mercoledì 20 febbraio 2008

Linux on your desktop

I found this article where Kim Brebach lists 13 reasons why Linux should be your desktop system. The article is very interesting in my opinion, but it has some points that are not described in deep and, in my opinion, lead to wrong conclusions.

Let's start from point 9:
Keeping track of software -- Like most Windows users, I have a shelf full of software CDs and keep a little book with serial numbers under my bed in case I have to reinstall the lot. With Linux, there are no serial numbers or passwords to lose or worry about. Not a single one.
Well, this is almost wrong. First of all, it is not true that in Linux you don't have serial numbers, for instance, to install VmWare Server you have to require a a serial number. You can get it for free, but you must have it to install the product. Second, I believe that the statement above is, in general, a misconception of what Open Source is. Linux is the operating system, applications that run on top of it can be either free or not, can have a serial number or not, but this depends on the policy adopted by their owner. If such policy is compliant to Open Source, it is probably that you will not have to own a serial number. I believe that is more correct to say that it is GNU and Open-Source software that, in general, do not require to you serial numbers.

Reason 10 sounds quite strange to me:

Updating software -- Linux updates all the software on your system whenever updates are available online, including all applications programs. Microsoft does that for Windows software but you have to update each program you've added from other sources. That's about 60 on each of my PCs. More icing on the Linux cake is that it doesn't ask you to reboot after updates. XP nags you every ten minutes until you curse and reboot your machine. If you choose "custom install" to select only the updates you want, XP hounds you like a mangy neighborhood dog until you give in.

It is clear that Linux distributions have today very powerful update managers, and the one that I like the most is apt-get from Debian. But the packet manager usually take care only of the software it has installed, not the one the user has installed on her own. For example, I prefer to install Java related stuff (including IBM Eclipse) on my own, and thus I update them manually when I need it. The same happens in Microsoft Windows: every program manually installed must be managed manually, as well as every program automatically installed is managed by the update manager. The point here is that, thanks to Open-Source licences, Linux can have software repositories that include software not strictly related to the vendor. In other words, the lack is that Microsoft Windows does not have (and I don't believe can get it easily) a central repository that can provide users with non-Microsoft programs.
But please note also that the evolved packet managers are not an exclusive of Linux, since also other system have good software installation procedure (for instance the ports of a *BSD system).

Similarly, the point 11 states:

More security -- These days, operating systems are less vulnerable than the applications that run on them. Therefore a vital aspect of PC security is keeping your apps up-to-date with the latest security patches. That's hard manual labor in Windows, but with Linux it's automatic.
These seems a consequence of the previous point, but it does not consider that a package quality system must have time to check updates, dependencies and then produce new packages. This means that it can take a while before a security update for a specific application is available thru an automatic packaging system. Usually important updates are available soon, but this is not always the rule. Moreover, this could be done also with Microsoft Windows, even if often in commercial applications (even non Microsoft), security patches are lazily applied. Finally, for a manually compiled application, the update still is manually too, so there is no significant point.

In conclusion, I believe that the Brebach's article is very good, but it makes some generic assumptions on Linux that should be better applied to Open-Source. While it is true that today's Linux distributions include very automated package managers, this could be done also in other operating system, if the software licences and vendors allow it. I'm not stating here that the above three points are drawbacks, they are of course advantages, but I believe they are not explained correctly.

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