20 New User Misconceptions about Linux

Monday Feb 21st 2011 by Matt Hartley
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Is Linux free of malware? Do you have to be a geek to use Linux? Does Linux make a political statement?

1) Linux will behave like Windows.

The misconception that one OS acts just like another makes me crazy. It's like me going from a Toyota Prius to a sixteen wheeler "big rig" and expecting it to handle exactly the same.

The fact of the matter is that the Linux desktop has no singular way of presenting itself. That's the power behind Linux on the desktop. It can be customized for different needs and distributions, while relying on a variety of desktop and software packages to make it work a certain way.

Windows, on the other hand, has a "here it is" approach that works well enough for its intended audience.

2) Windows software looks better than Linux software. So you think that Windows software has the marketplace cornered on what's pretty? Take a look at some of the horrid looking applications running under the shareware/freeware license sometime.

And while you're at it, be prepared to be turned off cold with some very unattractive software. The fact of the matter is that all platforms have software that can look great as well as some that are horribly ugly.

Best to leave the complaint of "software sex appeal" to the individual application itself, rather than blaming the entire platform. Looking for pretty software? Try the KDE desktop. By its very nature, KDE applications tend to be more visually exciting than their GNOME counterparts. As to the functionality of each application, that really comes down to user preference.

3) You have to be a geek to operate Linux.

How many non-geeks do you know that install their own operating systems? One? Zero? There's my point – no one except advanced users or "geeks" actually install operating systems without help from someone much more tech proficient.

As for the operation of the operating system, Linux on the desktop has been used for years in schools and retirement communities. Clearly, any perceived user difficulty is overcome quickly when the technical details are left to the professionals.

4) There is no software available for Linux.

Your legacy software titles may not be available for the Linux desktop. This may mean using Firefox rather than Internet Explorer, OpenOffice/LibreOffice rather than Microsoft Office, and so on.

As for the sheer number of software titles available for Linux users, the actual number made available really comes down to the Linux distribution being used. Not counting that there are hundreds of titles outside of common software repositories available, Ubuntu, for instance, has 2,334+ supported titles available. This number doesn’t include Canonical Partners for purchase options or even the PPA repository-based applications that can easily be installed as well.

5) Installing software on Linux is difficult.

If you're trying to use Slackware or something else aimed at advanced Linux enthusiasts, I might be inclined to agree that this is more difficult. On the other hand, if you're talking about using Debian-based distributions of Linux, I would point out that installing software is easier than it is on the Windows platform.

Ubuntu, for example, provides a Software Center than makes installation and removal so simple that even first time desktop Linux users find success without any coaching.

6) Linux is terrible for small businesses.

Speaking as someone who has supported small businesses that run Linux desktops, I'd suggest to doubters that a great experience was had by everyone involved. Not spending my own days removing Windows malware, and no longer worrying about those "mystery executables" that appeared on the desktop proved to be a massive time saver.

As for the company's experience running Linux on their desktop machines, the switch was generally painless. Linux point of sale (POS) systems, Scribus, OpenOffice, etc, for the rest of their software needs meant no friction suffered by anyone. Anything that was needed was available once I just took the time to look for it.

The biggest challenge is getting the Linux desktop to feel as familiar as possible. Thankfully, customizing Linux on the desktop is fairly straight forward for an advanced user offering support to those in need.

7) You cannot watch movies on Linux.

Whether or not someone can view a movie on the Linux desktop comes down to how it's being viewed. If you're looking for a way to "legally" view DVDs on your Linux desktop (in the U.S.), the Fluendo DVD Player addresses this nicely. If you're looking for Blu-ray support, it can be done, but not legally.

In my opinion the best way to enjoy video content with Linux is to stick to the TV set and a Linux-powered Roku box. This provides you with both Amazon's Unbox service in addition to movie services from Netflix.

8) Linux has no quality control because everything is freely available.

Let's revisit what I said previously about freeware/shareware software. The quality or lack thereof really comes down to the developers of a specific application. Yet because most Linux desktop software is written with the ability to improve upon it without fear of lawsuit, no one is stopping anyone from taking a great idea and repackaging it with a better focus on quality.

With most Linux software, quality control is lead by the community of individuals using the software.

9) Linux supports less hardware than Windows.

Windows supports more "specialty" devices and chipsets than the Linux desktop, for sure. But in terms of sheer numbers of supported devices out of the box, Linux destroys Windows.

Remember, you don't generally see a "Linux driver" on the CD that comes with a new computer hardware purchase. Motherboards, video cards and sound cards will almost always work fine right out of the box. Where things for Linux can get especially sticky is with select wireless chipsets built into wireless USB dongles.

Manufacturers change these chipsets often, but will keep Microsoft happy by providing a drive CD for users of the Windows operating system. Even with the great skills possessed by the various Linux developers, operating a crystal ball to be able to keep track of these things just isn't possible.

10) You can't easily run multiple monitors with Linux.

At one time it was true that you couldn't easily run two LCD monitors at the same time without editing a configuration file. These days, however, it couldn't be easier.

By simply using an ATI or NVIDIA video card, you'll find that running an extended desktop across multiple displays is very simple to do. Multiple monitors on desktop Linux now offers the same ease or complexity as setting up display settings within Windows.

11) Linux has terrible printer/scanner support.

Going back to an earlier statement I made about how many non-geeks actually install this stuff is relevant here. Even "perceived problematic" brands like Epson or Lexmark are now making Linux support more available through their websites.

The key to success is to either have the less advanced user run with printer/scanner models known to work out of the box or have the in-house Linux person install the relatively simple-to-install Debian or RPM package with the driver update. Even excluding support from the manufacturers, the SANE and CUPS projects ensure that we have plenty of great support for most of our printing and scanning needs.

12) Linux doesn't play well with webcams.

Just like with printers and scanners, manufacturers are beginning to wake up to the fact that Linux users have money to spend. So it behooves these manufacturers to provide basic Linux support without any unneeded hassles.

I own multiple Logitech webcams and they all worked out of the box. Even when venturing away from the Logitech brand, you'll generally find that the Linux platform has covered their bases with the commonly used webcam chipsets for USB and integrated webcams.

My brand new ASUS Eee netbook, for example, has a working integrated webcam that works great without any extra effort from me whatsoever. No driver CD, no compatibility list, the webcam just works perfectly.

13) MP3 player support is non-existent with Linux.

It's funny, in 2011 when you mention a portable MP3 player, most people think of the iPod. To make matters worse, Apple-based devices are one of the biggest headaches for developers to backwards engineer as Apple worked extra hard to make sure you will not be using "iAnything" on the Linux desktop.

Despite many projects making Apple devices compatible, it's a losing battle. The truth of the matter is that most portable MP3 players work great out of the box on the Linux desktop. There are many other brands out there that are open about their embrace of the casual Linux enthusiast. For example, check out JetAudio's iAudio devices.

14) Most USB devices don't work with Linux.

External hard drives, DVD-burners, a Flip video cam – each of these works fine out of the box. I have never purchased a non-Apple based USB-based device that was incompatible with my Linux desktop. From digital audio recorders to my Flip Video recorder, everything just works and I have no complaints. Most people who claim otherwise are simply wrong or are speaking based on second hand information.

15) There aren't any good games for Linux.

The Windows desktop and (to an extent) even the OS X desktop are demonstrating their "power of market share" when it comes to the top notch computer games available. Despite this mark against the Linux desktop, there are still some pretty cool games available.

Most of the available games are mashups or open source-based. For those who might be interested in trying one, just do a search engine query for "Linux video games." You may be surprised at just how many options there really are.

16) There aren't any good video editing applications for Linux.

From the highly advanced to the utterly simple, there are plenty of fantastic video editing applications available for the Linux desktop. For casual usage consider OpenShot or Kdenlive video editors. Advanced users needing that extra layer of function should look into Blender or CinelerraCV. Between these four options, there is next to nothing that can't be done with a camcorder and a lot of imagination.

17) Linux represents a specific political viewpoint.

Much like common financial currency or weapons, the use of Linux on the desktop is up to the end user. Even though Cuba and other similar-minded governments are embracing the platform, so are very different American entities like the NYSE, Google, IBM and the U.S. Navy.

The platform itself stands for freedom. How someone chooses to use this freedom is up to them. Using Linux doesn't automatically brand anyone a Communist.

18) Linux has no malware.

One of my favorite misconceptions is the belief that Linux is completely free of malware. Not only is this nonsense, but it's dangerous to believe as Linux adoption continues to grow.

While it's true that malware for Linux is nothing compared to the Windows platform, you put yourself in danger every time you install software without installing it from a trusted source. This is true of all platforms, not just Windows. Less of a threat doesn't mean that the threat is non-existent.

19) No one offers Linux tech support.

If you think only in terms of your town or neighborhood, there's truth to the belief that you'll be without Linux tech support. Thankfully there are companies and individuals out there on the Web willing to provide paid support, for the right price.

The biggest obstacle here is finding a way to get more localized support made available to smaller communities. For those living in rural locales, finding tech support on the Web can be the only way to get help with Linux conundrums as they arise.

20) Only poor people and "cheapskates" use Linux on their desktop.

There’s no question in my mind that the cost of $0 is a big factor for many people in choosing Linux on the desktop. Yet due to the flexibility of Linux, often it's not just "the poor or the cheap" making the desktop transition. Sometimes it's also those who'd rather spend their money elsewhere!

In other instances, desktop Linux users simply prefer the experience to that of Windows or OS X. People such as myself, for instance.

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