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The HeliOS Project is now.....
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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Why Linux...? You might be surprised

With the proliferation of Lindependence and upcoming events for that effort, HeliOS Solutions and HeliOS Solutions West will publish some basic and informative articles to guide the New Linux User.

Our upcoming website, will feature information such as this and we thought it would be a good idea to give new users a non-commercial place to go and get the information published here. There are no services to sell, no donations to be given...just information on why Linux is the logical choice for most computer users.

While most of the things written in the next few articles here will be well-understood stuff to most Linux Users, new users may well find the information here just what they need to make informed and well thought-out decisions. After all...we've said all along: It's not our intention to change the world...
Only to let them know they have a choice.

Now on to Portland. Watch this space for news of "Penguins In Portland".

This is going to be fun.

LINUX...What You Need To Know

Imagine being able to surf the web freely without worry of viruses, trojan horses, annoying pop-ups, or threats from hackers. It is possible and it is possible today without any cost and just a bit of patience. It's called Linux.

What's that? You've heard Linux is too hard to learn and use? Not any more. We have grade school kids using it as their only system and it took them less time to learn than it did to learn Windows. Because of the way Linux is designed, the viruses, spyware, adware and trojans that attack Windows computers are completely harmless on a Linux machine. It is like they do not even exist...GNU/Linux is immune to them.

In Windows, It has gotten to the point where you do not even have to click anything...just visiting a malicious website will infect you. With Linux, there won't be any nasty programs installed without you knowing it. And as for viruses, well the last time there was a Linux virus was back in the 90's. More on Linux security here.

Linux is a bold new step in taking control of your computer and internet experience. GNU/Linux has evolved into an easy, secure and inexpensive way to operate your computer. In fact, in many cases; it is totally free. Best yet, it works on older hardware. No more hardware upgrades to accomodate the latest Windows release.

Grade school kids and 89 year-old great grandmothers are using Linux daily and have long forgotten the problems of Microsoft Windows. People gladly share their experiences and opinions about their switch to Linux with you. Just wearing a T-shirt or ballcap that says "Linux" on it or shows a picture of "Tux", will draw the both the seasoned and new Linux User into conversation with you.

A Better Way To Do Things...

So you're asking "What is Linux?". Quite simply Linux is a complete and viable operating system for your computer, be it a tower, laptop, or server. It is a free Unix-type operating system originally created by Linus Torvalds with the assistance of developers from around the world. Developed under the GNU General Public License , the source code for Linux is freely available to everyone. If you want a more in-depth explanation click here . Now that you have been given the technical definition, let us explain it in everyday terms.

When you turn on your computer, chances are the operating system you use now is the one that came with the computer. If you operate a PC, that operating system is more than likely Microsoft Windows. Windows and Linux are both operating systems and being such, give you the means to interact with your machine. They allow you to type words, locate information and manipulate data. That is about where the similarities end.

The Linux Community makes much ado about "freedom". We do so for a variety of reasons, but most new users do not get their arms around our concept of the term readily. Sure, the majority of Linux distributions are free of monetary cost. That fact alone draws many computer users into the Linux camp, but that does not encompass the whole concept. What is all this fuss about freedom? Please allow us to explain.

The two major operating systems in production today are Microsoft Windows and the OS that comes on the Mac computer. Since the Mac operating system is hardware dependent, we are going to discard it from this discussion. Not that Mac is bad...millions of people think the Mac is light years ahead of any system in existence. In some aspects, we agree with them. However, since you need Mac hardware to use Mac software, its inclusion in this discussion is moot. Again, we find ourselves comparing Microsoft Windows against GNU/Linux.

Microsoft Windows and the majority of Microsoft software is proprietary. In the simplest of terms, this means the software is owned by Microsoft. When you "purchase" Microsoft Windows or Microsoft Office, you do not actually own are entitled to one "license". In other words, you are renting the program. Microsoft retains all rights to the software and has the ability to remotely disable it if they feel it is necessary. You can only install your "purchased" software on one computer, and in the majority of cases, to attempt to do otherwise is illegal. One machine, one copy of the software. If you have another computer, you must go purchase another copy of the program in order to legally install it. With Linux, not only is it free of cost, you may install it on as many computers as you wish.

Microsoft has incorporated the "Microsoft Genuine Advantage" into many of its programs. This program actually checks the serial number and other file attributes of the software and compares it to a list of "counterfeit numbers" in it's database. It does this while you are connected to the internet and takes only a matter of seconds to perform. Some people are disturbed by the fact that a company can actually snoop around in their computer. Once it concludes that your copy of the software is "legal", it allows you to complete the installation process.

There are times however, that the process fails. Sometimes due to database error, sometimes due to the fact that the serial number or registration code has already been used, the installer will exit telling you to contact your Microsoft representative to straighten it out. Many times, people have reformatted their hard drives and upon trying to reinstall the program, have run into this wall. It can be a nightmare. We have received complaints from former MS customers stating they spent over two hours with tech support, trying to straighen out this mess. Microsoft has suffered millions of dollars in losses due to software piracy, and no one can blame them for trying to curb it. On the other hand, there is no reason you, as their customer, should be the one to be inconvenienced. Two hours or more of my time to fix a mess I did not create is not the best way to maintain me as a customer.

To further complicate matters, toward the end of 2005, Microsoft discontinued providing any disks at all for its pre-installed software. We can only imagine the problems this will cause their customers. Trying to reinstall software after a system crash or disk failure without disks will be quite a trick.

While we would truly enjoy keeping everything light and airy...with strains of Ray Stevens' "Everything Is Beautiful" in the background, we cannot. Up until now, you may have thought that using Windows Vs. Linux as a "smart" thing to do. Unfortunately, in the Microsoft world, things have gotten ugly. For the Customer...not the Corporation.

Microsoft is heavily invested in two technologies that while they like to deny it...they are unfortunately connected at the hip. They are Trusted Computing and DRM. Now, the information about these two technologies fills volumes, and most of it negative in tone. We will guide you to this link. You can get your feet wet in the knowledge pool of these subjects and discover them further as you wish. Let us just warn you that when it comes down to the final factors, one fact remains constant and you have to ask yourself the question.

If you cannot control and access the data on your computer, then who really owns your computer? That is what this boils down to. If Microsoft and some of their partners have their way, they will ultimately control your data. While Microsoft has produced some admittedly good software over the years, they go too far in trying to control the industry folks...An Editor at the Wall Street Journal even called for a boycott of those trying to cripple media files with DRM. Forbes, a corporation that is usually in lock-step with Microsoft, slams them on their use of Trusted Computing and DRM in their latest Windows offering, Vista. This sentiment is echoed all over the world. We simply thought it was a pertinent component of the discussion.

Open Source...? What is that?

Many of the above problems go away for those who use GNU/Linux or Open Source software. While proprietary software companies hire software engineers to write their programs, open source software is written by people who feel a need to share their work and accomplishments. Thousands of software engineers and programmers write, improve and update Linux software on a daily basis. Now this is where some folks get confused. Open source does not necessarily mean free of cost. Yes, the majority of it is free of monetary cost, however; open source software can be sold for profit. Confused? This will clear it up.

What the proprietary software companies want to keep secret is the code. The data language that actually makes up the software is the treasure. Proprietary software code is kept secret so others cannot alter or copy it. Only a chosen few within a software company have access to the program code. The "source code" is the bread and butter of these companies. If the program code for let's say, Microsoft Office was to ever fall into the hands of someone who understood it, they could add their own changes, alter it just a bit and release it to the public. If that were to happen with Microsoft Office, Microsoft would suffer millions of dollars in lost sales.

Open Source software is released with the source code published so anyone can have it. The concept is genius in its simplicity. Let's say I write a program that records music and you find it installed within your distro of choice. You are a programmer as well, and as you use the program, you notice that the software has a serious problem...something just doesn't work right. Because the source code is readily available to you, you are able to engineer the changes to the software and then re-release it to the community. You have taken a good product and just made it better. The entire community benefits from your effort. With proprietary software, all a customer can do is email or try to contact the author about the problem. He may or may not take the time to fix it. In the meantime, you have paid for a defective or inadequate product.

This is the freedom we speak of. Anyone is free to access the source code and change or improve it. A good example of this is the FireFox browser. The Mozilla Organization authored and released Firefox, and released it under the MPL. While there are some subtle differences, most FOSS software authors choose to publish their work under the GPL.

GPL stands for
GNU Public License. The majority of Open Source software is written under the GPL, or slight variations thereof. This license insures that no one person or company can take control of the program and that anyone wishing to, can change or improve it at any time.

Because most FOSS is GPL software, hundreds of programmers have been able to write and improve existing software. When you open the browser for Windows, Internet comes with a limited number of features. There are a few things you can add on, but they tend to be written as third-party software. Instead of becoming an integral part of the browser, these programs are just another software program to clutter up your system. Firefox extensions are integrated into the browser itself. Under the MPL, which allows for this, you can pick and choose the extra features you like with the click of a mouse. Some of the tools available for addition to Firefox are amazing. Many of them, Internet Explorer cannot come close to matching.

Internet Explorer, the integrated browser of Microsoft Windows has lost ten percent of its market share to Firefox in a years' time. Some estimate that as of this posting, that number is closer to 20 percent. This in itself is amazing considering the fact that IE was used by about 94 percent of all computer users. Mozilla innovation has indeed been rewarded while the inertia of Microsoft allowed the phenomenon to occur.

GNU/Linux (or just plain "Linux") is written under the GPL. The heart of the system, the Kernel, can be accessed and is improved upon on a regular basis. The core software that comes bundled with Linux is licensed the same way. Proprietary software is written for a profit motive, which is not a bad thing...don't get us wrong. However, Open Source software is often written with the betterment of the community in mind.

This is why the Open Source movement has an opportunity to eventually overtake the proprietary model. Open Source will become better, sooner than its proprietary counterpart. A quick glance at the improvements and popularity of OpenOffice alone indicate this possibility. While Microsoft charges as much as $700.00 for its current Microsoft Office program, OpenOffice has been released with a price tag of $0.00. Because it does most everything Microsoft Office does, businesses across the globe are migrating to OpenOffice and saving a bundle of money by doing so. Keep in mind, one license. Imagine a company of 100 or even 1000 computers having to pay each individual licensing fee. It is hard to imagine what companies the size of General Motors or Proctor and Gamble pay in licensing fees each year. You can now see why OpenOffice has become popular in the business environment.

As well, the day-to-day home desktop user no longer has to scrimp and save so they can afford the Microsoft offerings for their children's school needs. Linux and OpenOffice allows parents and schools to spend their money on the children, not software for the schools. Remember, the software used at the child's school is probably what the child will need at home. Parents often have to purchase the same software for the home computer to insure compatability. OpenOffice and other Open Source software has strived to make itself compatable with its proprietary counterparts. Unfortunately, companies like Microsoft have historically done just the opposite and have made it extremely difficult for its own customers to interact with Open Source offerings.

CD burning software, multi-media programs, even the little "must-have" computer utilities that nickle and dime us in Windows are free with Linux. Programs costing as much as $800.00 in a Windows environment have an equivelant in Linux free of charge. Many hardware AND software makers who historically wouldn't give Linux Users the time of day are now frantically trying to get their FOSS offerings on the market. They are seeing the explosion of Linux and are worried about being late to the dance.

Linux Users have long memories.

When you begin to add the monetary costs, the time spent in updating virus sofware and the frustration of a system that just doesn't work right; Linux becomes the obvious choice. The people that volunteer to develop Linux have created an easy and secure system for you and I, and people are finally beginning to hear about it. Spend 2 weeks using it, and you will soon appreciate what "freedom" really is.

So all of the above to simply tell you this. Linux is an operating system that allows you total freedom of choice, most often without the cost.

An estimated 40 million people world-wide currently know the Linux meaning of freedom. We are more than happy to add you to our number.

All-Righty Then


kozmcrae said...

I haven't finished reading your post yet (looks good though) but the link to "Made The Switch" is missing AFAICT.

penguiniator said...

"The Mozilla Organization authored and released Firefox, and released it under the GPL"

Don't you mean the MPL?

Blog of helios said...

Good Eye! Thank you. Corrected and adjusted. firing for effect...


penguiniator said...

"The graphics software maker, Xara, has committed to developing their software to Linux...and it to will be without cost."

I feel like such a killjoy today, but Xara's graphics program is going nowhere, because they do not want to play by the rules free software developers have long been accustomed to.

Besides these two points, excellent article.

Blog of helios said...


I beat you to it. Davey Posted the draft as opposed to the final...the appropriate beatings have been administered.

No...I appreciate the corrections...should have been caught prior.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for an even, honest and level-headed article. Given your reputation for blood, bone and sinew, I was reading this fully expecting a Microsoft flogging. Instead, you've given us a perfect and reasoned resource to point to when presenting the Linux Argument. Thanks.

Matt Kelso

SamW said...

I'm not sure what license the Firefox binary is released under but you can obtain the source under the MPL, GPL, or LGPL.

Nice article.

Amenditman said...

Thanks for another great posting I can use when advocating GNU/Linux to people who have never known anything except the Redmond way.

As usual, full of facts and sources. Kinda like our chosen software. Coincidence or intentional, hum? Some "professional" journalists could learn a thing or two from this example.


Shayne said...

Minor Correction. It's GNU GPL. GNU General Public License. Not GNU Public License.

Anonymous said...

(Linux fanboy here, no reason for a war) I think that advocating Linux based on virus and maleware count is vary wrong! The only reason for this is low market share of Linux and undesirability in the eyes of virus writers.

There are enough reasons to advocate Linux with out this one

Anonymous said...

@Linux fanboy
Even if what you say is true the holes, viruses, bugs etc are patched waaaaaayyy faster than in any other OS and that includes OS X. That is what make Linux totally more secure. No software is 100% bug or virus free. That is to say more hackers that hack the OS more secure it will become with age. The opposite trend is true with MS products and OS X. The fact that the last Linux virus was created in the 90's proves my point. It has gotten increasingly harder to write viruses for Linux.

Awesome article. I am doing a school project on OSS using 100% Linux (Slackware 12.1). I will refer to this article in my project if you don't mind. Once the project is complete I will make our group project publicly available under GPL. It is going to be functionally very similar to Matlab (any engineers out there know what I am talking about) but we are limited in resources, in that our team is comprised of mostly software engineering majors and mathematics majors so the tool is not use able by Electrical/Mechanical engineers and to others that may find use in Matlab. However once this software is publicly made available I am sure the FOSS community will pitch in.
Cheers. Once again great article.

Jose_X said...

Great write-up, helios.

Anonymous Linux fan:

Malware safety is a great point not a bad one. There are differences beyond Linux having small desktop share. Linux is cleaner and better peer reviewed. Note that Linux has large share in server rooms and gets hit less. Also, Linux is more diverse, so hypothetical successful attacks are less likely to be able to spread as wide. Finally, according to your argument, Linux is still safe for the next 10 million users that respond to this offer.

Anonymous said...

Anyone is free to access the source code and change or improve it.

this only matters to readers who'd like to program. 95% of human beings don't. See the Free SW manifesto for the rest of us.

Remember, the software used at the child's school is probably what the child will need at home. Parents often have to purchase the same software for the home computer to insure compatibility.

This is wrong. Please don't confuse software with file formats. More exactly, what you write is true only if the software used at school only uses proprietary formats and the school forces the students to use that same formats. I'm not going to write a complete explanation in this micro comment window, so here's a partial example. If all the files exchanged between school and students' homes were plain text (not .doc or .docx) the students could perfectly use any Linux text editor at home. and any Windows text editor at school. And vice versa, of course.

Besides, there's another, much more serious issue here: in practice, most families end up running pirated software to make kids study, that is an educator, maybe paid with public money, de-facto educates youngsters to violate the law (this, BTW, is covered in a chapter of my book).

See the database of Digitally Free Schools for schools that don't do it this way. Submissions are welcome

Apart from these notes, nice article!

olivier said...

Good article. I kindly suggest replacing the link to by one to . There are no ads on the latter and it's run with love by a non-profit organization.

Blog of helios said...

I think that advocating Linux based on virus and maleware count is vary wrong!

Let me tell you why pointing this out is exactly the reason to promote Linux. When you purchase a product, you are operating in good faith that said product is not going to require you to purchase another product in order for it to work. In purchasing Windows you have been forced to do precisely that. The bombardment of "warnings" that your virus software is about to expire in 90 days should be enough to anger anyone. If you are going to produce a product that allows for such intrusions, you should have the decency to provide free, adequate protection...not a gateway for some other company to screw you out of another year's worth of "protection". Besides, how much time in a year does the average windows user spend maintaining their computer for virus protection...?

@ Oliver. What a wonderful suggestion. It is a done thing.


Anonymous said...


The argument about purchasing another product in order for the original product to work is brilliant. I can't see any logical comeback for this and will use it often. Thank you for completing my argument armor.

Jason T.