Why do some people choose to run Linux as their PC platform of choice while others opt instead for other ways of running their computing experiences?
Is it market share, perceived ease of use, slick marketing overtures, users wanting to use what they already know? This list might explain why people might choose OS X or Windows.
But what approach to computing (and life) prompts a person to use a Linux box on a daily basis? I’ll share my insights based on personal experiences and other observations accumulated over years of living the Linux lifestyle full time.
Software buyer’s remorse has gone M.I.A.
I haven’t spent my hard-earned income on software in years. I own one single (legal) copy of Windows XP Pro that I use for work purposes (software testing) in VirtualBox.
Does this mean that I choose not to spend money on Linux then? Not at all. I do in fact, donate money to specific Linux-related projects on a regular basis.
The fact that I have managed to free myself from DRM, product keys and purchased OS installation CDs is merely a byproduct of no longer locking myself into a proprietary software hell. Not because I wanted a free ride, mind you, but rather because I grew tired of feeling like a cog in some nameless machine.
Linux software is great, but what about when I’m missing a needed application not found in the provided software repositories? Luckily for me, I have found that the Linux community has a habit of providing a solution to an issue before I ever realized there was a problem to be solved.
For example, I needed software to allow me to tether my BlackBerry 8820 to my Ubuntu powered Eee netbook. Sure, wi-fi is my preferred approach, but sometimes the social events I attend simply don’t offer this luxury due to network issues.
This brought me to a handy little application called Berry4all. It’s a Python app, so all you need to do is unzip and run to configure. Just follow the help page and within minutes, you’re running your BlackBerry on a tethered link via USB to gain Internet access.
It works quite well with my own mobile carrier. Bundle it with AllTray and you can dock the app to gain more screen real estate as well. To this day, I can gain network access without wi-fi thanks to this Linux application and a little time spent setting it up.
You see, open source and Linux are created with the user in mind. That’s what I love about software designed for Linux. I have yet to find anything I can do on one platform that I cannot do with Linux software.
Perceived peripheral problems
Having clarified my view on the value of Linux software and how it fits into my own life, I want to address peripheral compatibility concerns.
For a Linux novice, trying to figure out what is going to work and what isn’t regarding peripherals is horrifying.
Even with SANE and CUPS making their peripheral lists widely available, some devices can indeed prove to be a real crapshoot as to whether they’re going to work or not. So allow me to share my approach that I have used with my own Linux lifestyle that has worked very well for me over the years.
For Printer/Scanner Combos, I trust
For desktop webcams, I tend to lean heavily toward
_And for other peripherals, I rely on my preferred search engine for the answers I am seeking.
I realize that the example above is amazingly oversimplified, but there’s also some truth to it despite the oversimplification. As a Linux enthusiast, I work to stick with brands that I know are likely to provide decent Linux support. From there, I’ll check the provided compatibility lists to make sure what I’m about to buy is listed as working.
After looking over the provided compatibility list, I verify things by performing a Google query to see if there are any unresolved issues regarding the affected device AND my chosen distribution of Linux. That last point is key.
Remember, just because it’s known to work with one distro doesn’t mean that someone didn’t screw it up with another. While in theory it shouldn’t matter, the end result proves time and time again that each distro is very different with device support. It’s a simple fact. Wireless devices provide the best examples of this problem.
Finally there are those devices in which you have to just take a wild risk on. Just roll the dice and go for it. This is what separates the adults from the kiddies in the Linux world.
The “first-timer Linux users” will move away quickly at the thought of spending $30 on a device that they might need to take back for a refund, where as the person living the Linux lifestyle will happily take this risk. Why? Because chances are often good that it will work and that is part of the fun – discovery with the potential for failure.
For me, having spent years learning the trends of wireless chipsets and other devices that hold up over time with various distributions has given me a tremendous personal insight that I enjoy sharing with others. Being able to produce the name of a USB 802.11N dongle that I know will work with a neighbor’s Ubuntu distro makes me feel like a rock star.
It’s fun to help others with things you’ve taken the time to learn through trial and error on your own.
So is it true? Is hardware/peripheral support really a problem on Linux? Well, let me tell you this. My Linux distribution supports
• Two USB headsets
• Three decent USB webcams
• Two monitors configured via an ATI graphics card using a GUI app
• Three all-in-one printers
• Four external hard drives
• One IEEE 1394 video capture card
• My iPhone 3G with full sync
• My Wii guitar, two joysticks
• Three USB 802.11G dongles
• One Olympus digital recorder
You get the general idea. Each of these devices is supported out of the box. Based on the examples above, you be the judge as to whether or not there is a peripheral hurdle here to overcome. I say no, but your mileage may vary.
Are Linux users cheap?
The one thing I hear on a regular basis is that Linux users are “cheapskates.” Due to the software being available for no cost to the end user in most cases, there is no viable base for creating a business around the Linux platform. At least this is the consensus among some people.
I have two thoughts on this. First, it depends on the person in question. There are most definitely people out there who would balk at the idea of spending their earnings on software built around the Linux universe. Many individuals want their software free based on their own frugal nature or perhaps due to their own views on FoSS software. Everybody is different, so it’s usually one reason or the other.
Enthusiasts such as myself would be willing to spend money on software for Linux if it was helping me to do something that I couldn’t already do with the available free options. Do you see where this is going? It’s not that all Linux users are cheapskates, rather that many of us simply don’t see the value in spending money for a paid application when the free alternative does the same thing without the price hit.
The second line of thought is as follows. Don’t sell me software, provide me with value for my money instead. If this means I subscribe financially to supporting the developer to maintain and not abandon the application, you better believe I’m among the first to sign-up to make this happen. Some developers are already discovering this as a revenue source.
Other option is the two-tiered approach of providing paid professional services for businesses based around the software. This translates into providing a service for someone, then being paid for it. Obviously this has been done with relative success in the past. Others are welcome to disagree, though.
Personality of a Linux lifestyle seeker
Perhaps like Windows and Mac users, who have been portrayed with various stereotypes, individuals living the Linux lifestyle can be portrayed as falling into a personality “type” all their own. Trailblazers, risk takers, people willing to take a walk on the wild side, while fully realizing their actions may create a days worth of work if their hunch is wrong.
Linux enthusiasts are often considered to be geeky in mindset, despite rarely giving off this vibe to the public as one might expect. Sort of like undercover geeks in many cases, a trip to any Linux event will surprise you with the wide range of users that love using this great platform.
I believe that the personality of a person seeking to live the Linux lifestyle is simply a person that likes to tinker, explore and learn. Linux enthusiasts value freedom. Some value the ideals behind the FoSS movement while others might value the freedom to shape their Linux lifestyles based on their own choices. And then there are those who opt for both approaches.