Sunday, October 15, 2006

Windows vs Linux Reason 5

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Linux and "Open Source" software are "free". This means their license is a "free license", and the most common is the GPL (General Public License, or the CopyLeft license). This license states that anyone is allowed to copy the software, see the source code, modify it, and redistribute it as long as it remains licensed with the GPL. Also, being free doesn’t just mean free of charge, but also free as in free range (chickens?) and Land of the Free!

So what do you care about freedom? Imagine that Microsoft disappears tomorrow (okay, that's not very likely, but what about in 5 years, 10 years? Wishful thinking? Not me, uh uh, no sir!). Or imagine it suddenly boosts the price for a Windows or Office license. If you're tied to Windows, there's nothing you can do. You (or your business) rely on this one company, on its software, and you can't possibly make things work without it. What good is a computer without a functional operating system? That is a serious problem! You're depending on one single company and trusting it wholeheartedly to let something so important nowadays as your computer, work the way they should. If Microsoft decides to charge $1000 for the next version of Windows, there's nothing you can do about it except switch to Linux, of course. If Windows has a bug that bothers you and Microsoft won't fix it, there's nothing you can do and submitting bugs to Microsoft isn't that easy.

With Open Source, if a particular project or support company dies, all the code remains open to the community and people can keep improving it. If a project is especially useful to you, you can even take over yourself. If a particular bug annoys you, you can submit it, talk with the developers, you can fix it yourself or hire someone to do it for you, and send the changes back to the upstream developers so that everyone gets the improvement as well. You're free to do just about whatever you want with the software. If you aren’t a developer, you can’t do much, of course, but as a user you have a lot of clout. .

That brings up the subject of Updates. In Windows, you get a large block of ‘Critical’ updates and a few ‘Not-so-Critical‘ ones that are supposed to fix discovered flaws in the various components that make up Windows. You have very little control over what gets updated and, if an update breaks something, you are stuck until you can convince Microsoft that they broke your system. (Good luck with that!) Sometimes an update fix creates one or more additional flaws which will require another update.

In Linux distros, updates are a regular thing, too. The difference is the update does far more than just installing a set of patches. The Linux update process also keeps your system up to date with new versions of installed applications. If a developer improves an application by adding a few new features, the update process is the method used to update all the installed copies of the application. Don’t want the new stuff? No problem. You just select the updates you want and let the rest slide by.

It’s all about maintaining control over your computer!