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/

Proof-read!

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.

Appropriate Mail

Inappropriate Mail

So, please don't send me email that's not directly related to this page (or one of my other pages or projects).

Additional Myths

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.

Links

Setting 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.

After 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 System

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.

Linux multitasks 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, (although 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.

Links

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).

Links

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.

Links

The 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 operating systems.

Links

Linux is an insecure operating system

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.

There 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 office suits. Applixware, StarOffice, 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.

Linux software 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 develop for

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.

Links

Usability

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.

Linux's command 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 graphical networking

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.

Links

Compatibility

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.

Links

Linux only supports Linux executables

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)

Other operating 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.

Standard 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 me.

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.

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