Open Source

Linux: The big misconceptions

There are two misconceptions about Linux that have plagued the open source platform from the very beginning. Jack Wallen tries to assuage the doubts of those hesitant to learn something new, user-friendly, and powerful.

I get a lot of emails from users of various types of users, from various industries, and from various levels of skill. But there are two types of emails that I get the most:

  • I want to learn more about Linux, but there's no where to start.
  • I can't use Linux because it's still archaic and won't do what I need.

In some ways and in different blogs, I have tried to address both topics. But I thought it time to address both of these topics directly here on TechRepublic. Why? The main reason is because I feel this to be the best podium from which to tackle these issues. The secondary reason is that I feel a certain loyalty to the TechRepublic nation that I do not have with any other site. With that said, let's see what can be done about these two misconceptions.

First misconception: No where to start learning about Linux

This is probably the request I get most often — users asking me where to learn Linux. Honestly, I get this — it's not like a young college-bound student is going to be able to hop into a comp sci degree where the vast majority of classes will be Linux. And CIS degrees? Those are mostly working at the application level — and most often you'll be lucky to have a class with MS Office. Open source? Not a chance. So a great many students are coming out of college knowing of the existence of Linux, but not knowing how to go about using it. Oh sure, the comp sci programs most often have the uber-intelligent who will use Linux so they can hold it over their fellow students like some odd trophy. But even these students aren't learning Linux correctly — it is no longer a niche platform best suited for developers and web servers.

But, with that in mind, where do you turn to learn Linux? Believe it or not, this sort of feeds into the second misconception (in an indirect way). You use it. Most people are quite surprised, when they sit in front of a Linux desktop for the first time, just how intuitive it is. And like any new desktop — the more you use it, the easier it gets.

Linux isn't what it was five or ten years ago. Back then, you'd have to use the command line on a regular basis. Now? The command line could easily be little more than an after-thought.

I would imagine — if you were to sit a user down with Windows 8 and Ubuntu Linux 12.04 (not having ever seen either), that user would probably struggle more with Windows 8 than with Ubuntu Linux. That same user would probably get up to speed on both platforms at about the same rate.

That is probably the best way to learn Linux.

But, that doesn't always cut it when you're looking to learn Linux at a level to seriously compete in the already overly-competitive IT world. For that, your best bet is start training for Linux certifications. There are a few:

And for those looking at trying to get in on the ground level — again, I refer you back to simply using Linux, but would also add that you should, early on, join the users mailing list of the distribution you choose. Mailing lists are one of the best ways to not only get your Linux questions answered, but also to interact with other Linux users going through the same issues you are experiencing.

Second misconception: It's archaic

I am always floored when I receive an email from someone who says they can't even bother trying Linux because it's archaic and just won't do what they need. To those users I have to ask this one, simple question:

Have you bothered using one of the latest distributions?

Linux defines modern. Linux has advanced the desktop just as much as any other platform. Linux works with hardware (with some exceptions); for the most part, Linux software is compatible with its proprietary counterparts, and the Linux interfaces are just as elegant (if not more so) than any other on the market.

For those people that still believe Linux to be archaic, I would challenge you to install Ubuntu 12.04 and use the Unity desktop. The second you log in you will find something not only incredibly user-friendly, but something designed with simplicity and beauty in mind. Unity is a work of art among desktops and will continue to improve at an exponentially faster rate than any other desktop available.

How is that archaic?

There are a lot of naysayers out there, but to all of those 'saying nay', please... do a little testing before you jump to conclusions. Why? Because those conclusions do more to continue spreading the FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) that has plagued Linux since the late nineties than they do to help you find answers.

I've been with Linux since the early days. I've watched it evolve, grow, and morph into something incredible that everyone can use. I took it upon myself many years ago to help spread the word of open source and Linux and I take that vow very seriously. And every day I can convert someone is a win.

What about you? What has been your experience with users proclaiming Linux to be X or Y? How have you reacted? Or, do you still believe Linux to be hard to learn and/or archaic? If so, what is it about Linux that makes you draw that conclusion?


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

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