Open Source

I love you, Linux!

In the midst of the ILoveYou outbreak, Jack Wallen, Jr. explains how he's able to continue working while his coworkers are fleeing their computers.


I'm sitting here in my office at TechRepublic as everyone pours out of the building, leaving their downed computers and heading for home. The ILoveYou virus has taken us down. Well, not all of us.

As you can clearly see, I'm still up and running. My machine sings, and I chuckle as everyone walks by my office door wondering why and how I'm still busy at work. It doesn't take them long to realize that it's because I'm using Linux.

As a result of this new virus attack and its consequences, I've decided to jump back on my soapbox, shout out some praise, and offer up a little enlightenment as to why I use Linux.

Jump on the box
I'll begin with the obvious, seeing as how I'm sitting on this hotbed of disgruntled non-users. The recent ILoveYou virus has taken down many of the Exchange servers and, along with them, a good deal of Windows NT/Windows 9x desktop machines (killing all those gigs of MP3s along the way)! Linux, however, is immune, although I'm sure there are many who will disagree.

The ILoveYou instance is not isolated. Windows users have often succumbed to various viruses, trojans, and worms that run screaming from Linux. Why is this? How can a computer virus affect one machine and not the next? It's all about permission (primarily), security, saturation, and attitude. Linux, like UNIX, is a true multiuser platform that has, in basic terms, an administrator (root) that has permission to do pretty much whatever it wants. Should root want to run the command rm -rf / and delete the entire contents of the Linux partition, then root can. The normal user doesn't have such omnipotent power and can't issue such destructive commands.

Let's use an example. As a normal user using the GNOME desktop environment, you accidentally delete the following directories:
  • .gnome
  • .gnome-desktop
  • .sawmill

These directories basically contain all of the files needed for the configuration of your desktop. Since you only deleted the user directories and not the root directories, once you log out of and restart X, these directories will be recreated from the root directory, which should have been left unchanged.

Stomp on the box
A bigger advantage is security. Within the multiuser environment, a single user can create files and give only certain users permission to read, write, or even execute. This is a great advantage when you share a machine and don't wish to allow users access to certain files or directories. Imagine being able to keep your children from reading and/or altering important documentation.

We can even take the security paradigm even further and relate it to the current virus crisis. Because of the multiuser nature of Linux, in order for a virus to really do any damage to a machine, it must have root access. It's unlikely that a virus itself is going to be able to discern your root password, which is necessary in order to gain root access, so the virus won't be able to critically alter the system. Yes, it is possible for a virus to come into a Linux system and destroy user data, but it's unlikely.

Why is it so unlikely? I'm glad you asked. Think saturation. Think target practice. The typical virus writer is writing viruses for one of two targets: the masses or Microsoft (which are, most often, one and the same). Virus writers are incredibly clever computer users, for the most part, and therefore, they're going to be users of Linux, BSD, UNIX, and yes, even Mac! Because of this natural bias, these writers are going to be inclined to take down the competition, and Microsoft is the big competition. Couple that with the fact that Microsoft products have saturated the market to the point that the target has become incredibly easy to hit! There are so many more Windows computers than there are Linux boxes, so naturally the virus writers are going to want to write a virus that's going to take down the greatest number of machines at once. It's all about publicity.

You might be saying to yourself, "Doesn't that give Linux users a bad name?" Yes and no. I've already heard rumours that the writers of the ILoveYou virus are a band of rogue Linux users. I laugh at that! I imagine a small group of young men and women, faces decked with bandanas and pantyhose, riding horseback with their Linux laptops in tow. It paints a silly picture, but not as silly as the IT industry attempting to blame an OS and its influences for the outbreak of a virus. Think about it this way—it might not happen if the target product had even the slightest hint of a security metaphor built into its foundation.

Kick down the box
Beyond the multiuser issue, my machine simply runs. It doesn't come crashing down when an application up and dies on me. Linux doesn't have the horrid convoluted mess of shared .dlls and memory conflicts that underlay any given Windows product. While I hear the bellowing cries of my fellow coworkers screaming down the halls, "Not the Blue Screen of Death! NOOOOOOO!" I quietly sit back and relish the fact that my machine runs day in and day out. Sure, Netscape will come to a screeching halt when it runs across some Java that it can't decipher, and StarOffice might choke on a poorly formatted .doc file, but when they do, I can breathe soundly knowing that no rebooting will be involved.

I live by my claims that Linux works with me and for me, not against me. I've often used the three-finger salute ([Ctrl][Alt][Del]) to try to destroy an errant application in Windows, only to find that I have to press it three or four times. It's stubborn! It won't do what I tell it. Linux gives me so many options to kill a stray process that sometimes it's a chore to decide which way I want the application to die. Do I use the killall command? Do I open gtop and right-click the process? Do I right-click the Window menu and select Destroy? What! What! What! But I know without a doubt that whatever method I choose will work on the first try.

Burn the box
When you strip away all of the hype, the IPOs, the benchmarks, the marketing ploy, and the sugarcoated gummi bears, what really matters boils to the top! Like a skin on the milk of computing, productivity is all that really matters. Whether it's cranking out article after article, compiling newer, better applications, pumping out pretty Web pages or pretty pictures, serving up Web sites or files, playing games, or browsing the Internet, what matters is that you're able to do it without hitch and glitch.

Many IT professionals claim that the reason they don't switch their company's computer paradigm to Linux is because the time spent training the users would be wasted time and money. But if you compare that time to the time that's wasted as downtime, you might see a different story all together. If more of TechRepublic's employees used Linux, I wouldn't feel so alone today.

Bury the box
I know that Linux will never overcome the stigmas associated with it. I know most people will look at the OS with fear and loathing (as they beat their heads against their blue screen babies). I also know that, all the while, I will continue on. While Windows users are waiting for the worms, I'll sit back and enjoy the comfort of knowing my Linux boxes will all purr on like happy, fuzzy-bellied kittens.

If you're really interested in upping your productivity, enjoyment, and sanity (within your computer world), think about letting go of the myths and Windows ideologies and give Linux a try. Who knows, when the ILoveYou II virus comes beating down your door, you might be able to look at it in the face and say, "Ha ha, you can't get me this time!" And you'll keep working as your colleagues flood out the doors.

Jack Wallen, Jr. is very pleased to have joined the TechRepublic staff as editor in chief of Linux content. Jack was thrown out of the "Window" back in 1995, when he grew tired of the "Blue Screen of Death" and realized that "computing does not equal rebooting." Prior to Jack's headfirst dive into the computer industry, he was a professional actor with film, TV, and Broadway credits. Now, Jack is content with his new position of Linux evangelist. Ladies and gentlemen—the poster boy for the Linux Generation!

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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