Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Windows vs Linux - Reason 1

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I was chatting with a handful of my friends the other day when my favorite subject was raised. Linux! Over the next few weeks, I’ll try to write down the various things we discussed. It may open your eyes and get you to thinking more about Linux.The topic that got the ball rolling was the question, “Can you give me just one good reason why Linux is better than Windows?” This was from the Microsoft Certified Engineer (MCSE) in the group. He is one of those guys that has to have solid, factual, and absolute proof, not just so-so reasons.

The FIRST item mentioned was ‘Malware’! We all have been fighting the war on Spyware, Adware, and viruses of all sorts. What you may not know is that such things are all but nonexistent in the Linux world.

Linux hardly has any viruses. And that's not like "Oh well, not very often, you know". It is more along the lines of, "I think I may have heard of one a year or so ago but I may be mistaken.” Of course, a Linux virus is not impossible to find. However, Linux makes it very difficult for this to happen, for several reasons.

First of all, most people use Microsoft Windows, and pirates want to do as much damage (or control) as possible: therefore, they target Windows. But that's not the only reason; the Apache web server (a web server is a program located on a remote computer that sends web pages to your browser when you ask for them), which is open source software, has the biggest market share (against Microsoft's IIS server), but it still suffers from much fewer attacks/flaws than the Microsoft one.

Linux uses smart authorization management. In Windows you (and any program you install, including malware) have the right to do pretty much anything to the system. If you feel like punishing your PC because it just let your precious work disappear, you can go inside the system folder and delete whatever you want: Windows won't complain. Of course, the next time you reboot, you pay the price. If you can delete this system stuff, other programs can, too, or just mess it up. Linux doesn't allow that. Every time you request to do something that has to do with the system, an administrator (or ‘root’) password is required and if you're not an administrator on the system, you can’t change or erase a thing. Viruses can't just go around and delete or modify what they want in the system for the same reason. They don't have the authorization. Spyware can’t run at all without permission. In fact, most (98%) of the system configuration files can only be changed by the administrator directly modifying them.

“What about security flaws in the program?” Unlike Windows, Linux Distros (Linux speak for distributions) are Open Source. That means the source code is freely available to anyone. With the hundreds of programs in a distro, there are thousands highly skilled and experienced developers along with a very large group of testers that spend hundreds of hours trying to find the errors and eradicating them. There is that old Chinese proverb, “Many hands make light work!” and it is very true in the Linux world.

Another thing, if the user community (folks like you) find something they missed, it will usually take just a day or two, when reported, to get a fix written and made available to the entire community.