Article: “10 reasons Linux should be your netbook operating system

Linux is relatively fast compared to Windows, making it likely the better choice for netbooks than Windows. My mother’s netbook from Dell runs Ubuntu 8.10, if I remember correctly, and she can use it reasonably well. But in his most recent blog post, it is becoming clear that TechRepublic’s Jack Wallen has a few Linux sound bytes stuck in repeat mode in the back of his mind.

“1: Netbook hardware is the perfect match for Linux”

I will say that Jack is correct in that you won’t really be able to do much with a netbook as far as high-power applications and games are concerned, but he slips when he says that “Linux is the perfect networking operating system”.

This may or may not be the case, and it will depend on your netbook. If it came with Windows pre-installed and you are considering switching to a Linux distribution, check with the manufacturer to find out if all of the built-in hardware is supported, especially the wireless network adapter.

Also check to see what kind of support they will provide if you decide to change to Linux (some may cut off support if you do this, something Jack conveniently forgets to mention).

Jack, you need to seriously stop assuming that Linux “just works”, because as many have pointed out, including recently, that isn’t always the case. Just because you were able to successfully convert one person’s netbook to Linux does not mean everyone’s transition will be as smooth.

“2: Netbooks require a secure OS”

Ugh… Jack, why do you keep saying this, in one variation or another: “Your Linux-based netbook can travel anywhere you want and you won’t have to worry about picking up viruses or spyware like you would with a Windows-based netbook.”

As many security experts have pointed out, this again is not always the case, and it is actually only a matter of time before this may not be the case. Many have speculated that the only reason Linux isn’t a virus hotbed right now is because it is not popular.

As has been pointed out numerous times: No operating system is immune.

“3: It’s all about the interface”

In this section of his blog post, he’s definitely showing his “fanboy-ism”: “It’s obvious the interface was well thought out and aimed at the new PC user as well as the new netbook user.” Personally, just as I think I am far from qualified from making this kind of assessment, so too is Jack.

Any person who has been using a computer, any computer, for longer than a couple years is removed from qualification on assessing whether an interface is “aimed at the new PC user” for one simple reason: they are not new users. Sure, we can all remember our frustrations with trying to learn how to use a particular application or operating system, or can you?

The only way to know how friendly an interface is to “new PC users” is to observe new PC users, and how many has Jack observed recently? Probably far too few to make the broad assessment he’s made in his blog post. Which is also why you won’t see me making that kind of assessment regarding an operating system.

“4: Your netbook can be more than just a slow laptop”

There’s not much I can say about this section. He’s comparing two Linux distributions I’ve never used, so I can’t really say anything. However, he closes this section by saying that you can install a LAMP server if you wish. About the only individuals for whom such a capability is useful are those needing to demonstrate web applications (sales personnel, for example).

"5: Linux will keep your cost down”

There’s really only one thing to point out here: Jack seems to conveniently forget that there is commercial software for Linux. Sure, you likely won’t be running any of it on a netbook, unless you need it to keep in touch with the corporate office, but it’s out there. He also seems to conveniently forget that there are free security applications for Windows. I use one on all of my Windows machines at home: Avast AntiVirus.

My laptop runs Windows XP. I paid extra to get Microsoft Office Basic installed as well, because I prefer it to OpenOffice. For my laptop, I’ve only ever purchased one other piece of software: Visual C++.NET 2003. Most who buy a desktop or laptop computer, or a netbook, will not pay for any other software they run because what they need is available for free.

In fact, with my fiancée’s desktop computer, which we built a little over two years ago, the only software she runs that we actually purchased was the operating system. And everything on her machine is legal.

“6: Linux offers more flavors to choose from”

Some would say Linux offers “too many” flavors. It’s been pointed out numerous times as one reason why Linux has yet to “take over” in the desktop market. Sure there are only a few that are actually relevant, in my opinion, but there are still way too many out there and it needs to be scaled back.

This has also been demonstrated as one of the major flaws of the GPL model.

“7: You’ll gain speed”

While I will agree that Linux is fast, he points out one important caveat: there are differences between Linux distributions. And whether you see a gain in speed will depend on which one you choose.

Are all better than Windows? This depends on what you want to do and is highly subjective. I doubt Jack has tested every scenario, so he cannot say with absolute confidence that this is the case.

“8: Improvements will come faster and more often”

Again, Jack is continuing with the empty statements. First, he says “Just like any software in the open source community, the Linux netbook operating systems will continue to improve at a much faster rate than the Windows operating systems for netbooks”.

Jack, please, stop making blanket assumptions with Linux. Okay, you’re a huge fan, but stop with the blanket assumptions.

As one responder pointed out in the comments to the blog post: “Microsoft release security updates as frequently as required and in small "chunks". A Service Pack is merely a collection of already released security updates packaged with new OS features.”

How many people really want their operating system to change frequently? Sure you might like new features, but I prefer my applications to change and adapt, not my operating system. I just want my operating system to work, and I’m sure most everyone else out there feels the same.

“9: The next version will work”

Another statement that Jack is just a bastion of assumptions. With all applications you run the risk that an upgrade will break something. The only difference with an operating system is that the break tends to be a little more mission-critical – it is the software running the computer, after all.

Assuming that the next version will “just work” is preposterous. How will you know unless you actually try it? It is impossible to test an application under all possible hardware and software combinations, which is why no one software engineer will every risk his/her career and reputation by saying “it’ll just work”.

“10: Support is better (believe it or not)”

And I don’t believe it. Never have, never will.

The single biggest problem with community-based support models is the community. The community does not have any incentive to provide good support. Paid support techs at Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, and the like, do have one hell of an incentive: their paycheck. Now this doesn’t mean that the support you get will automatically be good, but it does mean that are repercussions for those who don’t provide good support.

If you get bad support from the community, who do you complain to? The community that gave the bad support.

The choice is yours

Linux is not for everyone. Just like with Windows, there is a learning curve with Linux, though that curve tends to be larger with Linux than with Windows. For me, I prefer Windows, not only because I’ve been using it in its various versions for at least a decade, but also because it works with what I use most. I’m also a Windows software developer, though I’m trying to find ways to break into cross-platform application development.

On my media server, however, I use openSUSE 11.1. Why? MediaTomb. That’s the only reason. I’ve found MediaTomb to be better than the Windows UPnP software I previously used: TVersity. It’s also running MySQL as MediaTomb’s database backend, which is also used as the database for GnuCash, as the latest unstable version can talk to MySQL. I wonder how well GnuCash runs on netbooks?

But the choice is yours as to whether you change over to Linux. Just always make sure that in whatever change you make you have a way to undo what you’ve done.