People have been known to exaggerate about Linux when singing its praises, and there's certainly some hyperbole around. But there are a couple of cast-iron facts about its benefits.
The experiences of different people vary but, in our extensive experience, Linux very rarely crashes. The mouse cursor has never frozen on screen. A strange error box has never appeared and remained until we've rebooted. Program windows don't freeze and leave trails as we drag them around. It's possible to leave a Linux system running for years without ever needing to reboot (although most desktop Ubuntu users shut down their PCs when they won't be using them for a while, just like the rest of us).
Of course, programs that run on top of Linux sometimes crash, but they don't take the rest of the system down with them. Instead, you can clean up after a crash and just carry on.
The next benefit is that Linux is very secure. It's built from the ground up to be secure, in fact, and Linux is based on years of proven computer science research. It works on the principle of users who have permissions to undertake various tasks on the system. If you don't have the correct permission, you cannot, for example, access a particular piece of hardware. Additionally, privacy can be ensured, because the files on the PC are "owned" by individual users, who can permit or deny others access to those files.
Another big benefit is that Linux can be obtained free of charge. Once it's installed, the latest updates for all your programs are also free of charge. Not only that, but if you want any new software, it will also usually be free of charge (and normally just a download away). Is this starting to sound attractive yet?
The software is also released under a license that means you can share it with anybody you want. Suppose that you find a really great image editor. You mention it to a friend, and he asks for a copy. Under Windows, copying the program is strictly illegal—to do so turns you into a software pirate! Unless that image editor is freeware, your friend will need to buy the software himself. Under Linux, sharing software is normally entirely legal. In fact, it's encouraged! We'll explain why in Chapter 2.
This philosophy of sharing applies to the entire operating system. You can install the software contained on the DVD on the computer of your friends, relatives, or neighbors. You can even give them copies of the DVD. All this can be done entirely legally!
In fact, this redistribution is what the makers of Ubuntu want. They created Ubuntu so that it would be shared and used by anybody, anywhere in the world. They'll even send you or somebody you know free copies of the installation CD if you want; see the ShipIt page of the Ubuntu website: https://shipit.ubuntu.com.
A happy side effect of the sharing culture that surrounds Linux is that you'll never need a software registration code to install it. There's no scheme like Windows Product Activation (WPA), or Windows Genuine Advantage, whereby the software must "phone home" over the Internet to be "activated."
This kind of approach to software, where the creators attempt to fundamentally limit what users can do with the software they've bought, is anathema to all those involved in Linux. Linux users are encouraged to play with the software in order to find or create more uses for programs, since Linux is about freedom, rather than restrictions.
The Linux Community
We've established that Linux is powerful, secure, and flexible. It doesn't nag you to register or ask you to type in lengthy registration codes.
But we've saved the best for last. Linux is more than a computer operating system. It's an entire community of users spread across the globe. When you start to use Linux, you become part of this community (whether you like it or not!).
One of the benefits of membership is that you're never far from finding a solution to a problem. The community likes to congregate online around forums and newsgroups, which you can join in order to find help.
Your placement in the ranks of the community is "newbie." This is a popular way of describing someone who is new to Linux. Although this sounds derisory, it will actually help when you talk to others. Advertising your newbie status will encourage people to take the time to help you. After all, they were newbies once upon a time!
There's another reason not to be disheartened by your newbie tag: you'll outgrow it very quickly. By the time you reach the end of this book, you'll have advanced to the other end of the spectrum—"guru." You'll be one of those giving out the advice to those poor, clueless newbies, and you'll be 100 percent confident in your skills.
■Tip One of the best ways to learn about Linux is under the auspices of a knowledgeable friend. It's very beneficial to have your own guru to help you along when you get stuck—someone who is just an e-mail message or phone call away. If you have a friend who uses Linux, consider taking him or her out for a drink and getting more friendly!
But being part of a community is not just about getting free technical support. It's about sharing knowledge. Linux is as much about an ideal as it is about software. It was created to be shared among those who want to use it. There are no restrictions, apart from one: any changes you make and distribute must also be made available to others.
The spirit of sharing and collaboration has been there since day one. One of the first things Linus Torvalds did when he produced an early version of Linux was to ask for help from others. And he got it. Complete strangers e-mailed him and said they would contribute their time, skills, and effort to help his project. This has been the way Linux has been developed ever since. Thousands of people around the world contribute their own small pieces, rather than there being one overall company in charge. And the same concept applies to knowledge of Linux. When you learn something, don't be afraid to share this knowledge with others. "Giving something back" is a very important part of the way of the Linux community.
To understand why Linux is shared, you need to understand its history, as well as the history of what came before it. This is the topic of Chapter 2.
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