In the previous post about operating system families, I looked briefly at Macs; this post will give you a quick overview of Linux.
Linux has never had a very big share of the personal desktop computing market. (Things are otherwise in the world of servers, though. “Servers” power the websites you read, such as this one.) As of this time, early 2012, the figure is about 5%, even though Linux is free.
Linux is what’s called “open source.” This means that everyone has access to its code, and no one company can restrict it. This is what makes the Linux world so decentralized–and what keeps it market share so small. Everything you can do with Linux, you do because you are dependent on someone else. This is different than with Macs and Windows-based computers because that someone else is likely a volunteer. Support for drivers, for instance, may not come to the Linux world quite as quickly as it does to Macs and PC’s because people may not be paid to make it happen. It depends on the hardware company, of course.
Computing magazines often tout the greatness of Linux, and the fact that it’s free, but if you are a general consumer with limited time, you may want to stay away. Take the very name, “Linux,” for example. You’d expect that a site like Linx.org would be professionally-done. As of the time of this website, it’s been shut down for about 24 hours. Linux.com is up and running, but is not suitable for learning where to download the various distributions of this operating system, much less what they are. There are dozens of other Linux flavors (called “distributions” or even “distros”), including Fedora, Mint, and Ubuntu–and even X-Ubuntu and K-Ubuntu, but there is no easy way to compare them all because the world of Linux is quite simply chaotic.
There is another reason to stay away from Linux, though: very few laptops come with it. If you buy a laptop and it already has an operating system that you have paid for, it might seem very reasonable to keep that software. For my part, I anticipate looking over Linux for a new computer only if it can come already installed, which at this point isn’t a common event. I may look into it for my own computer when support for my operating system dies, but everything will depend on what happens at that time. In short: if you are buying a laptop computer, it is unlikely that you will get one with Linux on it.
In the mean time, just as Apple has its “fanboys,” so does Linux. It would be ridiculous to make sweeping generalizations of Linux users, but some are certainly driven by something like religious zeal; others have quite a sense of humor. For you as a general user and consumer, though, it’s very likely that Macs or Windows computers make more sense than the confusion of hundreds of distributions of Linux.
Word of the Day: Distro: a flavour of Linux, short for “distribution.” “Fanboys” was explained in the previous post.