You can be the ultimate power user! Not only can you configure and change more than you can on Windows/Mac, but you can also optimize your system further. You’ve got the source code for the kernel, so you can configure and recompile it specifically to run fast on your hardware, avoiding many trade-offs necessary to make it run on many types of hardware. Nobody can force feed any change to Linux’s users. When the user interface of Ubuntu changed to something more tablet-friendly (which Windows 8 is doing now, too), people who didn’t like it weren’t forced to (eventually) switch. Some of them chose to continue programming on the old interface, so anyone can keep using it if he/she prefers to do so.
There is serious room for innovation. Do you like Google’s Play Store or Apple’s App Store? Linux had such a system long before it was cool, and it still has it. Because anyone can contribute good ideas and code to Linux, there is a great variety in solutions to common problems, some of which end up as new standards. We could go on and on about why Linux is a better choice so lets just start with our top 10 reasons
1. No more Viruses
If your computer shuts itself down without asking you, if strange windows with text you don't understand and all kinds of advertisements appear when you don't ask for them, if emails get sent to all your contacts without your knowing it, then your computer probably has a virus. The main reason for this is because it runs Windows.
Linux hardly has any viruses. And that's not like "Oh well, not very often, you know". That's like "If you've ever heard of a real Linux virus, please tell me". Of course, a Linux virus is not impossible to get. However, Linux makes it very hard for this to happen, for several reasons:
Most people use Microsoft Windows, and pirates want to do as much damage (or control) as possible: therefore, they target Windows. But that's not the only reason; the Apache web server (a web server is a program located on a remote computer that sends web pages to your browser when you ask for them), which is open source software, has the biggest market share (against Microsoft's IIS server), but it still suffers from much fewer attacks/flaws than the Microsoft one.
Linux uses smart authorization management. In Windows you (and any program you install) usually have the right to do pretty much anything to the system. If you feel like punishing your PC because it just let your precious work disappear, you can go inside the system folder and delete whatever you want: Windows won't complain. Of course, the next time you reboot, trouble begins. But imagine that if you can delete this system stuff, other programs can, too, or just mess it up. Linux doesn't allow that. Every time you request to do something that has to do with the system, an administrator password is required (and if you're not an administrator on this system, you simply can't do it). Viruses can't just go around and delete or modify what they want in the system; they don't have the authorization for that.
More eyes make fewer security flaws. Linux is Open source software, which means that any programmer in the world can have a look at the code (the "recipe" of any program), and help out, or just tell other developers "Hey, what if blah blah, isn't this a security flaw?"..
2. PC Protection
Viruses, trojans, adware, spyware... Windows lets all these enter your computer pretty easily. The average period of time before a Windows PC (connected to the Internet and with a default "Service Pack 2" installation) gets infected is 40 minutes (and it sometimes takes as little time as 30 seconds).
So you can either 1) install a firewall, 2) install an antivrus program, 3) install an anti-adware program, 4) get rid of Internet Explorer and Outlook (replacing them with Firefox and Thunderbird), and 5) pray that people trying to get into your computer aren't smart enough to overcome these protections and that, if a security flaw is discovered, Microsoft will take less than a month to make an update available (and this doesn't happen very often). Or you can install Linux and sleep soundly from now on.
As we have already said in the "virus" section, Open Source software (e.g. Linux) means more eyes to check the code. Every programmer on Planet Earth can download the code, have a look, and see whether it might have security flaws. On the other hand, the only people allowed to look at the Windows source code (its "recipe") are people working for Microsoft. That's hundreds of thousands of people (maybe millions) versus a few thousand. That makes a big difference.
But actually, it isn't exactly a matter of how many flaws a system has, compared to the others. If there are many flaws, but nobody has discovered them yet (including attackers), or they are minor (they don't compromise an important part of the system), attackers won't be able to do great damage. It is really a matter of how fast a security flaw can be solved once it has been discovered. If a security flaw is discovered in an open source program, anyone in the open source community can have a look and help solve it.
The solution (and the update) usually appears within a few days, sometimes even a few hours. Microsoft doesn't have that much manpower, and usually releases security patches within about a month after the flaw has been discovered (and sometimes published): that's more than enough for attackers to do whatever they want with your computer.
3. No more drivers
New pieces of hardware, even the simplest kind, usually come with a CD. On the CD, a very small piece of software called a "driver". If you read the instructions manual, you'll know that the hardware won't work on a Windows computer until you install the driver. If you're like most people and do not read the manual, then you'll probably figure it out yourself when you see your new high-tech gizmo doesn't work out of the box.
Insert CD, click on installation wizard, wait, eject CD, reboot computer.
If you bought the hardware a while ago and are re-using it on another computer, you'll probably want to forget about the CD and fetch the latest version of the driver from the manufacturer's website. Which can take quite a bit of time, given how, huh, let's say strangely organized some manufacturers' web sites are.
Okay, now that's only one piece of hardware. Now imagine you want to install Windows on a whole new, untouched, computer. For each little piece of hardware you'll have to find the latest driver (or use a CD), install it, and reboot from time to time. Video card, sound card, keyboard, mouse, motherboard chipset, etc. (better do the video card driver first or you're stuck with your high-end screen showing a very low resolution mode). And that comes after an already rather long installation of Windows itself.
Linux doesn't need separate drivers. All the drivers are already included in the Linux kernel, the core of the system, and that comes with every single Linux installation.
A very fast and standalone installation process. Once you're done, you have everything you need to start working (including the software you'll be using, see "When the system has installed..." item on this website).
Out-of-the-box ready peripherals.
Less harm for the planet because all these CDs don't need to come with hardware any more (well, at least once Windows don't need them either...).
Linux and "Open Source" software are "free". This means their license is a "free license", and the most common is the GPL (General Public License). This license states that anyone is allowed to copy the software, see the source code (the "recipe"), modify it, and redistribute it as long as it remains licensed with the GPL.
So what do you care about freedom? Imagine that Microsoft disappears tomorrow (okay, that's not very likely, but what about in 5 years, 10 years?). Or imagine it suddenly triples the price for a Windows or Office license. If you're tied to Windows, there's nothing you can do. You (or your business) relies on this one company, on its software, and you can't possibly make things work without it (what good is a computer without an operating system?). Isn't that a serious problem? You're depending on one single company and trusting it wholeheartedly to let something so important nowadays as your computers work the way they should. If Microsoft decides to charge $1000 for the next version of Windows, there's nothing you can do about it (except switch to Linux, of course). If Windows has a bug that bothers you very much and Microsoft won't fix it, there's nothing you can do (and submitting bugs to Microsoft isn't that easy, see the "Report bugs" section).
With Open Source, if a particular project or support company dies, all the code remains open to the community and people can keep improving it. If this project is especially useful to you, you can even do this yourself. If a particular bug annoys you, you can submit it, talk with the developers, but even better, you can fix it yourself (or hire someone to do so), and send the changes back to the upstream developers so that everyone gets the improvement as well. You're free to do (nearly) whatever you want with the software.
5. Free software you say?
You're probably saying to yourself : "Oh, I didn't pay for Windows". Are you absolutely sure ? If your computer came with a copy of Windows, then you paid for it, even if the store didn't tell you about that. The price for a Windows license amounts to an average of one fourth of each new computer's price. So unless you obtained Windows illegally, you probably paid for it. Where do you think Microsoft gets its money from?
On the other hand, you can get Linux completely free of charge. That's right, all these guys all around the world worked very hard to make a neat, secure, efficient, good-looking system, and they are giving their work away for everybody to use freely (if you wonder why these guys do such things, drop me an email and I'll try to explain the best I can :) ). Of course, some companies are making good business by selling support, documentation, hotline, etc., for their own version of Linux, and this is certainly a good thing. But most of the time, you won't need to pay a cent.
So, you're perfectly clean, you have *cough* purchased a license for all the software you've ever used *cough*, and nobody can bother you about this? Well, if that's the case, congratulations :)
However, for most people, let's be honest, illegally copied software is very common. Copying Adobe Photoshop instead of buying it probably doesn't let you have nightmares. But are you really confident that you won't ever have trouble for that? Not so sure, huh... Software makers are progressing and finding more and more ways to track down illegal owners, and since more and more people tend to have broadband (permanent) connections, they might add an online functionality on the software that will control and verify your copy each time you launch it.
If you run Linux and install free software, you won't have to worry about this ever again! Most of free (as in free speech) software is free (as in free beer). You can find a free replacement for most of the commercial software out there. They might lack some of the advanced functionality, but they'll be more than enough for most people. Here's a list of some commercial software, and their open source equivalents :
Commercial Open source solutions (THATS ONE A HECK OF A SAVINGS!!!)
Adobe Illustrator (~$500) Inkscape (FREE)
Adobe InDesign (~$700) Scribus (FREE)
Adobe Photoshop (~$600) The GIMP (FREE)
Adobe Premiere (~$800) Pitivi, Kino, Cinelerra (FREE)
Adobe Reader (free) Evince, Kpdf, GV (FREE)
Apple iTunes (free) AmaroK, Rhythmbox, Banshee (FREE)
Autodesk 3ds Max (~$3500) Blender (FREE)
Autodesk Maya (~$7000) Blender (FREE)
Bittorrent (free) Transmission (FREE)
Cubase (~$500) Ardour (FREE)
Kazaa (free) aMule, eMule (FREE)
Microsoft Excel (~$200) LibreOffice Spreadsheet (FREE)
Microsoft Internet Explorer (free) Firefox, Chrome, Konqueror (FREE)
Microsoft Office (~$400) LibreOffice (FREE)
Microsoft Windows Mail (free) Thunderbird, Evolution, KMail (FREE)
Microsoft Powerpoint (~$200) LibreOffice Presentation (FREE)
Microsoft Windows Media Player (free) Mplayer, VLC, Totem, Kaffeine, Xine (FREE)
Microsoft Word (~$200) LibreOffice Word Processor (FREE)
Microsoft Windows Messenger (free) Pidgin, Kopete, aMSN (FREE)
Nero (~$100) Brasero, K3b (FREE)
Pro Tools (~$600) Ardour (FREE)
Quark XPress (~$800) Scribus (FREE)
QuickTime Player (free) Mplayer, VLC, Totem, Kaffeine, Xine (FREE)
Winamp (free) AmaroK, Rhythmbox, Banshee (FREE)
6. No backdoors in programs
The difference between "closed source" (proprietary) and "open source" software is (how did you guess?) that their "source" is open. Huh, okay, why do I care? Well, the "source", or "source code", is like the secret recipe of every software, like the recipe of a cake. When you buy a cake, there's no way you can figure out the exact recipe (although you can guess bits and pieces, "there's some coconut in here"). If a bakery gave out the recipe for its super-sucessful cheesecake, it would soon go out of business because people would bake it for themselves, at home, and stop buying it. Likewise, Microsoft does not give out the recipe, or "source code", of their software, like Windows, and rightly so because that's what they make their money from.
The problem is they can put whatever they want in their recipe, without us knowing. If they want to add a bit of code saying "every 12th of the month, if the computer is online, create a list of all the files that have been downloaded in this computer since last month, and send it back to Microsoft through the network". Microsoft probably doesn't do that, but how would you know, since everything is closed, invisible, secret?
A little while ago (October 2008) a lot of Chinese Windows users (most of them buy pirated copies of Windows) saw something strange happen with their computer: every hour, their screen would go black for a few seconds. Nothing to really prevent you from working, but it can easily make you go nuts. Microsoft had added a bit of code (an ingredient to the recipe) saying "if this is detected as a pirated copy of Windows, make the screen black for a few seconds, every hour". Now the point is not that the software was pirated: pirating software is bad, period. The point is that these users got an automatic update for Windows (updates usually fix bugs and add new features) without knowing how it would affect their system. No one knew.
Changing the source code of open source software is a much more open process. By definition, all the recipes are public. It doesn't matter to you since you won't be able to understand the code anyway, but people who understand it can read it, and speak out. And they often do. Every time someone wants to change the source code, all other developers are able to see the change ("hey man, why did you add this code spying on the user's keyboard input, are you out of your mind?"). And even if the whole team of maintainers for a piece of software go crazy and start adding puppy-killing features all over their source code, someone outside the team can very well take the code, remove all the bad bits, create a whole new version of it, and let the world know what the difference is. It's open.
That's why you can be sure open source software doesn't do bad things behind your back: the community keeps a close eye on all the recipes.
7. Windows will never be or stay as fast
Windows has a number of design flaws, resulting in it becoming slower and slower and not lasting very long. You've probably heard more than once someone say "My computer is getting sluggish, I'm gonna reinstall". Reinstalling Windows solves the problem... until next time.
You may think this is just how computers work: they're very new technology, and not really stable yet. Well, try Linux and you'll be surprised. Five years from now, your system will be just as fast and responsive as the day you installed it, not to mention that you won't have any viruses, adware, trojans, worms, etc., that would force you to reinstall anyway.
I have managed to convince many people to switch to Linux, while keeping Windows on their hard disk, because they needed to use some piece of software that Linux doesn't have (eg Autocad), so they use both systems. Since the day they switched, most of them have reinstalled Windows about once in a year or two; but Linux didn't let them down, and is still running perfectly well and is still snappy today.
Linux lets you spend more time working, less time reinstalling over and over again.
8. Not a fan of bugs?
If you find a bug in Windows, you can basically wait and pray that Microsoft will fix it fast (and if it compromises your system's security, you would have to pray twice as hard). You might think that reporting that bug to Microsoft (so that they can fix it more quickly) must be easy. Well, think again. Here is an interesting article about this. What if Microsoft doesn't even notice the bug? Well then, let's hope the next version of Windows will fix it (but you'll need to pay another few hundred bucks).
Nearly all open source software (including Linux distributions) have a bug tracking system. You can not only file bug reports (and you're encouraged to do so!) explaining what the problem is, but you can see what happens next : everything is open and clear for everyone.
Developers will answer, they also might ask a little extra information to help them fix the bug. You will know when the bug has been fixed, and you will know how to get the new version (still for free, needless to say). So here you have people taking care of your problems, keeping you informed about it, and all that for free! If the problem is solved on your system, it will be on everyone else's : it's in everyone's interest to work together to make software better. This is how open source works.
9. Old PC's back from the dead!!!
Windows requires more and more hardware power as its version number increases (95, 98, 2000, Me, XP, etc.). So if you want to keep running Windows, you need to constantly buy new hardware. But I can't see any good reason for so fast an evolution. Of course, many people need a lot of computer power and new hardware and technologies are really helping them. But for most users, who surf the web, read and write emails, write text files and slides, what's the point of buying a new computer every 2, 3 or 4 years, apart from letting computer vendors earn more money? What is exactly the profound reason why your computer can't do any more of what it did perfectly well 5 years ago?
Linux runs perfectly well on older hardware, on which Windows 7 would probably even refuse to install, or leave you waiting for 20 seconds after each click. Of course, Linux won't make a race-winner out of your 12-year old computer, but it will run very well on it and allow you to perform usual tasks (surfing the web, writing documents, etc.) just fine. The very computer that delivers this page to you is not very young and runs Linux: if you can read this, then it is up and running (and if the website loads slowly, blame my Internet connection only).
10. Free limitless support
One of the great assets of the Open Source community (and Linux in particular), is that it's a real community. Users and developers really are out there, on web forums, on mailing lists, on IRC channels, helping out new users. They're all happy to see more and more people switch to Linux, and they're happy to help them get a grip on their new system.
So if there's something you don't understand, a program that doesn't behave the way you would expect, or a feature that you can't seem to find, don't hesitate to go and ask for help. If there's somebody near you (family? co-workers?) who is using Linux, he or she will probably be happy to help you out. Otherwise, just go online and you'll find literally thousands of places where nice people will answer you and walk you out of your problem most of the time: geeks actually are very nice people, if you ask your question politely. Just type "linux help" (or replace "linux" with whatever distribution you chose -- see the install section) in Google and you'll undoubtedly find everything you need.