Top Linux Myths Dispelled

Monday Sep 8th 2014 by Matt Hartley

Linux myths are many and varied, yet a look beneath the surface reveals how mistaken they are.

Over the years, we've heard from countless Microsoft Windows fans as to why they believe using Linux was nearly impossible. These folks would cite everything – from poor hardware compatibility to a lack of popular software. And I suppose at one time, some aspects of this were true.

But in 2014 when people still claim that using newbie friendly distributions like Ubuntu are too difficult, this nonsense needs to be put to rest once and for all. This article is but a small step in what I hope will be a wake up call for naysayers.

Linux Myth #1: Most people don't install operating systems

One of the biggest complaints I hear far too often is that installing a distribution like Ubuntu is too difficult. I'd like to point out that context is everything. For someone who is not tech-savvy, yes, installing an operating system is indeed a bit overwhelming.

Where is the existing stuff on the hard drive? Is the computer going to work after I install this? Questions like these can pile up for anyone not used to installing their own operating system – it's a big step for the inexperienced.

But here's an interesting perspective when grouping Linux distributions into this mix: Most people don't install their own operating system. Think about this, when you buy a new computer it comes with an operating system already provided. And with the drop in PC prices over the years, it's extremely rare anyone is faced with the dilemma of installing, much less upgrading to a new operating system. Most folks simply purchase a new computer when it comes time to upgrade.

Another point to consider is that most people upgrade their computer when there is a specific reason to. Sure, there are those who upgrade because they're gamers or because their system has become too slow for their current needs. But many people upgrade their computers because they no longer function correctly. Even worse, often this happens because of malware or other software related issues. Think about it – this is just sad and unfortunate.

Now this brings us to Linux. For non-technical types, a desktop Linux distribution usually comes into their lives in one of the following ways. A Linux enthusiast introduces them to it as a Windows alternative. Or the other most common way folks come to discover Linux is strictly by stumbling upon it online from a forum or somewhere on the Web.

In both cases, the newcomer is usually left to their own devices when it comes to installing and maintaining Linux on their desktop. Where things get fuzzy is when you hear from Windows power users who try out Linux, usually out of curiosity. Because it fails to behave in the same way as Windows, the idea of "Linux is too hard to use" finds itself into the various forums on the Web.

The final issue is the adoption of Windows 8 compatible UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) computers. Recently Ubuntu 64bit has made the process of installing somewhat easier. Sadly though, secure boot bugs still crop up enough to turn off some potential Linux converts. Another option is to simply disable secure boot, but again, it's another step we're expecting folks to just "discover" based on various tutorials on the Web. Remember, with their old OS they simply turned on their computer and it worked.

The takeaway? Installing ANY operating system isn't for someone who isn't a geek – period. Blaming Linux distributions for this perceived difficulty just isn't fair.

Linux Myth #2: Hardware detection half-truths

Not too many years ago, my mom bought a PC with Windows 7 installed. She had a bluetooth dongle, scanner and a printer she wanted to use. Each of these devices was designed when XP was still the latest version of Windows, so they were a bit dated. Still, all of these peripherals worked great and she had no reason to upgrade...until she tried to use them under Windows 7.

Out of the box, there was zero compatibility with ANY of these devices. The only thing that worked out of the box was the mouse and the keyboard. After looking into the matter further, it turned out that Windows 7 drivers were not available for any of these devices – literally. Yet when I hooked them up to my Linux based laptop, all of the devices worked out of the box.

Expanding on this point even further, I grow tired of hearing how Linux hardware compatibility isn't as good as with Windows. This is so false I want to scream it from the rooftops! It's factually, without any question, a lie.

What's actually happening when you hear about someone experiencing hardware challenges is that they personally had a problem with something being detected on a notebook. Most common offenders are select wifi chipsets (thanks to the ever changing revisions despite running the same model number), or after trying to install to a non-Intel based graphics card in their notebook computer. Because this individual had a lousy installation onto their specific notebook hardware, this means that Linux is horrible and unusable by all who gaze onto it. Nonsense folks, here's what's actually happening.

Look closely at the sticker on the computer you're installing Linux onto. It probably reads Windows or Designed for Windows. This isn't being stated to take a swipe at Microsoft, rather, to point out that the machine you're staring at was designed to run the OS it came with. So while it's rare that NVIDIA or ATI graphics won't run great out of the box on most Linux distros, it's hardly impossible.

Now here's where Linux users have an advantage. There are fairly easy to follow guides explaining work-a-rounds that can be used during installation and after to make sure you never see a black screen ever again. What this means is – yes, the video card is indeed compatible. But with some mobile graphics, sometimes it requires a little work to get Linux running on this machine.

On desktop PCs, I've never, ever had a video or sound card issue. If I wasn't hearing any sound, it was because the wrong sound device was set to default in the GUI. As for graphics card issues, I've never experienced anything other than success on a clean installation of Linux. Only exception to this is accidentally installing a bad proprietary video driver after a successful Linux install.

Speaking for myself, I avoid any "surprises" by purchasing computers with Linux pre-installed. Any quick search will present you with a number of great companies providing very nice computers with Linux pre-installed. For the non-technical person or someone who would rather avoid any surprises, this is the best approach.

The takeaway? Linux has far greater peripheral compatibility out of the box than Windows. Installing Linux onto made-for-Windows computers however (while usually successful), can be met with some challenges best solved with minor work-a-rounds. When in doubt, buy Linux pre-installed for a flawless user experience on the desktop.

Linux Myth #3: Linux software issues

If there is one myth that really bugs me, it's the belief that there's not any decent software titles for Linux. To be fair, yes, there will be legacy applications that some users might need. Good news is, some of these titles are already available across popular computing platforms. These would be titles such as Skype, Dropbox, Firefox, LibreOffice, Google Chrome, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and NVIDIA/AMD driver control software.

Obvious titles that might be missing for Linux would be MS Office and maybe, for some users, Photoshop. Generally speaking though, the software available for Linux users is fantastic. Browsing, email, office suite, file syncing and more are all available with a few clicks of the mouse.

Usually what happens is when a legacy title such as MS Office or Photoshop isn't available, that platform is then demonized as having "a lack of good software titles available" which is obviously overstating the fact. For most people, the software available in today's Linux software repositories is ample. I live and work within a Linux environment full-time, I can't think of a single thing I'm missing from my software library.

The takeaway? Just because you're missing a legacy software title doesn't mean that Linux on the desktop is somehow holding its users back with a lack of software titles. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are hundreds of great software titles to choose from on today's Linux distributions. Anything not available by default, is usually available in the software repositories.

Linux myths and hurdles to greater adoption

In this article, I debunked the "Linux is too difficult" myth, along with related myths surrounding hardware and software. Understanding this, one may find themselves asking: why isn't Linux more common?

Well the short answer is that the numbers being spouted out by various tech publications are using skewed data. Because Linux is in countless devices, helps to run Android, plus it's not sold as a desktop operating system, it makes tracking almost impossible. And yet, the same old "researched" numbers appear over and over, despite any accuracy in these numbers being completely impossible. This number is usually under 2 percent. In reality, Linux on the desktop is exploding internationally. China and India – two of the biggest growth markets – are mysteriously missing from the conversation, despite both countries seeing huge Linux growth on the desktop.

We (sometimes) believe the data we're provided by our common news sources. And because of this, I think we have a cult of personality with Apple and Microsoft. We, as consumers, are never told that there is a third option and because of this lack of demand, brick and mortar stores don't carry Linux computers.

In 2008, Best Buy and Canonical began selling Ubuntu boxed sets. They were sold at $20 USD, were difficult to find in the store and had no education offered whatsoever. See, I happen to own one of these boxed sets and let me be the first to say, the marketing effort was non-existent.

The packaging company, ValuSoft, did a great job in making the box easy to read, with a flap that opens up and offers great information. The problem was, this boxed set was sold on a ground level shelf BEHIND a Microsoft Windows end-cap. So it was hidden, and no one in the store even realized what it was when I purchased it. That's right – the employees were not trained whatsoever on the product.

Until someone actually works to educate computer users about what desktop Linux is and why they care, simply putting a boxed set onto a store shelf isn't going to make any difference at all. Linux on the desktop requires hands-on demonstrations at county fairs, kiosks and in big box stores. Obviously the proprietary software "cabal" isn't going to allow this to happen anytime soon, so we find ourselves looking to one company to get people using Linux – Google.

Hate it or love it, Google has people using the Linux kernel under their own software underpinnings with great success. Their Chromebooks are top sellers and the new desktop machines rolling off the assembly line also look like they could become best sellers.

The painful downside to this of course is that all of the great software that makes desktop Linux so amazing is completely missing from the Chrome experience. Popular titles like LibreOffice, Firefox, or GIMP won't be found on these machines. Luckily for geeks out there, this is something that can be remedied with a little work. However for the masses, the ChromeOS will forever be the closest many folks will ever get to a true Linux desktop.

To be honest, the only way I see the market share of visibility gaining traction in the physical marketplace is for existing PC repair techs to take up Linux support and begin recommending it to their clients. I know of a few who have already begun doing this and each of them has tripled their income for their efforts. Will this be a trend that not only boosts adoption, but also helps to dispel Linux myths? Only time will tell, but I remain bullishly optimistic.

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