Sunday, July 3, 2011


DISCLAIMER: This post is a kind-of eulogy for everything in the software world that is free and open-source. And hence, I'm sure, it is understood I'm not being paid by FOSS or someone... :D

"...that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." - Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863

"Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix will be obvious to someone." - Eric Raymond, 1997

"Only wimps use tape backup: real men just upload their important stuff on ftp, and let the rest of the world mirror it ;)" - Linus Torvalds, 1996

If you're wondering why I'm blabbering about all these oldies here and now (Lincoln was old, Raymond and Torvalds, on the other hand, not so much...), you must not have been in touch with me or at he very least, my FB profile and status updates. I've been in touch with one of the most important sensations I have ever been into. By the way, this is the first post I'm typing on my laptop. I always wanted to do this - be free! Free as in freedom. Freedom from finding software that can serve all my purposes and yet, be free (this time, as in cost :P). Freedom from figuratively looking over the shoulder all the time trying to see if someone knows that you are actually using pirated software. In this aspect, India is very much ahead than probably any other nation in the world. Let me put this into perspective - pick up like 20 computer users in India, 19 of them use any of the versions of Windows. And of those 19, about 10 still use Windows XP. Of those 10 people, about 8 have never spent a buck (literally) on the Windows software they use or most of the times, not even for any other compatible software that they need to use on their machines like, for instance, Photoshop, MS Office, Matlab et al. OK, what is this post about? You might've guessed it - Linux.

First things first : It costs you only the time it takes to download it. Almost every version (a Linux version is called a Distro, short for distribution.) comes free. being true Indians as we all are, we like to get things for free.On the other hand, we have a never ending paranoia. Why is he giving this thing to us for free? It is probably defective, probably sub-standard. I had the similar doubts about Linux back in December '09. Did you know that, linux is probably the most standarized of all the operating systems available? Virtually every big corporation (and I'm talking real BIG) uses one of the Linux distributions - Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Ubuntu, Mandriva et. al. (Most likely Red Hat, though.)

Why did I venture into this? I've been asked this a lot - at least ever since I started rallying about Linux and especially Ubuntu to any living soul I know :D. OK, why? Back in December, I was planning on buying a laptop and had started researching for a good one (and so far, I have found it). What I found common with all brands was - laptops with Windows cost a considerable amount more than those without the same. It was during that period that I learnt a lot (a LOT) about things like processor architectures, OS architectures and other technical things. The irony is that - I was supposed to have known them for like 3 subjects that I took and yet, I found the fun in those subjects. Mostly because, knowing things is different from learning them (for like an exam or for an assignment). So, i thought, what other options do I have - for an Operating System. I wanted it to be cheap and or once in my life, I wanted it to be legal. On my desktop, I use a shared (between friends and all) version of Windows XP, which incidentally, cost me nothing :). I wanted my laptop to be totally free (except for the hardware, of course) and yet, legal, cutting-edge, and reasonably user-friendly. That was when I stumbled upon Linux. I pored over thousands of lines of reports, bench-mark tests, and technical details and ended up choosing Ubuntu, especially because it was just about a CD's size and of course, meant for personal users.

Now that I've answered the obvious question, another question. Linux is free, huh? What if it's all a conspiracy and all they want is your personal data and corrupt it all. (Trust me, I've been actually asked this.) Let's face it guys, you are not the center of the universe. No one is out there to get you, let alone all the silly things that make up your data. No one simply cares. And even if they do, Linux is at the very least as safe as the other options you have. Viruses, on the other hand, are a totally different issue. They are not aimed personally at anyone, no? Well, this next thing is not so much because of Linux's (come to think of it, any *NIX), omnipotence, but because of the smaller user-base of the *NIX OSes. There are practically (I can't emphasize this enough) no wild viruses for Linux - as of now, at least. That certainly is one less thing to worry about, don't you think?

True, Linux comes with a learning curve, a very long one at that. I've been using Linux for about 2+ years now, and yet, learn at least one new thing every week - try to beat that with Windows. And, I'm not even talking about any software, just the OS by itself.

Well, I'll leave you to figure out the rest of Linux. If you are at all into technology, I suggest you start using Linux - not great for games, but the thrill of learning something so pure...unbeatable!!

An excellent article I read about the differences in philosophies is go through it and of course hit the Distro websites.

Ubuntu - My personal favorite
CentOS - My second favorite, just a clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux - Stability
Fedora - Just a cutting edge version of Red Hat
Distrowatch - Reading material on all the Distributions

"...the Linux philosophy is "laugh in the face of danger". Oops. Wrong one. "Do it yourself". That's it.
- Linus Torvalds, 1996


P.S.: Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.

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