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Debunking Linux/Unix "Disadvantages"

I keep a lot of documentation as I journey through Linux and Free Software. In fact, aside from this blog, I have a two-inch binder full of scripts, programs, web pages and other material. It's all categorized and laid out in an orderly fashion. You could look at it as a journal of sorts starting back almost 12 years ago. I guess that is why I have this blog. I also use it as some sort of journal. Maybe I should print all my posts, and put them in the binder. Who knows, maybe several generations after me will enjoy it.

Anyway, basking in the nostalgia of it all, I came across a paper titled "Disadvantages Of Unix Operating Systems". There is no author or URL or any clue as to where it came from. It almost looks like a research paper, which makes me think I got it from school. But again, no author. I really have no idea where it came from. I certainly didn't type it. At least not that I can remember. So if anyone knows, please email me. I would be interested to find out.

Anyway, it is an interesting read. I am not going put the whole text to up, as I don't know the author, where it came from, and I don't know if it is copyrighted or not, so I am just going to put up snippets here and there, and make my comments about it.

First, reading the article makes me think that the author was very naive about Unix and Linux operating systems. It seems the author has dabbled a little in it, but was eventually turned off before really getting to know its true power. However, I can't make out if the author is pro-Windows, anti-Windows or not really partial one way or the other.

He (I'll refer to the author as "he" as most computer nerds are of the male gender) also seems to be stuck in 1980- which actually may be when the article was written, if it weren't for the constant references to the Microsoft GUI (post 1990). Many of the criticisms he brings forth are very archaic and old. However, the reason I am putting this on my blog is because these criticisms I hear all to often, even in today's Linux world.

With all this said, let me begin.

...you should only consider using a UNIX environment if you are willing to spend a lot of time working on your operating system. Learning all the hundreds of commands and even more hundreds of commands can be very stressful.

Yes and no. First, today's Linux and Unix operating systems are very user friendly. While there are literally hundreds of commands available in the terminal, the average user is only going to learn a handful. So while all the commands can be intimidating, they just aren't going to be used.

Next, the amount of time needed to be spent on any Unix or Linux operating system will just depend on what distribution you want to use, and how willing you are to learn. You can survive just fine in a total Linux/Unix environment without getting intimate with your system. This seems to be the Big Bad Wolf story that is so commonly told when learning Unix, and it just is so far from the truth. But even at that, getting personal with your operating system is not a bad thing at all. Just think of the extra knowledge that you will have acquired, and how beneficial you will be to others when they have questions.

...UNIX is harder to install, maintain and upgrade that the Window$ or the Apples that you are used to upgrading. For installation, floppy images must be made first; and it can't be installed with another operating system without partitioning your hard drive (there is software out there to allow you to use UNIX in Window$, but it just gets harder. Rather than double-clicking an .exe file, you do the compiling of the programs yourself. Maintenance and upgrades require extensive knowledge of the operating system, and how to change system settings. Again, going back to the vast knowledge that must be learned first.

Just not true, anytime anyplace anywhere. Unix and Linux are both easily installed with CDs. It is sooooo easy to download an *.iso image, burn the disc, and reboot. I guess back in the really old AIX and HP-UX days before Xerox came up with the GUI, this was the case. It certainly hasn't been this way since the introduction of the burnable CD (1988).

And yes, you don't double-click on *.exe files. Rather, you just pull up programs. In a nutshell, all an icon is, is just a shortcut to the executable path. This is the case for Windows, Unix, Linux, Apple, BSD, BeOS, etc. You create an icon, on your desktop for example, and tell the icon where to look for an executable. This is easily done in both Windows and Unix/Linux. Remember, though, that *.exe in Windows is just an extension. If it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, then go ahead and add the *.exe extension to your executable in Unix/Linux.

...you might want to consider how to get a hold of ... software before you run out to your nearest computer store to buy UNIX. Software is very limited to say the least.

Again, this really boils down the distro that you are running. For Debian/Ubuntu users, they have the largest selection of software available, and you can get 90% online completely for free. We are talking educational software, games, utilities, system tools, office suites, Internet apps, and many many more. Frankly, since switching to Linux, I have actually found that finding a certain application for Windows need is much more difficult. Either it is not free (free as in beer and in speech), or just not available. If it is available, it isn't what I want. And it has been this way for at least 4-5 years now. I can literally find anything I want in Linux. Definitely when using Ubuntu.

What about user-friendliness? Because UNIX is a command line based system, there are no icons to move around. No cute little color pictures to manipulate. In fact, chances are, depending on the OS ... there is no color at all. Black and white in what you get to see all the time.

Oh the ridiculous nonsense. Unix and Linux have been using a graphical user interface for years and years. The Common Desktop Environment (CDE) comes to mind. Icons, desktop, menus, windows, toolbars, etc. Everything you would expect from a full-fledged GUI. How long have Solaris, AIX and HP-UX been using CDE? Ages. And now with other Desktop and Window managers out there, such and Gnome, KDE, Xfce and others, you can have all the eye-candy you want. And in full color too! Please. I guess if you SSH in, you may or may not have color. Maybe if you have a monochrome monitor too.

...what if the software you wrote is for Sun Solaris? Will it work in Red Hat, or Mandrake Linux? How about IBM or HP UNIX? Chances are no.

Well, here's the thing. First off, if you are writing a program for Sun Solaris, then you are probably targeting the sparc CPU architecture, at which point, you are right, it won't run on x86-based CPUs. However, if you are targeting x86 for Solaris, and it won't run on other x86 Unix platforms, then that is your own dang fault. Most programming tools out today, including gcc and others, will compile distro independent programs. That isn't to say that you may have some work ahead of you to make sure this is the case. But hopefully, when you are programming, you will have already thought about this, and not gone into it blindly. Otherwise, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Is the command "dir" and "DIR" different in DOS? No, but how about the same command "ls -f" and "ls -F" in UNIX? Yes, very different. Also, the commands often have cryptic names and give very little response to tell the user what they are doing.

Again, yes and no. Case sensitivity is what makes Unix and Linux stand out from the crowd. Some like it, others don't. With case sensitivity, you have a whole new world available to you that you didn't have before. Directories, flags, commands, aliases and many more can give you much more flexibility and security due to case sensitivity.

Also, the argument that the commands give little response to tell the user what they are doing is just silly. It is quite realistically the opposite. Because of command line arguments, you have so much power over what you want to see and what you don't. You can be informed both with online displays, and written logs. With the man and info pages, you can look up any command, and get an extensive description of what the command does.

At any rate, the document is an interesting read. These criticisms are still around. I see them in the Ubuntuforums, where I spend a great deal of my time (also responsible for why it has been a week since my last post), I see them on newsgroups and in IRC, and I hear them at school, work and local groups. Although these points may have been valid 10 years ago, they certainly aren't now.

I hope that anyone reading this can benefit from it. Linux and Unix should not be scary at all. Unfortunately, Unix has a bad reputation for being cryptic and hard to use. This just isn't the case anymore. And, even if you are stuck, you have a community online that is willing to help you. There really is no reason why you can't use a Unix or Linux desktop.

{ 4 } Comments

  1. Matthew Kimber using Firefox 1.5.0.4 on Windows XP | July 10, 2006 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    I just wanted to say that installing software on a Unix/Linux machine is indeed difficult. Even with apt-get things can go wrong. I have definitely run into that problem when working on a *nix machine. Dependencies aren't packaged with the install (with good reason as they are "separate") and it is hell to find the right packages most of the time. I think his point on that is definitely true.

    And as for the available software he is right there as well. I don't know of very many places that carry in-stock *nix software (i.e. brick and mortar stores - CompUSA and the likes).

  2. Aaron using Firefox 1.5.0.2 on Ubuntu | July 13, 2006 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    Sorry Matt, but you are wrong. Installing software in Linux is soooo much easier than Windows! Only if you are using Slackware or some obscure distro like Jedi Linux is it even half-way difficult. For one, you won't have to reboot just because you installed some app. Second, available apps to install are in a nice GUI. Just click a button, and you're done.

    I have been using Linux religiously for almost 5 years now, and while it may have been difficult in the past, it certainly isn't that way now. Dependancy-hell is such a thing of the past! True, things can go wrong with apt-get, aptitude, yum, urpmi and any other tool that manages dependancies. But it is the extreme exception and not the rule. Don't forget that Windows has more than it's fair share of installation woes.

    Lastly, you are right, CompUSA isn't going to carry the software. But that isn't where you should be looking for it. The hundreds of thousands of software packages available for Linux aren't in retail stores. They are online in repositories. Anyone who has run Linux for any decent amount of time can tell you that.

  3. Cary using Firefox 1.5.0.4 on GNU/Linux | July 26, 2006 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Ubuntu Linux (dapper drake) is far easier to install than Windows XP, and adding software is easier, and with most hardware you won't have to install drivers like you do with Windows XP. And for free there is so much more software. I do anything I want with Linux, including taking video from my camcorder and making DVDs, scanning photos and doing OCR on documents, watching DVD's, listening to MP3's and CD's, watching videos and TV programs, software development, documents, web browsing, email, EVERYTHING and ANYTHING. And another big advantage is that it uses less resources than Windows. When I have my laptop (which dual boots) running Windows, it usually has to up the processor speed and run the fun, while on Linux it rarely breaks a sweat (compiling, data processing, are the acceptions), and the fan rarely goes on.

    Give me my Ubuntu ANY DAY over Windoze!!!! Bill and Steve can go pee on each other.

  4. iuk using Firefox 3.0.3 on Windows XP | March 10, 2009 at 2:14 am | Permalink

    fgergh yn

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