10 misconceptions that are holding Linux back

A lot of obsolete concerns are floating around and preventing users from embracing Linux. Jack Wallen debunks some of the common myths and explains what you could be missing.

I hear it all the time: "Linux can't do this or Linux can't do that"... or: "You have to jump through a million hoops to get something simple to work in Linux." The litany of FUD and myth is as deep as Bill Gates' pockets. But it's not the cornucopia of un-truths that concerns me, it's the certainty of the people who spout them. So I figured I would take a moment to dispel these issues before anyone else can spread their vicious tone further. Not all of these issues are known as deal-breakers. But as a whole, they could easily combine to keep anyone from jumping on the Linux bandwagon.

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1: You have to write your own device drivers

This one really makes me laugh. In my 12 years' experience with Linux, the closest thing to a device driver I ever had to write was a bash script to keep a WinModem connected to my dial-up ISP. That was around 1997. Back then, it was quite a bit easier to find hardware that WOULDN'T work with Linux. That isn't so much the case now. Linux has grown exponentially in the realm of hardware support since the early days. And the only people writing hardware drivers are the companies making the hardware or the programmers working on the distributions (or various aspects of the kernel). No end user will ever see a device driver on that level with Linux.

2: You have to know the command line to use Linux

Again I laugh. I challenge Linux users to see how long they can perform their day-to-day tasks without the command line. You will be surprised at how long you can go. Oh sure, the command line is much more efficient than its GUI alternatives. But if you don't want to use the multitude of commands Linux offers, you don't HAVE to use them. If you can't go an entire release cycle of a distribution without having to use the command line, you haven't explored the GUI much. Get out! Explore. Get to know your surroundings.

3: Games will keep Linux from succeeding

As much as gamers want to think this, it is simply not true. Games do not make or break the Windows operating system, nor will they make or break Linux. The most used applications on any given PC are the browser, email, word processor, spreadsheet, and finances. Outside of Solitaire and Web-based Flash games, games affect only a small portion of PC users. And any hardcore Linux user knows Cedega helps allow Windows games to be played on Linux.

4: Open source means the code isn't secure

Not true at all. Because the code can be viewed by the public, developers across the globe can submit possible fixes, ideas, and solutions. When the code is under the discriminating eye of the public, it had better be solid. Not only is the reputation of Linux on the line, so is the reputation of the developers who create it. The programmers' ego is a powerful force, and knowing their code is readily available is much more of a push than if their code was obfuscated from their peers. Bugs are also squashed much faster than they are with closed source code. And because Linux is updated more frequently than most other operating systems, those fixes get to the desktops and servers much sooner.

5: You can't open Microsoft documents in Linux

Untrue. Even the dreaded "docx" issue has been surmounted by OpenOffice. The big problem here is that Windows does not follow standards like it should. Because of this, Linux (and its constituent applications) must remain agile to constantly enable applications to open and save so that Microsoft Office users can collaborate. OpenOffice does this excellently. There's no longer and need to fear that by using Linux, you won't be able to work alongside your colleagues who prefer the Windows operating system.

6: The desktops are too hard to use

How long has it been since you've used any of the Linux desktops? The modern iterations of both GNOME and KDE are completely redefining user-friendly on the PC desktop. Both camps have created desktop environments that anyone can use and use well. They are sleek, professional, stable, and fast. But most of all, the desktops have been designed so that they are easy to use. You'll rarely find much (if any) learning curve with either GNOME or KDE. The main exception will be KDE's new Activities features. But once a user understands the concept of Activities, it's simple to use and makes the desktop much more efficient.

7: The Linux operating system doesn't play well with others

On the contrary ,Linux was made to be online and to talk to other operating systems and devices. And with the later releases of the desktops, even sharing folders with Windows and OS X machines has become a no-brainer. You want to network a Linux and a Windows machine? No problem. You want to network a Linux and a Mac machine? No problem. Linux to Linux? Again, no problem. Networking is one of the many strong points of the Linux operating system. Typically, Windows has far more issues connecting to other operating systems on a network.

8: There are no applications for Linux

Have you ever opened the Add/Remove Software utility? Linux has a plethora of outstanding applications, all housed in one convenient location. You don't have to bother searching the Web for applications; just fire up the tool and look around. If I look on Synaptic (one of the Add/Remove Software tools for Linux) on my Ubuntu 10.04 installation, I see 30,486 applications I can add or remove. All of them free. And even if only half of those applications are useful, that's still more than 15,000 applications... all in one convenient spot.

9: Windows is used on more PCs than any other OS in the world

To this, I say "Prove it". Yes, you can prove (within a certain percentage) how many installations of the various Windows operating systems there are. All you have to do is check the Microsoft records to see how many units have been sold. For Linux, this isn't so easy. If I just examine my own personal usage, I find that I have downloaded the Ubuntu 10.04 ISO and have installed it on numerous machines. And this is typical behavior. Because of the way Linux is distributed, it's nearly impossible to know just how many installations there are across the globe. Asia and Europe are rife with massive Linux deployments and have been since around 2005.

10: Linux has no hardware support

Years ago, this was the case. When you wanted a new video card or a new sound card, new printer, mouse, scanner, etc., you had to do your homework. You couldn't just hop over to the big box store, purchase that shiny new toy, plug it in, and watch it work. Fortunately, for the most part, those days are gone. You can now enjoy much broader hardware support now than you ever had before with Linux. You might still have issues in certain areas. But those areas are always centered around companies that refuse to release the specs on their hardware. Such companies are dwindling in number. NVidia, for example, offers outstanding support for Linux. And with the help of proprietary drivers, even the wireless issues are becoming a thing of the past. Is it perfect? No. There are still pieces of hardware that are iffy in their support. But if the trend continues, Linux will soon enjoy as wide a range of support as does Windows.

Myth or reality?

The FUD machine is slowly coming to a creaking, grinding halt, and Linux continues to slowly gain momentum. Over the last 12 years, I have seen a huge shift not only in support but in perception of Linux, and open source, as a whole. What do you think? Are these issues merely myths or they still very much alive? Sound off!

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....