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Why *I* like Linux and Unix (and Mac OS X too!)

© April 2008 Anthony Lawrence

There's plenty of stuff out there that tells you why you should embrace Linux and make it your own.

That's not what this is: if you want to run Windows, go ahead. You may be perfectly happy with what most of us Windows non-users think is pretty awful stuff. Great - by the way, why are you reading this? Maybe you think you are missing out on something? Maybe you should use Linux or OS X or BSD because that's what all the cool kids do?

Maybe. But I use Unixish operating systems for other reasons.

A little personal history

First, a bit of history. I have been doing 'puter stuff since 1967. Back then it was punched cards and expensive hardware, but ten years later I bought my first computer, a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 1. I had Tandy Model III's after that, a Model 16 running Tandy Xenix, an early IBM clone running Windows, and as I have been doing computer consulting full time since 1983, I have worked on just about everything you have ever heard of. When I say "worked on", I mean used and programmed, not took apart with screwdrivers (though I've done that too).

So, I have seen it and used it: Sun-OS, Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, SCO Xenix, Microsoft Xenix, Tandy Xenix, Novell, CP/M, TRS-DOS, Pick, DOS, Wang, Windows, GEM, Macs, Coherent and of course many flavors of Linux and BSD. Been there, done that, paid my dues.

And here it is flat out: I like Unix OSes. All of them, though obviously the newer Unixes are better than the old. I dislike Microsoft Oses. All of them. I don't know where I'd have to draw the line and say "Yeah, I'd rather have XP or Vista than THAT", but it would be pretty far back. I'd definitely take even a crappy old SCO 5.0.6 machine over Windows XP, and trust me, SCO 5.0.6 would be a painful choice.

Why Linux/Unix?

So why? Why would I suffer a ten year old badly done Unix rather than a modern Windows system? Remember, I'm not ignorant of Windows: I actually attained MSCE certification at one time (NT days, see Certifications). I use Windows machines almost every day at customer sites and I have Windows XP running in a Parallels VM on my Mac. It's not that I haven't given Windows the opportunity to win my heart - I have, but Unix always wins.


Command line

A powerful command line is absolutely necessary or I will be very unhappy. Even Microsoft belatedly has recognized that, though in my opinion they screwed it up completely.

Why is a shell so important? Because I don't wait for other people to write the tools I need. No, I don't mean accounting apps or word processors; I mean the day to day stuff. Maintenance, analysis, slicing and dicing, trouble-shooting. Little tools for little jobs. These could be written in C or whatever, but the shell is quick and handy. It's often much quicker to bang out a shell script than to do anything else.


Open and available source code is important. It lets me fix things, it helps me understand things. There is more Unix/Linux open source than a Windows acolyte can even begin to imagine. Now it's true that some Unixes are NOT Open Source (SCO, for one), but even then you can find source that's probably pretty darn close - it's better than nothing. And nothing is just what Windows gives you.

Those two things alone are enough to make me dislike Windows and cast my lot with Unix. That's all it takes: everything else either flows from there or is of minimal importance. I have other reasons to dislike Microsoft: their rapacious and immoral business practices disgust me, their piss-poor record on security is abysmal, and the glacial slowness of their OSes is always a source of annoyance, but none of that is as important as having a strong Unixish command line and available source code.


But there's more. There's what we call the "Unix Philosophy", which is that small tools should do one thing and do it well, while being designed so that they can get whatever input they need from the output of something else and vice versa. It's pipelines, stringing together little tools to get big results. Windows programs just are NOT written with that in mind - if they do allow command line use at all, they spit out too much on the output side and aren't even smart enough to do so on a different file handle so that you can pick what you really need. That's why working at a Windows command line is so frustrating.

So, Windows fans, enjoy your insufficient OS. I'm sure most of you will never understand why it is deficient - you don't see the advantage of a command line or pipes and most of you wouldn't know what to do with source if you did have it. So wallow in your ignorance.

In the meantime, we'll be over here, using REAL operating systems. Yeah, I know, that sentence is harsh. It's the way I feel. Windows is a poor excuse for an OS, for me at least. If it meets your needs, good for you. It's hard for me to imagine how it could, but so many of you use it, that must be the case, right?

Got something to add? Send me email.

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Wed Apr 23 00:07:58 2008: 4116   BruceGarlock

As always, Tony - right on! Man, I couldn't have said this better myself. I think all of us *must* be part of the same DNA somehow, someway. To anyone thinking of switching: do it! I couldn't think of running an OS not based on Unix in some way. I just wouldn't be happy.

Bruce Garlock

Wed Apr 23 02:55:23 2008: 4117   Rudy

The way I see it, it's essential to run Unix/Linux as servers so I can maintain it via command line. Windows is great for client side stuff like web browsing. Not say Linux can't handle client side stuff, but Windows is well supported so it's hard to avoid it. I can avoid using Windows as a server since it's horrible at it.

Wed Apr 23 05:37:06 2008: 4118   leftycrupps

having Open Source code is nice, but having a Free Software license behind it is so much better. "Open Source" as a term just waters down what makes Linux, KDE, GNOME, BSD-tools, GNU-tools, etc. so powerful for the user -- the rights that go with the licenses they use. "Open Source" doesn't do that on its own.

Wed Apr 23 10:25:30 2008: 4119   TonyLawrence

the rights that go with the licenses they use

Absolutely true, but that's a political issue. It's something I think is important, but it's not part of why I personally use Unix systems.

Sat Apr 26 04:01:25 2008: 4131   Billy

I think you are a bit harsh on Windows users. First off, I am currently running Debian 4.0 as I type this. However, I am a complete newbie with Linux. I have only played with it off and on for a couple of years. Back to my point. My wife uses her computer for school, to watch tv episodes, and she loves itunes(as do I, I must admit). She uses email frequently, talks to her parents on the other side of the world through Skype, and spends some time on youtube. Windows works just fine for all that she does. I keep hearing about crashes(and yes, I have been using Windows machines since Windows 3.11 so I have seen quite a few), but I cant remember the last time she said she had a crash. And I have had Linux lock up on me more in the last year than my pc(just by trying to get an app through package managers for example).And I would know, I get called into the room every time she needs help with anything. My point? I would never recommend Linux to her at this point. Her pc does exactly what she wants and does it well. She is studying medicine, not computer science. So she needs to be able to use her pc to do a task and not worry about learning a command line. I however am playing with Linux(off and on) to increase my knowledge of OS's outside of Windows. I do it for fun. And one thing I love is that if I want to experiment with a new program I can get it for free. An example is programming software. I am trying to learn to program in C. With Linux I get gcc and all that good stuff for free. But Linux is still just a toy to me. If I want something fast and easy I just use my Windows machine.
In closing(before the flaming starts), I think different OS's have their place for different people. My wife is incredibly intelligent and I don't think her preference in Windows makes her stupid or even computer illiterate. It just means that Windows works for her needs. I myself am an electronics tech. I am studying engineering(another reason why familiarity with Unix based OS's is of use to me). But I am not an idiot or computer illiterate because I choose to use my Windows machine if I want to watch an episode of Lost by quickly grabbing it from iTunes. But for the purposes of which you use your machine...sure, I would recommend Linux(from what I have read).

Sat Apr 26 11:47:46 2008: 4132   TonyLawrence


Before we moved here, I had a battery operated lawnmower. The battery had just enough charge to do our lawn if the grass was not too high.

I liked it because I could go out at first light and mow without bothering my neighbors - it was that quiet.

But if it rained and the grass grew, it was insufficient, so I also had a normal mower also,

I liked the little battery mower, but it definitely had its limitations.

My wife has an XP machine. She's constantly frustrated by it. It doesn't crash often, but it does slow down or give her other reasons to complain. She doesn't want to switch because she "knows" XP, but she also knows that it's a pretty sad excuse for a computer.

I've had this same argument from other people and I agree: if it meets your needs, fine. But Unix/Linux is still plainly a better choice.


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