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Now some quick myth debunking.

Linux is just home hobbyist tinker software and homebrew.

GNU/Linux is free as in freedom. Anyone is allowed access to the source code. While there are a substantial amount of "home hobbiests" working on GNU/Linux software, the number of large corporate and commercial programmers working on GNU/Linux outweighs them hundreds of times over.

Anyone who has worked in, with, on or even near a computer in the last 20 years will recognise names like IBM, Hewlet Packard and Novell. All of these companies have heavy IP (Intellectual Property) investments in GNU/Linux, and have provided between them billions of lines of code, all at a very high end of quality. All three companies are responsible for GNU/Linux servers and devices that run the world's banks, hospitals and life support systems, finance and stock market servers, all the way down to office file servers, movie studio render farms, and even average end-user desktops.

You can't make money from free software!

Yes you can. I do, for a start.

As mentioned, you can sell free software. That is your freedom. You can sell it for any price you like, to anyone you like, whether you programmed it or not. That is your freedom. Of course, someone else is free to do the same at a lower price than you.

As already mentioned, IBM, HP and Novell all sell free software. They sell it for big bikkies too (try and get a quote from IBM for some Linux servers, but make sure you're sitting down first). Some of these companies sell hardware and software bundled together. Some sell just software. The world's most famous all-Linux company is undoubtedly RedHat, who arguably were the world's first corporate-targetting all-GNU/Linux company:

Other companies have since surfaced, including SuSE (now owned by Novell), Mandrake/Mandriva, and a small South African mob called Canonical who are picking up speed with their very user-friendly Ubuntu distribution.

These companies sell not only software, but their service to go with.

Why the hell would you buy something that's free?

Again, the "free" means "freedom", not "no cost".

But, GNU/Linux distributions are usually free of cost to download. Some even will send you a printed CD for no cost, and even pay for the shipping? So why would you buy it? Good question.

As mentioned, service is the big answer there. Big companies fear being left in the cold. Nobody wants to buy some software and have no-one to train them on how to use it, or fix it when it goes wrong.

Now, let's go back to our three of our 4 freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Free Software gives businesses the freedom to do all of this. Further more, one of the big perils of business is "vendor lock in". There's nothing worse than signing a 5-year support contract with a company, and then having them treat you like dirt. I've been through it dozens of times: a company buys some non-free software with a support contract, the support people play nice for 12 months but then all of a sudden turn nasty and start charing for every phone call and every email making the cost of support 10 times what was first advertised. In the process, the company who bought the software are stuck as they can't improve the software themselves, and they can't hire someone else to improve it either.

Free Software gives businesses the freedom to change support personnel. Having the source code ensures that new developers can be called in, and they can fix and adapt the software to the comany's needs.

Look that's great, but I'm a home user and I don't care about support nor the corporate world - I'm just a home user Valid point. But freedom is more than support. With free software you can set up software any way you like, with no need to worry about corporate-style licensing. Want a mail server at home? Sure, you're free to do that without paying for Microsoft Exchange. Want to give your grandma a copy? Sure, you're free to do that without buying another license. Want to have a go at writing a website or program yourself? Sure, you're free to make yourself a web server or write and compile code without needing to buy expensive corporate-focussed software that is way beyond what the home user needs.

What's a "distro"?

GNU/Linux is free - free to modify, free to improve, free to redistribute. As such, many companies and individuals roll their own distributions (or "distros") which are just collections of pre-packaged free software. The choice of distro is largely irrelevant - they all have pros and cons and no single distro is "the best". Users are free to pick the one that suits their need.

Some distros focus on different things: some are designed for desktops, some for servers, some for personal video recorders, some for embedded devices, and some just to be really nerdy and hard to use.

What's with all these "distros"? Why don't they just make one Linux and be done with it?

GNU/Linux is about freedom. Freedom of choice is a MASSIVE freedom, and one that everyone deserves.

The question is: whose distro is the best? Whose distro is the most correct? Well, I know which one *I* like the best, but who's to say that my preference would meet the needs of everyone else?

Switching to GNU/Linux can be a daunting task for new users, there is no doubt. When I first started using Linux there were one tenth the amount of distros there are today.

My advice to new-to-Linux users is this: pick a distro with good *COMMUNITY* support. Go to the disto authors website, and look to see if they have forums or mailing lists. Even people like me with 10+ years of Linux experience run into hurdles occasionally. Having a forum with thousands of users all in the same boat helps. Again, going back to the 4 freedoms: an important freedom is the need to help your neighbour. One that resonates loudly through the Linux community.

I hate using Linux - what are my other options?

As mentioned, Linux is not the only free software out there. BSD is a popular alternative to Linux, and comes in many flavours. One popular alternative is Apple's MacOSX. While the GUI frontend desktop is not free software, the underlying architecture and kernel are. Plenty of GNU free software makes Macs run today. If you're a Mac user reading this in Safari, you are actually using Apple's modified version of the free "Konqueror" Linux web browser!

And if you still want to stick with Windows, there is TONNES of free software making it's way to Microsoft's baby. I would hazard a guess that a lot of you are reading this from the Mozilla Firefox web browser. Or perhaps you read your email and RSS feeds in Mozilla Thunderbird. Perhaps you write documents in Open Office. Even this very forum you are using now is built on free software (and another example of free software that somebody paid for, because it was worth the cash).

Even after all is said and done, if people can't give up Windows, it doesn't mean they are restricted from using free software. Again, free software is about freedom - even if you don't want to run a free OS, you can still run free software. That is your freedom.

That will do for now. There's a lot of information there to digest. Later, I'll get right into the meat of it and start listing some useful applications that people need in their day to day lives. As mentioned: an OS without Apps is useless. So what do we Linux users actually do on our desktops? Find out next time...

Part 3 we go over installing software on Linux.

<< Part 1 | Part 3 >>

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