Primary advantages of Linux

Linux has low or no licensing fees, allows you to reuse code, and enables you to incorporate with it inexpensive hardware and compatible applications.

When compared to different commercially available operating systems, Linux's best assets are its price, its reliability, and the freedom it gives you. With the latest 2.6 Linux kernel, you can also argue that scalability is one of its greatest advantages.

Most people know that its initial price is free (or at least under $50 when it comes in a box or with a book). However, when people talk about Linux's affordability, they are usually thinking of its total cost, which includes no (or low) licensing fees, the ability to reuse any of the code as you choose, and the capability of using inexpensive hardware and compatible free add-on applications. Although commercial operating systems tend to encourage upgrading to later hardware, Linux doesn't require that (although faster hardware and larger disks are nice to have).

In terms of reliability, the general consensus is that Linux is comparable to many commercial UNIX systems but more reliable than most desktop-oriented operating systems. This is especially true if you rely on your computer system to stay up because it is a Web server or a file server. (You don't have to reboot every time you change something.)

Because you can get the source code, you are free to change any part of the Linux system, along with any open source software that comes with it, in any way that you choose. Unlike many self-contained commercial products, open source software tends to be built in pieces that are meant to interact with other pieces, so you are free to mix and match components to suit your tastes. As I mentioned earlier, Linux is a culture that encourages interoperability. For example, if you don't like a window manager, you can plug in a different one because so many were built to operate within the same framework.

Another advantage of using Linux is that help is always available on the Internet. There is probably someone out there in a Linux newsgroup or mailing list willing to help you get around your problem. Because the source code is available, if you need something fixed you can even patch the code yourself! On the other hand, I've seen commercial operating system vendors sit on reported problems for months without fixing them. Remember that the culture of Linux is one that thrives on people helping other people.

Chapter table of contents

This is an excerpt from Chapter 1, 'An Overview of Fedora and Red Hat Enterprise Linux,' from the book Fedora 5 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 Bible by Christopher Negus and courtesy of Wiley.

This was first published in October 2006

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