Editorial Notebook

Consider using Linux

You go to RPI, so you’ve probably heard about Linux and free software. You’re probably tired of your friends telling you to uninstall Windows. Otherwise, you’re most likely the one telling people to make the switch.

Five years ago, my friend Gino first introduced me to the world of Linux. It sounded cool—a stable, customizable operating system that doesn’t cost any money? I was interested, so he gave me an install CD … and what looked like fifty pages of tutorial on setting up a dual boot.

I did not install that CD. I needed my computer to work so I could write a paper. Linux looked hard, and I’d rather have a functioning Windows computer. I gave the CD back to Gino the next week without using it.

Today, I use free software almost exclusively—I haven’t booted Windows at all this semester. However, I haven’t changed all that much; free software has just gotten better.

Over the past few years, it’s suddenly gotten easy to run Linux. Distributions (flavors of Linux) like Ubuntu and Linux Mint are catering to less technical users like never before. You can install Ubuntu alongside Windows at the click of a button (just Google “Ubuntu Windows installer”—it’s the first result). There are “App Stores” where you can download and install programs like Google Chrome and Skype. I got Starcraft II to install without any problems. Linux isn’t just for terminal wizards anymore. You don’t have to manually edit the boot record or recompile the kernel. Almost everything just works.

The funny thing is, the longer I’ve been here, the more of a terminal wizard I’ve become. I’m not some guru who’s been on a UNIX command line for fifty years, but I find myself using the terminal for more and more things. You never have to use it, but sometimes it’s faster or cleaner to use plain text than a cluttered GUI. VIM has become my favorite way to write code—or anything else, like this editorial.

Anyway, if you don’t feel like paying for Windows 8, try Linux Mint or Ubuntu instead. You get a free, modern operating system that doesn’t blue screen and is just as good (if not better) for day-to-day operation like web surfing, e-mail, and homework. You can even save a Windows partition for gaming, if you’re into that.

Why do I care if you use Linux? Because the bigger the userbase, the better it gets. The more people report bugs, the fewer bugs there will be in the next release. The more users request support from third-party software, the more vendors will publish for the platform. I already think Linux is an excellent piece of software, but there’s always room for improvement.

If you don’t want to switch operating systems, you can still use free software on a PC or Mac. If you’ve ever had to worry about which version of PowerPoint the school computer will have, you can use a portable version of OpenOffice instead and know exactly how your presentation will look. GIMP may not be the nicest-looking program, but it gets the job done without costing you several hundred dollars like Adobe Photoshop.

As a concluding point, the Linux mascot is an awesome penguin named Tux. Which would you rather have—a well-dressed bird of the sea, or that annoying paperclip?