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. 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 statements 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.
The LINUX FUD FAQ
FUD in Linux is sure not to go unchecked! I'd like to send my regards to
Roger Irwin, who is created a stunningly well-done document with intentions
not far from mine:
The LINUX FUD FAQ. It's a bookmark'er, and definitly needs to be passed
along to Dilbert's boss.
This is NOT the Linux FAQ
It seems that some recent press has gather information from LMD as if it
were a FAQ for Linux. Although Linux press is welcome, and we can't
expect it always to be correct, I would like to remind anyone visiting
this page that it is not a FAQ. The real Linux FAQs are at http://sunsite.unc.edu/mdw/FAQ/
Recently, I got a message proof-reading my document. I'm not yet sure if
that person would like to remain anonymous or not, so for now, he/she
shall. When updating the document, some sentences were re-structured.
However, the update dates were not changed, because the information was
not heavily changed.
Contacting The Author
I'm trying to cut down on my email, considering that my average email
reply time has gone from about 12 hours to 12 days! In addition, I can
respond to messages with complete attention if I have more time to reply
to each message. Besides the increasing SPAM problems, many of the emails
I get are Linux questions, commonly ones that are already answered
in Linux documentation.
I realize that many of you may have never actually seen other Linux pages,
so let me start with suggesting a few places to look for information:
The most frequent questions I get, but shouldn't are answered at the
front of Linux.org:
I'll finish by telling you when you should and shouldn't email me.
- Comments or Suggestions on Linux Myth Dispeller
- Spelling, Grammar or Context mistakes on Linux Myth Dispeller
- Broken link notes
- New myths
So, please don't send me email that's not directly related to this page
(or one of my other pages or projects).
- Questions answered in Linux Documentation Project
- Technical Linux Questions. I really don't mind these when I
have extra time, but I am not the proper person to ask, and I usually
won't give you the kind of support you'll get on IRC or usenet.
- SPAM or anything commercial! Any unsolicited commercial
email will be reported, and if I find out (and I try very hard) your
phone number, email address, paper mail address - whatever - I will
SPAM you 100 fold! No, I'm not kidding!!!
- General Linux Questions
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 & Set Up
There are probably the worst myths about Linux for its installation &
set up. While Linux can be made to have a challenging installation &
set up, most distributions take care of it for you.
Linux is a nightmare to install
This myth is derived from horror stories about Unix installations.
These stories neglect, however, to remember that Linux is not Unix, and
that installations are different for various distributions. In the
olden days, installation was a time-consuming process, because the user
was required to unpack and set up each .tar.gz package. Those days
are over. Most Linux distributions are conducted from a character
mode GUI, and simply prompt you on what packages you want to install.
Red Hat 5.0, for example, offers far
more ways to install (FTP, NFS, CD-ROM, Disk, etc.) and more customization
during the install than most Unix's, and far more than Windows 95.
As a Red Hat Linux user who has installed MacOS, Windows 95, many versions
of DOS, and FreeBSD many times, I can assure you Linux has the best installation
you can get. It should be noted, however, that some distributions
have better installation programs than others.
Currents: "But as Red Hat illustrates, Linux is quickly maturing. Installation
can be easier than NT, and along with a swarm of available applications
(from databases to Netscape Communicator), commercial style product support
is an option." ... "My Linux test intranet was surprisingly easy to
set up. It took less than two hours."
"Red Hat's installation program makes it far easier to install than
any other version of Linux I've tried, including prior versions of Red
Hat. It shields you from enough complexity to keep it simple, yet it
provides enough options to satisfy Linux geeks."
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 make 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 set up as Windows 95 or MacOS. The catch is,
Windows 95 and MacOS 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
settings. Take a look at what Computer Currents and InfoWorld said
in the myth above regarding installation.
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 MacOS or Windows however
is laughable. Linux distributions comes with all the development software,
Internet software, 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 MacOS or Windows.
Because Linux is really a full Unix, it comes with everything you'd see
in a a standard Unix build too.
The Linux system and Kernel are very powerful. Of all the fictional Linux
myths, the ones regarding the system and core are the most untrue.
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 pre-emptive multitasking. A cooperative multitasker (such as
MacOS or Windows) will give a program control of the system until
the program chooses to give it back. Therefore, 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 pre-emptive multitasker, a program is given
a set number of clock cycles, then it is pre-empted, and another program
has the system for a set number of clock cycles. Linux is pre-emptive through
and through. MacOS doesn't feature pre-emptive multitasking,
Apple claims the new OS 8 is partially preemptive. As it turns out,
only the Finder application used pre-emptive threading). Windows 3.1 has
a pre-emptively threaded mouse only. Windows 95 is partially
pre-emptive, in that 32-bit software is pre-emptively mutlitasked, and
16 bit software isn't. Between Apple, and Microsoft, their only fully
preemptive multitasker is Windows NT.
Linux is slow
A few DOS programs that act as their own OS may do some things faster than
their Linux counterparts. This is simply because they aren't being multitasked
by the 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. MacOS 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 almost 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 into 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).
of over a year(This is a broken link, probably because it's a
college site. I'll try again after school starts and leave it until
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, it has better threading
than Windows 95 or NT's threads, and MacOS and Windows don't have
threads if they aren't managed by the program or a third party library.
Linux operating system is too huge to 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 into the
disk space used. Installations designed for desktop users runs around 100
Mb, 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 dizzy. Although the Windows 95 box says
4 Mb, the OS can't even fit itself in 4 Mb, 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 MacOS'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 masquerades as a one-of-a-kind solution to limited IP addresses"
Currents: "Linux beats NT at its own game" ... "With Red Hat, not only
did I get the base OS, but also a Web server, email server, database program,
and more. The total cost was $49.95. The cost of a similar NT
set up is over $4,600 (see the table "Red Hat Linux Versus
NT"). Now you can see why Linux is making strong inroads in the
Linux is an insecure
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 weaknesses 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 NextStep
or Windows NT, only hackers/crackers actually reverse engineer the code
to exploit its security issues. Time has proven this theory: 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 security 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 & set up myths.
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. Linux does not come
with what most consider modern office software.. There's some to
download, which compares very
well to popular Mac and Windows office software like Microsoft Works
(which oddly lacks a full justify feature). Just like on Macintosh or
Windows software, you can spend large amounts of money for commercial
Word Perfect and others with the features
of MS Office, but tend to run cleaner and faster. Because for many users,
non-copylefted software is offensive, Linux has a vast collection of free programs.
Here are a few software resources...
Here are a few of my favorite programs that didn't come with my distribution...
There are of course more, but I'm not here to list the programs I use.
is simply glorious. This program combines the greatest features of Finder,
Explorer w/ Windows 95, Norton Desktop, but on steroids. Preemptive thread
steroids. Its amazing file manager, menu bar, and utilities make a Linux
or Unix desktops addictive! [Freeware, GPL]
Window Programming Environment is
OK, did come with my distribution, but doesn't come with many others. It's
a great programming editor for both X, and character mode. It features
CUSTOM syntax highlighting, error message parsing, 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]
is hard-to-use UNIX left overs
A lot of the UNIX software for Linux does have a learning curve. The other
more modern Linux software is often for X (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, compilers 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
When you get Linux, you get tons of great compilers (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 pretty silly.
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. 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 believe that an ISPs Unix shell is as far as
UNIX extends to.
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
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 it.
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...
Linux doesn't have tech support
The Linux community has the best tech support in the industry. More
often than not, support offered by companies like Microsoft,
Novell, or IBM will
put individual callers on hold for hours, then let them talk to someone
who just reads a FAQ to them. With Linux, you have a whole community
to give you tech support. But if you prefer the traditional tech
support, Red Hat and Caldera
offer unparalleled tech support for their commercial Linux distributions.
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 therefore 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
Natively, Linux supports Minix, System V, a.out, and Elf executable formats.
In beta now, Linux supports Java executables (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 Utilities)
Atari 800, 800XL, 130XE and 5200 Emulator
Bochs a portable shareware X86
emulator for X Windows systems
a microprocessor simulation framework (Motorola 68000 & HECTOR 1600)
DOSEMU the Linux DOS emulator
an Oric emulator/simulator for Linux
Executor a commercial Macintosh emulator
Frodo The free
portable C64 emulator for BeOS/Unix/MacOS/AmigaOS
of the HP-48 calculator
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
Atari ST emulator for X11
U.A.E. a UNIX
VICE The Versatile
Commodore 8-bit Emulator (emulates the C64, C128, Vic20, and PET)
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
a Sinclair ZX Spectrum emulator
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, etc.), 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 (readonly), Minix's and others. Even if you
don't have other operating systems, Linux has emulators to let you run
programs that aren't even made for Linux.
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 truly 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
Copyright © 1997, 1998 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.