Why GNU/Linux ?

The word “computer” was first coined around 16th century for people who performed computations. Then came the 19th century’s industrial revolution which changed the definition of the word computer. Computers of our era are machines which primarily carry out calculations. A computer must basically run the instructions that users “feed” them and output the results. If you buy a computer, legally and logically you should be the one controlling it. However, this is not true about most modern-day computers. It is high time to think again about how our computers operate. Are we are really controlling our computers or is it big companies who are controlling them?

The only operating software (OS) that really allows control of a computer these days is GNU/Linux. An OS is a program which manages all of the computer’s resources and allocates these resources to computer applications. GNU/Linux is an OS like Microsoft’s Windows or Apple’s Mac but it is free. It all started back in 1983 when Richard Stallman began a project named GNU. He was determined to design a free clone of the Unix OS. However, he had not yet developed a kernel, an “engine”, that would “drive” the software. A kernel is basically the core element of an OS that controls the whole system’s processes. Thankfully, in 1992, Linus Torvalds chose to release his kernel freely with the GNU Public License. With Linus’ and Richard’s work, we finally had a free OS, the GNU/Linux. The philosophy behind the project GNU was to give users the possibility to freely run, study, change and share the original as well as the modified software. Rest assured there are no tricky end user agreements. GNU/Linux is completely legal and the GNU/Linux community has been striving hard to maintain that freedom. A GNU/Linux equivalent would today cost several billion dollars to reproduce.

Freedom and performance

GNU/Linux is the result of many benevolent people working together. This OS has the highest performance to cost ratio. It undeniably has the highest return on investment too. GNU/Linux inherits Unix’s principles and with added freedom, it is simply the best operating system. Making every single program perform one thing properly was the basic principle of Unix. The programs needed to work together and they had to be capable of dealing with streams of text. These principles made GNU/Linux a powerful operating system. GNU/Linux is a completely transparent OS; It is not a surveillance tool that will spy on users. Since everyone can see the codes there are no backdoors. Taking some time to study the codes of GNU/Linux, will help you understand what your computer is exactly doing. With this OS, users can select which programs they want to run. You can analyse the codes, understand what they do and decide whether or not to use them. GNU/Linux is privacy conscious and will not let applications collect personal data, location and browsing habits to serve you ads. It will neither interrupt you and ask users to install proprietary software nor annoy you with some personal assistant. Unlike another operating system, it will never force you to update or upgrade your operating system nor delete features as programmed obsolescence. This is the sole OS that permits users to look at what the OS is really doing and allows users to control their computer. Users are  free to do practically everything they want with their computers if they are running GNU/Linux.

Free downloads

GNU/Linux systems work with repositories. A repository may be thought of as a store where all the GNU/Linux packages (programs) are stored, published, maintained and updated. While users can compile and install packages by themselves, package managers are available and they can easily do the work for you. The package managers are very intelligent and they will verify the packages signature, do md5 checks and resolve dependencies for you. Installing a new program is very simple and easier than on other OSs’. On GNU/Linux you just grab the package from the repository and install it freely. If you need an update for your system, you just launch it from your package manager. It will fetch the packages and install it. The fact that Linux users download their software from verified repositories, they are less prone to be downloading viruses. Other operating systems’ users often download software from the internet without being able to verify integrity of the files. This method of obtaining software carries a greater risk of download malicious software.

Aggressive Security

An important and thoroughly debated aspect of GNU/Linux is security. GNU/Linux is very smart at managing account privileges. No completely secure OS exists but GNU/Linux surely provides the greatest possible security. By default, normal users cannot access sensitive system processes and files and this makes it very difficult for hackers to get root privileges. Consequently, they cannot do system wide damages. Moreover GNU/Linux is largely free of viruses since it is the least targeted OS by hackers. One flagrant example is that it is not targeted by the wannacry ransomware which is causing havoc in the Windows sphere. While some viruses for GNU/Linux may exist, patches for loopholes come very fast. The reason for this is that its source code is viewed and maintained by the largest developer community. Anyone in the community can point that the code has loopholes and many flaws are spotted and corrected before it becomes a public issue. No OS benefits from such fast improvements and refinement. From a network perspective, elevated levels of security are attained with IPtables. This firewall creates secure environments and filters any incoming traffic on computers. With IPtables properly setup, it is  impossible to break into users’ systems. Configuration of IPtables usually starts by dropping all connections and then allowing connections that need to pass through.

The most researched GNU/Linux distribution these days is Kali Linux. It is a distribution that was developed for assessing network security, advanced penetration testing as well as ethical hacking . Kali Linux tutorials are on the rise and learning a little on Kali Linux can help change the way you use your computer. While Kali Linux has powerful tools that allow you to break into systems, you should be very careful not to breach the limits and end up doing illegal things. This is mainly used by security departments to test whether their system is secure enough. They basically try to break into their system and then correct the loopholes. Another security oriented distro is Qubes OS. It is a rather new distribution and It provides security by compartmentalisation. This technique splits the different parts of the operating system in isolated in compartments. These compartments are called qubes and are separated from each other. This implies that if one qube is compromised it will not affect others.

Journaling is another reason why GNU/Linux is secure. Practically anything may be traced on GNU/Linux. For example, an administrator can view the whole list of commands that were executed since the first boot of the computer, the users that executed them and the IP addresses with which they logged into the system. Access to files and systems, failed login attempts are all written to log files and can be analysed. Another tool that enhances security is SELinux. It enforces rules on processes and access to files allowing fine-grained control. One example where we can see the benefits of SELinux is when setting up a web server. By default SELinux will prevent anyone from outside to access the website folder. You will need some time to properly configure SELinux so that other machines can access your web server. Businesses tend to use GNU/Linux more than other OSs’ since it is innately secure. Its journaling system and log files helps analyse security issues and easily counter back.

Proven stability over the years

GNU/Linux is the most stable OS and it is for this reason that most of the web is built on it. GNU/Linux systems rarely crash and can keep on working securely without rebooting. The Linux kernel is cleanly coded and extensively debugged making kernel errors less likely. The Linux kernel is monolithic and is inherently faster than micro-kernels. It was designed from the start for multi-user processing and hence manages processes very well. It is constantly being improved and there are new releases every 2 or 3 months which further improves its performance, security and stability. Most web servers run GNU/Linux because the OS is very good at managing processes and users rarely experience sluggish performance. A computer or server running GNU/Linux does not suffer from speed issues as you fill the hard disk. This is because there is no such need for defragmenting disks with GNU/Linux. The ext filesystems allocates files in an intelligent way and it does its best to prevent file fragmentation. This means that you will barely notice your system becoming slower as you fill your hard disk. The same may not be true with another OS.

There is certainly one that suits you

There are several distributions of the GNU/Linux. A GNU/Linux distribution is a version of the OS that uses the Linux kernel and GNU utilities but which has been modified and given a personal touch. These distributions are maintained by the developers. GNU/Linux distros can be very different from one another but they have been compiled from similar source codes. Amongst the popular distributions figure Linux Mint, OpenSUSE, Debian, Manjaro, Ubuntu,  Fedora and Arch Linux. Most of the software made available on these distributions stay free as well as updates and upgrades from one version to another. There exist enterprise versions too like Ubuntu Server, RedHat and SUSE LES. These companies offer paid documentation and support for their own distributions. A free enterprise distribution is CentOS, a clone of RedHat. There can be an unimaginably large amount of GNU/Linux distributions. An example of a modified GNU/Linux OS is Android which today runs on most smartphones. It is the reliability and stability of GNU/Linux that made the success of Android. Some internet boxes and washing machines do run GNU/Linux components. Having more than 300 distributions means that you will surely find a GNU/Linux environment that will suit you.

Beautiful and portable

Small is beautiful in GNU/Linux and some GNU/Linux distributions can still be run on old computers. GNU/Linux distributions are the least resource consuming OSs’. This is good news since we can still operate outdated underpowered hardware. A lightweight distribution gives users the possibility to carry entire OSs’ with their saved files and configurations on USB sticks. Lightweight distributions are designed to be run from portable devices like USB sticks and CDs and they need not be installed on the hardware. This makes GNU/Linux very portable. GNU/Linux distributions allow users to squeeze the maximum out of their computer hardware because it uses less of it compared to another OS. Lubuntu can run on a Pentium II computer with 128 Mb RAM and a 2Gb hard disk.

It is a misconception to think that GNU/Linux is difficult to use. GNU/Linux distributions no longer restrict users to a frightening black screen. An immense work has been done to improve graphical user interfaces (GUI). Several desktop environments exist namely Gnome, KDE, Unity, Pantheon and so on. Two recently developed distributions ElementaryOS and Zorin have developed amazing desktop environments. The new GUIs are highly customisable and users that like to tweak with themes and icons can create their unique desktop environments. Conky and Docker are tools that facilitate desktop environment customisation. You can view system performance statistics beautifully on your home screen with Conky. Another facet of GNU/Linux is it’s scalability. Users can customise the distribution itself to build an OS for their specific hardware or function. The ability to choose features in GNU/Linux distributions can help reduce boot and installino time. Some examples are Ubuntu’s customisation Kit, Linux From Scratch, Porteus and SUSE studio  which allow users to customise their GNU/Linux distribution.

Help is a click away

There is a large community of Linux users out there who are ready to give you a helping hand. There are a number of forums where you can find answers to any difficulty you might experience. Your questions will most of time have already been answered because someone may have confronted the same issue before you. When you are going to get your GNU/Linux distro, you need to make sure that you download the .iso file from an official mirror. The installation procedures are pretty easy and straightforward with user-friendly interfaces. There are numerous tutorials and videos out on the internet that explain how to install a GNU/Linux distribution. There are several installation options too. You can use it as a live cd. When you use it as a live cd, no changes are written to your existing computer. When you remove the live CD and restart your machine you will find it in its initial state. You can operate different distributions by using live CDs and then choosing which one suits you best. You can also install it side by side your existing OS. If you choose this option, a boot loader will prompt you to choose between the GNU/Linux distro or the previously installed OS when you boot the computer. You can wipe out everything on your computer and install only the GNU/Linux distro. An even better option would be installing GNU/Linux distributions on a virtual machine like Oracle VirtualBox or VMWare Workstation which can be easily deleted after testing.

Learning to use a GNU/Linux distribution can help you relearn the basics of computing and change your perception of computers. If you start using the terminal you can have fun and really see how obedient your computer is. You can start scripting and write small programs for yourself. The terminal is powerful and it practically has no limitations. You can check disk space usage on your computer, find available updates, write the results in a file, compress that file and mail it to you with a single line of code. You can learn even more about the way your computer interacts with the internet with tools like tcpdump. You can build a home server with a cheap RaspberryPi. Learning how to use the terminal will make you discover a lot of savvy things and you will make better use of your computer. You will also be more security conscious and adopt safe browsing habits.

GNU/Linux distributions have helped numerous business flourish. Many people earn their lives administrating GNU/Linux systems. GNU/Linux distributions have helped the web be what it is today and it can surely add value to your life too. The founders of the GNU/Linux could have made billions if they wanted, but rather they chose to give the world a free operating software. If you love GNU/Linux, you start adopting a helping attitude and become givers rather than takers. The possibilities with these OSs’ are numerous. A download will probably not seem a great deal to you but it is priceless to the developers and the community since it encourages them to keep going on and keep the OS free. You can donate as little as you can and reap thousand folds’ benefits. Education should be free and I believe so should OS. Big companies have snatched away and distorted the true joy of programming. Computing as fashioned by capitalism is ugly to look at and the only beautiful that remains of computing is GNU/Linux.

Using free software that allows you to control your computer rather than paying to have your computer controlled is what I have chosen and this is what I would recommend you to do. With GNU/Linux you will require little maintenance and fewer hardware upgrades and is clearly the best option for your computer.

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