Is Linux right for you?

When to say yes to Linux
Credit: David Goehring/Clickr

How do you know if you are a potential candidate to become a Linux user? It's this simple: What's the first app you fire up after booting into your system? If you said 'browser', then you are a potential Linux user.

Gone are the days when the operating system used to be the primary component of your computing. Today, the browser has taken center stage and is the gateway to the highway of information.

Whether you are shopping from, connecting with friends through social networking, dealing with clients over email or VoIP, managing your time through calendars, collaborating with teams on Google Docs, listening to your favorite music or watching the latest blockbuster, you pretty much live inside a browser.

Building the case for Linux

Fortunately or unfortunately, most of our files have moved to the cloud and most of our applications have become services. Gone are the days when people listen to music on Windows Media Player; today we listen to Pandora and Spotify. Gone are the days when watch MPEG movies in WMP; now we stream them from Netflix and HBO Now.

You don't need Microsoft Office to work on documents, presentations or spreadsheets; Google Docs takes care of almost all of it. You don't need to save all of your files on the 'Desktop' or on the 'C' drive, which you struggle to save every time your Windows crashes; almost all of our data resides on Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.

The point is, you don't need desktop applications anymore to do serious work or have serious fun. Which also means you don’t need the OS on which those applications run. Any OS that can connect you to the Internet and enable you to use such services will do just fine.

If you are already using these services as part of your digital life, you are halfway there. You don’t need Windows anymore; you will be better off with Linux.

But what if I still need applications?

Depending upon your needs and concerns for privacy you may not want to fully move to the cloud. No worries, Linux has you covered. There are open source alternatives for almost all proprietary software, some of which are actually better than their proprietary counterparts.

Amarok and Clementine are among the greatest music players and have more features than iTunes or WMP. VLC is the best video player there is, even better than Quicktime or WMP.

All major browsers, including Firefox, Chrome and Opera, are available for Linux; and there are many more.

If you are not content with Google Docs, you have LibreOffice. But that's not all. You also have Calligra, AbiWord and many more.

Want to work on images? There are neat online image editing tools like Pixler or Sumo Paint. If you are not satisfied with what these have to offer, there are GIMP and Krita. GIMP is a great image editing tool for the average PC user; Krita is one of the best tool for artists and designers.

That said, you don't have to cut yourself off the cloud grid. All major services, with the exception of Google Drive, are available for Linux including Copy and Dropbox. And then there are pure open source cloud solutions like Seafile and ownCloud.

In addition to these, there are many tools for power users that even Mac or Windows users can't enjoy.

Why Linux?

On a philosophical note, our tools should not control us; we should control our tools.

Would you eat food from a box not knowing what’s inside it? Even if it may have ingredients you are allergic to or that you just don’t want to consume? If your answer is yes, then this article is not for you.

If the answer is no, then why not apply the same logic to the digital world? Why use software whose ingredients are hidden and could be harmful to you?

In the proprietary world, the software or hardware maker takes control of your digital life; they dictate what you can or can’t do with ‘your’ computer. These proprietary components have backdoors that can be used to track and monitor you.

Would you be comfortable moving into a house that is bugged and has spy cameras installed everywhere to monitor your every move? I wouldn’t be comfortable living in such a house.

That’s where Linux and Open Source enter the scene. Since these are open source technologies and developed in public, you can clearly see what they do with your data, your communications.

Linux and Open Source gives you assurance that your PC is not betraying you and leaking your data to the Skynet. Rather, it actually helps you in further protecting your privacy.

The best thing about Linux is that it shares knowledge instead of restricting it. Instead of locking down information about ‘how the software works’ behind fortified walls, Linux and Open Source give us full access to that vast knowledge base.

And one more answer to the question "Why Linux?": It is cost efficient. It saves money not only for individuals but also for businesses.

When Linux is not the right choice

There are certain people for whom Linux won't be the right choice.

If you are a professional photographer, filmmaker or artist you may rely on Adobe's suite of applications, such as Photoshop, Premiere, or LightRoom and other components of the Creative Cloud suite. In that case, Linux is not for you as these are not yet available for Linux.

If you play games like Crysis, Call of Duty, or Medal of Honor, then also Linux won't be right for you as these are unavailable.

But these are special use cases; these are not the things an average user would do.

First-hand experience

I have been using Linux as my primary OS since 2005. Until 2009, I used to dual boot with Windows to play three games - Crysis, CoD and MoH. Once I stopped gaming, I had no use for Windows, and I have been Windows-free ever since. Later I got a Mac to do some film production and image editing and that system is used once every couple of months solely to work on such projects.

My wife used to be a Mac user and I switched her to Ubuntu and then to Chrome OS. When she was on Mac, she would often call me to fix something, but since moving to Linux/Chrome OS her support requests all but went away.

I have migrated many users to Linux as well. The first thing I do is analyze their computer usage to see whether they can live with Linux or not, and then suggest the appropriate OS. This article pretty much sums up that exercise. And once they switch to Linux, they admit how magnificent it is.

If you don't want to deal with the uncertain future of Windows, don't want to worry about viruses, backdoors or compromised privacy, don’t want vendor lock-in, and don’t use any of the tools I mentioned above, I believe Linux is the right OS for you.

Give it a try. You won’t regret it.

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