The Case for Linux

If you've been online for any time at all, you've probably at least heard mention of Linux. What is it exactly? And is it worth your time?

Linux, put simply, is an operating system, just like Windows or Mac. Linux, however, is open-source and as such there's dozens of variations of it. Some require more technical knowledge than others. Some versions are run by an official team, such as Fedora, and others are purely made on a volunteer basis, like Debian. Some are specialized towards a specific job or purpose, like AVLinux, and others are designed to be used by anyone and everyone.

So first off, why should you consider switching to Linux? For starters, security. Linux has relatively fewer viruses and malware compared to Windows or Mac, mainly due to it's low market share and fewer users. That's not to say it's built more secure, it's more of a “security-through-obscurity” thing so don't go being reckless with your clicking.

Another advantage to Linux is privacy and customization. Linux has no central owner, so there's nowhere to “call home” to. Windows 10, on the other hand, has been caught with a keylogger on even their most minuscule software like Calculator and Office. (Source) That's an incredible jump in privacy right off the bat by ditching all that telemetry. Also, because Linux is open source, there's a million ways to customize it if you feel comfortable messing with that. And if you don't, there's so many flavors that you're likely to find one that feels right for you. There's versions designed to look like MacOS or Windows XP. Even the same version of Linux could have multiple different desktop environments for you to pick from, completely changing the feel of the system.

In light of all that, should you switch to Linux? The short answer I would recommend is “if you can.” Unfortunately some of us have specific hobbies or jobs that require Windows/Mac only software. Hardcore or professional gamers, for example, will be hard pressed to find a Linux distro that can support some of the popular titles or use the same stability as a conventional OS (though I encourage them to check out Pop!_OS, as Linux gaming has a come a long way in recent years). Other people, such as graphic designers and musicians, may find that the software they rely on that most benefit their workflow are not available on Linux. And of course, there are tons of other jobs that rely on proprietary software that are only available for Windows or Mac. So before I give a hard “yes, everyone should switch,” it's important to note that sadly that's not an option for everyone. Of course, there's nothing to stop you from having a work computer and a personal computer that runs Linux (except perhaps finances). You could also try dual-booting if you feel comfortable with that and have the authority to do so on your machine.

How hard is it to use Linux? Again, it depends. Distributions such as Qubes require a high degree of technical knowledge and comfort. Other versions like Mint and Ubuntu are very straightforward and come with a high level of support online through the communities who use them.

Which version do you want? If you're a Mac user, ElementaryOS is probably the place to start. It's gorgeous and looks a lot like MacOS. It will probably feel most at home as an introduction to Linux. If you're a Windows user, Mint looks like Windows XP and will probably be your best introduction. If you're tech savvy and feel comfortable diving right into a different operating system altogether, Ubuntu is by far the most popular Linux distribution. I personally recommend Fedora or Debian. Debian will be the most easily compatible with many of the programs you may already be used to – like Slack or Discord – but Fedora offers significantly better security. Just about any distribution – except perhaps the highly specialized ones – will give you the same basic ability to check your email, watch Netflix, listen to music, browse the web, and create text documents. If you need anything more than that, I recommend checking the program's website to see what operating systems it supports. You could also check “app stores” like Flatpak and Snapcraft.

If you're interested and curious about switching, in addition to just searching “getting started with Linux,” I recommend this site which quizzes you about what's important to you and recommends different distributions based on that. I also strong encourage readers to try Linux out for a test period – either through dual-booting, running off a Live USB, or a virtual machine – to find which one is right for you and if you're even able to switch at all. Good luck, and I hope you're able to find a Linux distro that works for you!

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.org. You can also get daily privacy news updates at @thenewoil@freeradical.zone or support my work in a variety of ways here.