Fact or fiction? Top 8 Linux myths debunked

Think Linux is just for experts, or that it's less secure than Windows or Mac OS? It's time to dispel such false perceptions

If the idea of using Linux in your business is one that makes you nervous, chances are you've fallen prey to one or more of the many myths out there that are frequently disseminated by competing vendors such as Microsoft. After all, each Linux user means one less sale for such companies, so they have a powerful motivation to spread such FUD.

In fact, the ranks of businesses and government organizations using Linux grows every day, and for good reason: it's simply a good business choice. Let's take a look, then, at some of the top anxiety-causing myths and dispel them once and for all.

1. "It's Hard to Install"

Today, installing Linux is actually easier than installing Windows. Of course, most people don't install Windows themselves--rather, it comes preinstalled on their hardware, and that's an option with Linux too, if you're in the market for a new machine anyway.

If not, however, the best thing to do is first try out the distribution you're interested in via a Live CD or Live USB. Then, once you decide you like it, you can either install it in dual-boot fashion, so that both Linux and Windows are available to you all the time, or you can install Linux instead of Windows.

Either way, installation has become extremely simple over the years, particularly on distributions such as Ubuntu, Fedora, Linux Mint and openSUSE. Most include a step-by-step wizard and very easy-to-understand graphical tools; they also typically offer a way to automate the process. A full installation will probably take no more than 30 minutes, including basic apps.

2. "It's Just for Experts"

That Linux is more difficult to use than Windows and Macs is probably one of the most enduring and yet unjustified myths in existence today. It certainly used to be true--say, 10 years ago. Today, however, the inclusion of attractive graphical user interfaces and other usability improvements in many distributions means that even elementary school children can use Linux easily.

Now, server usage is a different story--just as it is under Windows, for example. And Linux won't be exactly the same as a Mac or Windows. But on the desktop, if you're used to the GUI of Windows or Mac OS X, you should have no trouble getting used to Linux. It's that simple.

3. "It's Free, So It Must Be Pirated"

Despite the growing use of free and open source software in governments and other organizations, some people still believe that any software that's free must be illegally copied. Fortunately, that's completely false. The notion of "taking" software off the Internet and then "tampering with it" for your own ends can strike litigation fears into the hearts of those unfamiliar with the concept, but fear not! Free and open source software is designed from the start to be free in cost as well as open to modification and improvement. That's how it works and gets better.

4. "There's No Support"

Vendors of proprietary software love to strike more fear into business users' hearts by painting a picture of the Linux user alone at sea, without anyone to ask for help. Once again, completely false!

First of all, every Linux distribution has an online community with excellent forums for getting help. There are also forums dedicated to small businesses and for newcomers in need of extra explanation. For those who want even more assurance, commercial Linux versions such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop come with vendor support. It's entirely up to you which route to choose.

5. "It's Not Compatible"

There are very few instances of hardware and software remaining that can't be used with Linux. One of the operating system's many advantages, in fact, is that it's designed not to hog resources, and so doesn't require the latest, cutting-edge hardware. Most peripherals are compatible as well, particularly in distributions such as Ubuntu.

On the application side, it's also rare to find a problem. If there is something your business needs that can be run only on Windows, however, there are packages like Wine and Crossover Linux to make that happen. There are also countless comparable and Linux-friendly alternatives that can be easily installed, including all basic productivity packages.

6. "It's Less Secure"

Of all the myths perpetuated about Linux, I'd say this is the one with the least merit. The reality, in fact, is quite the reverse: Linux is far *more* secure than either Windows or Macs, as countless examples and security researchers such as Secunia have confirmed. In a nutshell, Linux's superior security derives from the way privileges are assigned, the fact that it's open to scrutiny by countless developers the world over, and the diversity of distributions in use.

Ever wonder why you've never heard of the Linux equivalent of Microsoft's "Patch Tuesday"? That's because there isn't one--it's not necessary. Neither is antivirus software. Strange but true.

7. "It's Not Reliable"

If you're using a Mac or Windows, it goes without saying that you are intimately familiar with crashes and downtime. Part of that is due to those systems' vulnerability to malware, but part is also simply inherent in the software. That's a big reason why Linux is used so heavily on servers--it almost never goes down. Imagine a day in the life of your business with no downtime!

8. "Its TCO Is Higher"

Last, but not least, proprietary vendors are notorious for trying to counter Linux's free price tag with vague fears about its "higher" total cost of operation in the long run. All I can say is, if that were true, why are so many governments and organizations around the globe turning to it in droves, particularly during the tough economic times we've had over the past few years?

There are also numerous studies confirming the financial benefits of Linux in a business setting, even with paid support. It's worth noting, too, that TCO doesn't explicitly capture the future costs that will be incurred by being locked in with a particular vendor.

Is Linux perfect? Of course not; no operating system is. Nor is it necessarily the best choice for every business. But don't let the myths hold you back.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

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Katherine Noyes

PC World (US online)
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