this is, in large part, a result of the fact that the source code (i.e., the version as originally written by humans using a programming language) is freely available. By allowing everyone access to the source code, programmers and security experts all over the world are able to frequently inspect it to find possible security holes, and patches for any holes are then created as quickly as possible (often within hours).

Myth 3:   It is not worth bothering to learn Linux because most companies use Microsoft Windows and thus a knowledge of Windows is desired for most jobs.

The truth:   It is true that most companies still use the various Microsoft Windows operating systems. However, it is also true that Linux is being used by more and more businesses, government agencies and other organizations. In fact, the main thing that it preventing its use from growing even faster is the shortage of people who are trained in setting it up and administering it (e.g., system engineers and administrators). Moreover, people with Linux skills typically get paid substantially more than people with Windows skills.

Myth 4:   Linux cannot have much of a future because it is free and thus there is no way for businesses to make money from it.

The truth:   This is one of those arguments that sounds good superficially but which is not borne out by the evidence. The reality is that not only are more and more businesses and other organizations finding out that Linux can help reduce the costs of using computers, but also that more and more companies are likewise discovering that Linux can also be a great way to make money. For example, Linux is often bundled together with other software, hardware and consulting services. The most outstanding example is that of IBM, which has invested more than one billion dollars in Linux and is already making substantial profits from it.

Myth 5:   Linux and other free software is a type of software piracy because much of it was copied from other operating systems.

The truth:   Linux contains all original source code and definitely does not represent any kind of software piracy. Rather it is the other way around: much of the most popular commercial software is based on software that was originally developed at the public expense, including at universities such as the University of California at Berkeley (UCB).

Myth 6:   Linux and other free software are a kind of socialism and they destroy the free market and intellectual property.

The truth:   No, quite the opposite. Free software helps prevent software monopolies, which destroy the free market and result in high prices and shoddy quality. It does this by fostering competition among products and companies based on quality, features and service. Free software, which is also called open source software, is software that is free both in a monetary sense (i.e., it can be obtained by anyone at no cost) and with regard to use (i.e., it is permitted to be used by anyone for any purpose, including modifying, copying and distributing). Interestingly, some of the harshest critics of free software actually incorporate it into some of their products.

Myth 7:   There are few application programs available for Linux.

The truth:   Actually, there thousands of application programs already available for Linux and the number continues to increase. Also, the quality of these applications is typically as good as, and often better than, their commercial counterparts, and most of them are free. Moreover, some of these applications are so popular that versions have been developed for use on Microsoft Windows and other operating systems. For examples, see Best Open Source Applications for Microsoft Windows.

Myth 8:   Linux has poor support because there is no single company behind it, but rather just a bunch of hackers and amateurs.

The truth:   Quite the opposite: Linux has excellent support, often much better and faster than that for commercial software. There is a great deal of information available on the Internet and questions posted to newsgroups are typically answered within a few hours. Moreover, this support is free and there are no costly service contracts required. Commercial support is also available, if desired, from major computer companies such as Red Hat, Novell, IBM and HP. Also to kept in mind is the fact than many users find that less support is required than for other operating systems because Linux has relatively few bugs (i.e., errors in the way it was written) and is highly resistant to viruses and other malicious code.

Myth 9:   Linux is obsolete because it is mainly just a clone of an operating system that was developed more than 30 years ago.

The truth:   It is true that Linux is based on UNIX, which was developed in 1969. However, UNIX and its descendants (referred to as Unix-like operating systems) are regarded by many computer experts as the best (e.g., the most robust and the most flexible) operating systems ever developed. They have survived more than 30 years of rigorous testing and incremental improvement by the world's foremost computer scientists, whereas other operating systems do not survive for more than a few years, usually because of some combination of technical inferiority and planned obsolescence.

Myth 10:   Linux will have a hard time surviving in the long run because it has become fragmented into too many different versions.

The truth:   It is a fact that there are numerous distributions (i.e., versions) of Linux that have been developed by various companies, organizations and individuals. However, there is little true fragmentation of Linux into incompatible systems, in large part because all of these versions use the same basic kernels, commands and application programs. Rather, Linux is just an extremely flexible operating system that can be configured as desired by vendors and users according to the intended applications, users' preferences, etc. In fact, the various Microsoft Windows operating systems (e.g., Windows 95, ME, NT, CE, 2000, XP and Longhorn), although they superficially resemble each other, are more fragmented than Linux. Moreover, each of these systems is fragmented into various versions and then further changed by various service packs (i.e., patches which are supplied to users to correct various bugs and security holes).

Myth 11:   Linux and other free software cannot compete with commercial software in terms of quality because it is developed by an assorted collection of hackers and amateurs rather than the professional programmers employed by large corporations.

The truth:   Almost all software, including that at large corporations, is created at least in part by people who might have beards and look slightly unconventional. However, Linux and other free software has been created and refined by some of the most talented programmers in the world. Moreover, programmers from the of the largest corporations, including IBM and HP, have, and continue to, contribute to it. For more information, see Incentives to Develop Free Software.

Myth 12:   Linux is free at the start, but the total cost of ownership (TCO) is higher than for Microsoft Windows. This has been demonstrated by various studies.

The truth:   A major reason (but not the only one) for Linux's rapid growth around the world is that its TCO is substantially lower than that for commercial software. This has been demonstrated time and time again. Reasons that it is lower include not only (1) the fact that it is free but also that (2) it is more reliable and robust (i.e., rarely crashes or causes data loss), (3) support can be very inexpensive (although costly service contracts are available), (4) it can operate on older hardware and reduce the need for buying new hardware, (5) there are no forced upgrades and (6) no tedious and costly license compliance monitoring is required. The only studies that show that Linux's TCO is higher are those sponsored by Microsoft.

A major reason provided for the supposedly higher TCO of Linux is that Linux system administrators are more expensive to hire than persons with expertise in Microsoft products. Although this is generally true, it overlooks the fact that Linux systems administrators are usually much more productive because there are relatively few viruses to deal with, security patches to install, system crashes to cope with and licensing issues to contend with.

Created September 11, 2005.
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