To casual users, one person at a keyboard looks much the same as any other. Watch for a while, however, and the differences start to emerge — and whether they are using Linux or Windows is the least of them.
The fact is, Linux users are different from Windows users in attitude as much as their choice of operating system. Originating as a Unix-type operating system and in opposition to Windows, Linux has developed an expectation and a philosophy in direct opposition to those promoted by Windows. Although many new Linux users have come directly from Windows, average Linux users simply do not react in the same way as Windows users.
After observing Linux users for seventeen years (as well as the changes in my own behavior after switching to Linux), I would suggest that Linux users differ from Windows users in at least seven basic ways:
7. Linux users are do-it-yourselfers
Windows users are conditioned against tinkering. Files like the Windows registry are difficult to read, much less edit, and when users have a problem, they are encouraged to seek professional help. In fact, to this day, there are small businesses that charge eighty dollars an hour for doing backups or removing unnecessary files.
By contrast, Linux began as a hobby, and was designed for those who like to tinker. For a long time, professional help was unavailable. Instead, Linux users were encourage to exchange information and learn to help themselves. Today, that tradition has been weakened here and there — for instance, by GRUB 2, which eliminates manual editing, but much of the do-it-yourself attitude remains.
6. Linux users are comfortable with the command line
Contrary to the popular myth, Linux users can comfortably survive without ever leaving their desktop. However, often, the most options are available from the command line, and, perhaps because of their do-it- yourself ethos, many average users sooner or later find themselves working there. Once there, they often find it a powerful and efficient alternative, and not nearly as scary as they feared.
In comparison, while Microsoft has developed its own command shell, it has not found its way into average users’ hands. Nor is the Ubuntu port of the BASH shell to Windows likely to become widely used, given that Windows encourages a hands-off policy for non-experts.
5. Linux users are security conscious
Even now, with all the media stories about crackers and malware, I know many Windows users who refuse to bother with a password or to run with a non-administrative account These practices, they say, are inconvenient (although it is not too inconvenient, apparently, to have their systems reinstalled every six months to purge them of infections).
Once or twice, I have met Linux users browsing the Internet with the root account, but they are the exceptions. Designed for security from the beginning, Linux forces an awareness of security on users from the beginning. I know several who consider going online with Windows actively dangerous.
4. Linux users want customization
Perhaps because many users who turned to Linux are in active revolt against Windows, Linux users have a strong preference for doing things their own way. For them, Window’s customization of wallpaper and fonts are only the beginning. Linux not only offers a choice of window managers and desktop environments, but even of minute features such as how a window on the desktop becomes active, or the positioning or non- positioning of icons in a window title bar.
This preference is so strong that, in the last eight years, temporary reductions in the customization options available caused three user revolts against some of the most popular desktop environments.
3. Linux users are accustomed to diversity
Unix design favors small, specialized applications. With software like LibreOffice and Krita, Linux has long ago abandoned that preference, at least in productivity applications — perhaps in the hopes of being less foreign to refugees from Windows.
Yet even now, many categories of software, including music players, messaging, email readers, and web browsers can have as many as half a dozen alternative applications.
Moreover, because almost all the alternatives are free, Linux users quickly become accustomed to trying all the software in a category before settling on a preference — assuming that they do.
This situation could not be more different from Windows, in which many users are surprised to learn that alternatives exist. Actually, many Windows users’s first exposure to alternatives is from free software like Firefox or LibreOffice.
2. Linux users expect software to cost nothing
Free-licenses (see below) refer to software’s availability and redistribution, not cost. All the same, with software free for the download and available in minutes, Linux users are not accustomed to pay for software. To compound the preference, if no free software is available, Linux users can resort to cloud services like Google Docs, which also have no cost.
Some Linux users will pay for non-essentials, like games. Others will pay for high end software for professionals. However, these are exceptions. Unlike Windows users, who often assume that software is low-quality if it costs nothing, Linux users generally see no reason to pay for software.
1. Linux users are aware of licensing
The awareness of licensing is part of the idealism that still prevails in many parts of the Linux community. The majority of Linux software licenses are defined as free in the sense that, instead of restricting how software is used, as most Windows software does, it defines how it may be copied, revised, and redistributed. Often, part of the terms is that the credit is given to the original creator of the software, and revisions of the software use the same license.
Some Linux users will use only software with a free license. Others will use proprietary licenses if no copyleft alternative exists, or if using the proprietary license is a job requirement. However, whatever their position, few Linux users of any experience are unaware of licensing issues.
A Separate Outlook
These differences add up to an entirely different attitude towards computing. Part of the reason that few products are marketed for Linux users is probably their small market share, but an equally large part is that few outsiders understand that the market is completely different.
For some, the solution is to make Linux more like Windows. For instance, both the Snappy and Flatpak package systems are an attempt to imitate Windows installation programs. However, enough differences remain that such efforts are likely to have little success. For better or worse, most Linux users see little advantage in change. If anything, they are likely to be convinced that their customs and expectations are superior — and, being a Linux user myself, I suspect they are right.