With Microsoft having almost an 85% market share of desktop operating systems, few home users ever even consider the various alternatives to Windows. Most people assume that they just have to put up with Windows, because it completely dominates the desktop marketplace. Fortunately, the free and open-source Linux presents a viable alternative in more cases than you might think. It doesn’t cost anything and, being open-source, it’s entirely developed by a huge global community to create many different flavours of the increasingly popular operating system. Even if your primary computer runs Windows for the sake of compatibility, Linux still has its uses.
#1. Computer Troubleshooting
If your computer encounters a severe problem that renders it unable to boot, you’ll typically be restricted to using the recovery tools provided by Windows, which might not even work anyway. However, Linux may be installed and run independently from a CD or flash drive using the Live CD feature. Even if you have formatted the system hard drive, you can use the Live CD to boot up into a fully self-contained operating environment for troubleshooting your computer. In fact, many third-party system rescue programs use their own customized versions of Linux to do the same thing but, an original, unbranded Linux Live CD doesn’t cost anything. By contrast, Windows’ equivalent tool, Windows 2 Go, is only available in Enterprise editions.
#2. Multiple Distributions Avail able
Thanks to the open-source nature of Linux, the underlying code is freely available to the general public. As a result, there are dozens of different distributions of the operating system, some of which are designed for very specific purposes, such as powering mainframes, point-of-sale systems and other specialized machines In fact, Google Android, the most common operating system for smartphones, is based on Linux, as is the gaming-orientated SteamOS. For home and small-business users, the Ubuntu distribution is among the most popular, although OpenSUSE, Fedora, Linux Mint and Debian are also popular. Each distribution runs on the same core operating system (kernel) but each has its own distinct look and feel and set of tools.
#3. Customize Your Operating System
Linux is vastly more customizable than any edition of Windows since every aspect of the operating system is accessible to anyone who uses it. In fact, if you have the programming skill, there’s nothing stopping you from building your own Linux-based operating system! One of the most customizable Linux distributions is Arch Linux, which is a basic operating system designed for extensive customizability through the use of modules and plugins. However, it’s not particularly suitable for beginners. For those who are not comfortable working with command-line interfaces and other relatively complex procedures, there are numerous customization programs and built-in customization features in most of the major Linux distributions.
#4. More Privacy
Almost as soon as Windows 10 was launched, it faced controversy regarding the integrated Cortana Al and privacy. By default, Windows 10 tracks almost everything you do, and that’s something that a lot of people aren’t willing to accept. With Linux, however, you won’t need to worry about your computer spying on you, at least not on an operating system level. While certain distributions, such as Ubuntu, do monitor certain activities for the purpose of providing personalized advertising, you can easily disable them permanently by uninstalling the associated modules There are even some specialized Linux distributions where the main focus is privacy, such as Backbox, Kali, Security Onion and Parrot Security OS.
#5. Improved Performance
Thanks to its entirely modular design, users can easily adapt Linux to suit their individual requirements by adding and moving additional modules as they please. As such, Linux can be an extremely lightweight operating system, improving performance across the board, particularly on older machines. Ubuntu, for example, only requires a 700 MHz processor and 384 MB of RAM, making it perfectly suitable for installing on an old machine, even if only to test out an alternative to Windows. In fact, one of the best things to do with an old computer is to re purpose it as a testing platform for Linux. Nonetheless, Linux certainly isn’t just for old machines – it’s also the number-one platform for supercomputers thanks to its excellent performance.
#6. Growing Software Availability
Of course, the major concern most people have with Linux is a lack of supported software. After all, if you’re migrating from Windows, none of your programs will work with Linux. The same applies to games, although you can run many games designed for Windows by using the Wine application layer interface. For everyday software, such as productivity suites and media players, there are countless options available for Linux, and most of them are free. In fact, there are many free alternatives to popular applications available for Linux, such as OpenOffice. At the same time, the availability of programs and games for Linux is constantly growing. Best of all, most mainstream Linux distributions come with almost everything you need already.
#7. Rapid Development
Major editions of Windows typically take three to five years to become available and some, such as Windows Vista and Windows 8, were widely considered to be big steps backwards. However, many Linux distributions are under constant development to ensure that they work with the latest hardware and programs. By contrast, many of the top Linux-based operating systems feature an updated release at least once per year. In other words, if you don’t like a current version of the Linux distribution you’re using, you’ll probably only have to wait a few more months for a better one. To a significantly greater extent than Windows, Linux is constantly evolving in accordance to what its users actually want.
#8. Better Driver Support
While native support for common hardware devices has improved a great deal in more recent versions of Windows, many components still require third-party drivers to get the most out of them. However, Linux supports the majority of hardware natively straight out of the box, allowing you to simply plug it in and use it without having to download and install drivers from the manufacturer’s website. Thanks to this greatly improved hardware support, Linux can also run on almost any computer available, ranging from tiny smartphones to enormous mainframes. Amazingly, the Linux kernel powers everything from tiny smart phones to the world’s fastest supercomputers, such as China’s Tianhe-2 machine.
#9. Excellent Community Support
Since Linux is available to the public, most of its more popular distributions also retain their open-source nature, allowing entire communities to support them. If you decide to use a popular distribution, you’ll find that the degree of community support is unparalleled and far ahead of that of Windows. The reason for this major benefit is that there is rarely any obvious demarcation between the developers and the rest of the community since all of the source code is available to the public. You’ll never have any trouble finding answers to your questions, and there are many guides to getting the most out of the operating system. Additionally, forums, knowledge bases and mailing lists are often frequented by the developers themselves.
#10. Greater Security
Security is a core feature of Linux, and it is inherently safer to use than Windows, hence its popularity as a server operating system. Since Linux only holds a small minority of the desktop operating system market share, it’s often not a prime target for hackers either. Unlike Windows, Linux features a firewall at the heart of its kernel, making it almost impossible for hackers to get malware into its software and module repositories. This also means that you generally don’t need to install extra security programs to keep your computer safe. Similarly, there’s almost no malware on Linux, since hackers generally aren’t interested in going to the trouble of programming malicious software to work with any operating system other than Windows.
Even if none of the above appeal to you, you can still install Linux on a spare computer or even run it alongside Windows in a dual-boot configuration. If nothing else, it’s good for troubleshooting your PC and learning more about how computers work. However, Linux is far from just a toy for hobbyists, and it has long been the standard operating system for servers and supercomputers. The Linux family of operating systems is extremely diverse and constantly evolving and, while it might seem overwhelming, there are many distributions that are ideally suited to beginners, such as Ubuntu or Mint. Once you’ve learned your way around either of those, you can confidently move on to something more advanced, such as Linux Arch.