With a lot of schools starting back around now and universities about to begin, we’ve been spending this week looking at software for students. First of all I suggested some useful freeware and open source applications for all students. Then I discussed why computing students should make the most of open source software. Today I want to follow on from that by considering how running Linux can benefit computing students.
Why run Linux in particular?
1. Get experience with a different operating system.
Whilst you can set up Linux to look almost exactly like Windows or Mac, when you get down to the details it is a fundamentally different operating system. Whether or not you prefer using Linux, it’s important to realise that there are alternative ways of doing things. Besides, some experience with Linux or a Unix based OS is vital because…
2. It’s used in many areas of computing.
Although you may see relatively few desktops running Linux, you’ll find considerably more servers which do. Linux is used behind the scenes all over the place: embedded devices, ultra-portable laptops, multiplayer game servers, cloud computing and high performace computing to name but a few. If you want to work in any of these areas, some previous experience with Linux can only help you.
3. You can tweak your system to exactly the way you want it.
Linux is open source, so nothing about your operating system is hidden from you. From the way you want your desktop to appear, to whether you want Blowfish support built into your kernel or compiled as a loadable module, Linux is all about choice.
4. It’s easy to stay up to date and secure.
Linux comes in a multitude of flavours, or distributions, each one with different features, and in many cases a different package manager. Package management is a new concept to a lot of Windows users. Basically, imagine how easy it would be if thousands of pieces of software could be installed, tracked and updated through one central location. No more trawling the web to find a decent CD Burner. No trying to find out which of your applications have newer versions available, and whether you need other software in order to install them. Well, Linux package managers handle all that for you. With a few clicks (or commands if you prefer), you can manage the software you want installed, keeping you up to date and secure.
5. It can be a challenge.
These days, user-friendly distributions like Ubuntu make it easy for even a novice to get a desktop installation up and running smoothly. However, try to get an unusual piece of hardware working, or use a less stable distribution or piece of software, and you’ll probably face a few “challenges”. Now, someone who just want to do some word processing might refer to these as “problems” or “reasons to go back to Windows”, however, I personally find them one of the most exciting features of the operating system. Every time I have a problem, it takes some work and liberal use of everyone’s best friend Google to get over it, but each time I learn a little more about the software I’m using.
6. It runs on a range of hardware.
If you have an older PC lying around, or a laptop that isn’t quite as Vista capable as the shiney sticker on the box made out, Linux can let you get far more out of the hardware. Linux isn’t limited to desktops either, you can try it out on a range of devices from smart phones to games consoles.
7. You don’t even have to install to your harddrive.
If you’re not quite ready to take the step of installing Linux to your harddisk, there are still ways you can try it out. LiveCDs offer you a bootable environment on a CD or DVD so you can try out the OS without making any changes to your computer. You can download LiveCD images of various distributions from their homepages or via bittorrent, or if using the internet is an issue for you, you can order a free Ubuntu CD. Linux magazines also often come with dvds with images of the latest distro releases on them.
If you prefer, you can also install Linux to a USB flash drive or external harddrive to give you a portable version, without re-partitioning your internal harddrive.
8. You don’t have to lose Windows.
If Windows is necessary for some of your work, or you just can’t bear to part with it, you don’t have to give up on installing Linux. It’s easy to set up an environment, either with virtualisation or a native dual-boot install, where you can use either operating system on the same computer.
Over to you…
Do you run Linux? What benefits does it have?