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Linux Myth Dispeller
By Kenneth R. Kinder
There are plenty of Linux (and UNIX) myths that have been creeping
around the Internet, presenting a danger to the growth of Linux, and its
eventual overtake of Windows, DOS, and Macintosh. To prevent such a tragedy,
I attempt to dispel many of the myths that plague Linux's reputation. Based
on what I have seen in on-line newspapers, magazines, newsgroups, and on
the web, I have compiled a list of false-myths about Linux, and I explain
where (if at all) these myths are based, and what the facts are. For general
Linux information see Linux.org or
Linux Documentation Project.
I'm sure there are myths I haven't mentioned here. If you think one
needs to be listed, please email me.
Table of Contents
Installation & Setup
There are probably the worst myths about Linux for its installation &
setup. While Linux can be made to have a challenging installation &
setup, most distributions take care of it for you.
Linux is a nightmare to install
I installed Linux in less than an hour, and was up and running. The installation
can be handled manually, in which case it may take a while (this would
be copying each file set, and unpacking them by hand). However, nearly
every distribution has an installation program that mealy prompts you for
what to install, and some basic settings, then does all the work for you.
After getting a Linux CD, you'll probably be up and running within an hour. In
the old'en days, this has been true, and Linux can be made hard to install.
Setting up Linux requires hours of time, and can only be done by experts
This myth is perpetuated by the fact that Linux is so customizable. Changing,
recompiling, and other modifications that can only be done under UNIX systems
and not under Windows makes Linux an operating system that can be configured
to do and be just about anything. When you install most Linux distributions,
the OS is every bit as setup as Windows 95 or Mac System. The catch is,
Windows 95 and Mac System have a limited set of changes you can make. Experts
of course can reconfigure more, such as rewriting some of the utilities,
but every-day users are perfectly capable of configuring standard usage
After you install Linux, you still don't have any everyday software
To some extent, this can be said about any operating system. Saying however,
that Linux has less install-time software than Mac System or Windows however
is laughable. Linux distributions comes with all the development software,
Internet software (besides Netscape), and system-related software you'll
need. While Linux does come with games, some office-related software, however
they do have something to be desired, but no more than Mac System or Windows.
Because Linux is really a full UNIX, it comes with everything you'd seen
in a a standard UNIX build too.
The Linux system and Kernel are very powerful. Of all the fictional Linux
myths, these are probably the most untrue.
Linux multitasks only as well as Windows or Mac
Microsoft, and Apple would have you believe that their operating systems
multitask (run more than one program at once). Using the term loosely,
they do. Using the term strictly, they task switch only. Although more
than one program maybe opened, you may notice that sometimes the system
stops responding. Perhaps while mounting (detecting) a CD, or scanning
a floppy drive. That's because of cooperative multitasking, as opposed
to Linux's preemptive multitasking. A cooperative multitasker (such as
Mac System or Windows) will give a program control of the system until
the program chooses to give it back. Therefor, when a program is taking
a while on a specific procedure, it can hang up the system, and deny other
programs operating time. In a preemptive multitasker, a program is given
a set number of clock cycles, then it is preemptived, and another program
has the system for a set number of clock cycles. Linux is preemptive through
and through. Mac System has absolutely nothing preemptive about it (although
Apple claims the new OS will be partially preemptive). Windows 3.1 has
a preemptive mouse only. Windows 95 is partially preemptive. Between Apple,
and Microsoft, their only fully preemptive multitasker is Windows NT.
Linux is slow
A few DOS programs that act as their on OS may do some things faster than
their Linux counter parts. This is simply because they aren't being multitasked
by system. Other than that, Linux tends to be faster. An operating system
that does operations comparable to Linux is NT. Linux is well over twice
as fast as NT. Mac System is consistently slower, as are most Windows programs.
Linux crashes frequently
Hardware is often ignored by other operating systems. On the other hand,
Linux takes advantage of all the hardware it can. Sometimes, if you have
defective hardware that other operating systems don't take advantage of,
Linux will crash. This is to be expected. Claiming an OS should remain
stable when your memory doesn't retain information is unrealistic. A properly
set up Linux system that is running on good hardware will nearly never crash.
This is because if the operating system doesn't bring itself down, nothing
will. Programs can never crash the system under Linux, because of the way
it's built with things like memory protection, instruction monitoring,
and other devices built in to any true kernel. For example, in Linux the
"General Protection Fault" error can only be triggered if your computer's
memory is simply not keeping its information (in which case, you should
return it to the factory).
Linux does not support threads
Does it ever! Linux supports fully preemptive threads for all programs
and scripts that request it! The simple truth is, has better threading
than Windows 95 or NT's threads, and Mac System and Windows don't have
threads if they aren't managed by the program or a third party library.
The Linux operating system is to huge too be practical
There are two ways an operating system can be big. In hard drive space,
and in memory. DOS is always going to be smaller than Linux. If you think
DOS is the operating system of the future, enjoy its compact design. Windows
on the other hand is terribly bloated. While Windows 95, and Linux take
up similar amounts of hard drive space, Linux has much more packed in the
disk space used. Installations designed for desktop users runs around 100
megs, with all the toys, gadgets, utilities, and development software.
Internet servers the same. In memory, Windows 95 takes up obscene amounts
of memory, enough to make a kernel programmer dissy. Although the Windows
95 box says 4 megs, the OS can't even fit itself in 4 megs, and gets swapped
in and out, without any programs running. Linux on the other hand, with
all its power, takes up about 1/4 of the memory Windows 95 does. Alas,
NT takes up more memory than any operating system to date, and Mac System's
is comparable to 3.1, which takes up about as much as Linux.
Linux is hard to network
For Mac, it's AppleTalk. For Novell, it's IPX. For Windows, it's a mystery.
For the Internet, it's TCP/IP. Linux supports them all. As you may know,
TCP/IP (Internet Protocol) is the best networking protocol, and is native
to UNIX. It is also native to Linux. Networking Linux can be done in one
weekend (assuming you do have network cards), with some reading, testing,
and setting up. Connecting it to the Internet takes about 10 minutes. Networking
always has some stigma to it, but Linux is certainly no worse than other
Linux is an insecure operating system
Generally, UNIX-like systems have a reputation of being insecure. Linux
compares very well to other UNIX's, due to its open status. Another myth
about open OS's in general is that they are insecure, which is based on the
thought that its weeknesses are exposed in its source code. However, when
its code is readily obtainable, more experts are likely to download it and
report its bugs. On the other hand, with a closed system like Rahpsody or
Windows NT, only hackers/crackers actually reverse engineer the code to
exploit its security issues. Time has proven this thoery: remember when the
Netscape bug was discovered by a student? How likely is it that the bug
would have been exposed if he weren't able to download the security-related
source, and inspect it. There are a growing number of Linux-based ISPs and
web servers, and very few hack incidents have happened on these. Research
information regard security at cert.org.
Software & Development
Software, and the development of it is great under Linux. The myths here
are nearly as bad as the installation & setup myths.
There is no office software, or software at all for Linux
Most Linux distributions come with a huge collection of software, certainly
more than you'd find in Windows or MacOS. Office softare, Linux does not
come with much of. There's some to download, which compares very well
to lousy Mac and Windows office software like Works (except with full justify.
<g>). Just like on a Macintosh or Windows software, you can spend large amounts
of money for commercail office suits. Applixware, StarOffice and others with the
features of MS Office, but tend to run cleaner and faster. Because for many users,
non-copylefted software is offencive, Linux a vast collection of freeware programs.
Here are a few software resources...
Here is a few of my favorit programs that didn't come with my distribution...
- TkDesk is simply glorious. This program combines the greatest features of Finder, Explorer w/ Windows 95, Norten Desktop, but on stariods. Preemptive thread stariods. Its amazing file manager, menu bar, and utilities make a Linux or Unix desktops adictive! [Freeware, GPL]
- Window Programming Environment ok, did come with my distribution, but doesn't come with many others. It's a great programming editor for both X, and charecter mode. It features CUSTOM syntax highlighting, error message parcing, and seamless compiler shelling. Those who have used Borland's DOS interface found in Turbo for DOS will find its similarities uncanny! [Freeware, GPL]
- Visual TCL is much like a Visual Basic IDE for TCL/TK. [Freeware, GPL]
There are of course more, but I'm not here to list the programs I use.
Linux software is hard to use UNIX-left overs
Allot of the UNIX software for Linux does have a learning curve. The other
more modern Linux software is often for X-Windows (the GUI) and is very easy
to use and learn. Older UNIX software may take some time to learn, but
after it is learned is more productive than Macintosh, and similar to Windows-level
productivity. Newer Linux software shows respect for older software standards
for fast usage, and combines those tools with modern styles to make software
easy to learn.
Linux doesn't support Java
Just like any other modern UNIX, Linux supports Java applications with Kernel
integration to the interpreter, compiles Java applications and applets, and has
Java-enabled web browsers (such as Netscape.
Here is some information on Java and Linux:
Linux is impossible to develop for
When you get Linux, you get tons of great compiles (including GCC &
G++). Most distributions include a program called Window Programming Environment
(WPE), which provides a programming environment with custom syntax-highlighting,
compiling, and everything else an IDE should have. The operating system
also provides libraries that you must normally program yourself (including
sound, graphics, and more). This myth is totally ungrounded, and is really
Linux usability has never been better. Never the less, this, myths constantly
bombard the brilliant Linux user interfaces.
There is no GUI for Linux
But there is! There is -- X-Windows. Its drivers have been ported to Intel
x86, and it's great! Although the interface isn't as standardized as Mac or
Windows, I'd say it's still better. Some of the widgets are super, and it's
a very fast interface. The myth that Linux has no GUI is made by those who
are ignorant enough to beleive that an ISP's Unix shell is as far as UNIX
Linux's command prompt is worse than DOS's
Linux, like UNIX lets you choose your command prompt. There's Bash and Tcsh
which are both clones of various UNIX shells. A better statement may be
Linux's command prompts are like DOS's on steroids. They support these
redirection operators, scripts, and command prompt functions! If you don't
like the power of these shell, you can use lsh, a shell that looks, acts,
and feels like DOS! So, if you view power as bad, Linux is "worse."
Linux doesn't support graphicial networking
For Windows and Mac users, their ISPs' Unix shell is the full extent of
UNIX. The fact is, just like those text mode shells, Linux support graphical
X-Windows shells for terminal machines. UNIX machines have had this for
about a decade, Linux has had it for years, and just now NT is getting in to
The Linux desktop is klunky and unattractive
Sometimes Mac and even more Windows users have a bad experience with an X Window
System, and never seem to get over it. All you have to do to learn that user
interface is a personal preference is to listen to a Mac vs. Windows spam-debate
on Usenet. With X, most aspects of the interface are so configurable, the user can get his or her desktop to look and feel just about like anything, without opening
any source files.
A couple screenshots of X desktops...
It's safe to say Linux is the most compatible operating system ever. The
computability myths are fueled by those who believe Windows is the only
operating system that is compatible, and therefor by default Linux must
not be compatible with other standards.
Linux is PC-exclusive
Linux was created on a PC running Minix, a smaller UNIX clone. While it
is most popular on the PC, the Linux kernel has been ported to Power Mac
hardware, Sparc workstations, Dec machines, and more.
Linux only supports Linux exacutaables
Nativly, Linux supports Minix, System V, A.out, and Elf exacutable formats. In beta
now, Linux supports Java exatuables (J-code). Most Linux distributions come with DOSemu, a DOS emulator. Not to mention these fine Linux emulation programs... (Information taken from Linux Applications and Utitities)
- Atari Atari 800, 800XL, 130XE and 5200 Emulator
- Bochs a portable shareware X86 emulator for X Windows systems
- BSVC a microprocessor simulation framework (Motorola 68000 & HECTOR 1600)
- DOSEMU the Linux DOS emulator
- Euphoric an Oric emulator/simulator for Linux
- Executor a commercial Macintosh emulator by ARDI
Frodo The free portable C64 emulator for BeOS/Unix/MacOS/AmigaOS
- HP48 emulation of the HP-48 calculator
- Multiprocessor Simulator "execution-driven" simulator for Intel cpu's
- NTRIGUE display MS-Windows apps on an X-Window screen
- Snes96 a Super Nintendo Entertainment System emulator
- Stella 96 an Atari 2600 emulator
- STonX an Atari ST emulator for X11
- U.A.E. a UNIX Amiga emulator
VICE The Versatile Commodore 8-bit Emulator (emulates the C64, C128, Vic20, and PET)
- Virtual 2600 an Atari 2600 (!) emulator
- Virtual Gameboy Emulator Linux emulator of Nintendo game machine
- WABI 2.2 for Linux run Windows 3.1 Applications on Linux-based workstations
- WINE an alpha level Windows emulator
- XZX a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48/128/+3 emulator for UNIX/X11
xz80 a Sinclair ZX Spectrum emulator
Other operating systems don't run well with Linux
Not only is Linux friendly to other operating systems on the same drive
(not messing up their partitions, ect), it uses their file systems, and
includes utilities to help have more than one OS. Linux's LiLo will load
Linux, DOS/Win95, OS/2, and more. Its file mapping and mounting allows
you to use other file systems, such as DOS's FAT-16 (with Windows 95 long
filenames), OS/2's file system, Minix's and others. Even you don't have
other operating systems, Linux has emulators to let you run programs that
aren't even made for Linux.
Standard file formats are not accepted by Linux
What file formats are and aren't supported is really up the applications. Linux
applications support as many file formats, if not more than other platforms. When
a programmer is going to create an application he or she will have to decide
what file formats to support. In the Linux free software community, there is a
wealth of shared and static libraries that the programmer can use to support
many file formats. Windows and Mac libraries programmers usually have to pay
obscene amounts of money for, and are less likely to buy. Also, since many Linux
programs are truely free, and come with their source code, other users add file
formats to existing applications. For example, look at what the text editor Emacs
supports extra toys for!
Questions and comments? Email me.
Copyright © 1997 Kenneth R. Kinder
This document may be mirrored, redistributed, and reformatted so long
as its content remains intact. Copyright holder reserves the right to change copyright provisions without notice.
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