Thad Guy

Five Good Reasons to use Linux -or- Why OS X is a “gateway system” for many users

At the risk of getting myself labeled a techie or a nerd I'm going to talk about something a little uncommon for this blog. I find Linux, as a social phenomena, incredibly interesting. Aside from that I have recently been quite impressed with the quality of this operating system. Here are my top five reasons why.

1.Easy program installs

Because much of the software for Linux is open source and free, it can be distributed by pretty much anyone. This has allowed for the development of central “storage” locations for Linux software. With these central locations have come programs that can quickly retrieve software from them.

Things have gotten to the point now that through a very simple program one can download and install a multitude of programs with a single click of the mouse and an administrative password. This also works in reverse and makes it very easy to uninstall unneeded programs.

In my view, this is the killer feature of Linux distributions like Ubuntu.

2.Automatic updates

Sure, updates to the operating system is a common feature for almost all operating systems. This is not a unique feature of Linux. However, with Linux and it's freely distributed software all the open source software on your computer can be updated very very easily. When a new version of your word processor, music player, e-mail client, or web browser is available one little program can update them all with a single click.

This allows security holes to be sealed that much faster and, as far as the Linux community is concerned, would probably seriously impede the spread of a virus (which is not really an issue at the moment because almost no one is trying to write viruses for the Linux desktop user).

3.Multiple Desktops

Instead of sorting through a bunch of windows piled on top of each other like a playing cards you can have them neatly sorted into groups or “desktops”. Switching between these “desktops” is much faster than reshuffling the stack of programs to find the one you are looking for. Sadly the term “desktop” seems to be a little misleading here, because your actual desktop stays the same. This is probably better described as “multiple work spaces”.

In almost all of versions of Linux a small area of the screen shows mini versions of your workspaces. This allows you to tell where all your windows are with a glance to the corner of the screen. This mini version of your workspaces come complete with little logos or even detailed images letting you know which programs are which. You can even move your windows by clicking and dragging their mini counterpart to another desktop.

This may seem like a small feature, even something rather gimmicky. However, it makes using the computer a lot easier. Think about how many times that you switch between programs and windows during the day. Even if you only save half a second each time you look for a new window, that can quickly add up to a lot of time saved and frustration avoided. It has gotten to the point where I try to avoid dealing with computers that don't have this feature, any moderately complex task is just annoying without multiple desktops.

Some people try to compensate for a lack of multiple desktops by just buying bigger displays or several displays. This is a rich mans work around. Yet, it is impressively easy to setup six workspaces in Linux, and impressively annoying to setup six displays in any operating system.

I know that OS X is in the process of coming out with something similar in a little less than a year. This is certainly a step in the right direction for them. However, you won't be able to see your workspaces without a zooming expose-like step that, despite its original sexiness, can become annoying really fast and negate the time saving benefit of the workspaces.


Granted this is something OS X does quite well also. However, in my experience Linux is even a little bit more stable than OS X (and WAY more stable than Microsoft Windows). This seems to be largely due to the openness of much of the code used in Linux. Because the code is so accessible it has allowed an amazing amount of people to proof-read it and spot those annoying little bugs that lead to crashes.


There are firewall and anti-virus programs for the Linux system that are freely available and installable with a single click. These are truly industrial strength programs, and the ones that are used on many many of the computers that house websites. Yet, for the most part these programs are not needed by a desktop user. The system was designed with security in mind. For example a malicious program can't do anything to almost all of the important system files on your computer without your system password. By simply refusing to supply that password to suspect programs a great many problems are avoided. This permission based system can also prevent one from messing up their own computer by mistake (and prevent guests from changing your system settings when you are not looking).

Subterranean: A story about working in small spaces with poisonous things and how to deal with that

Tim was a slender man. He was also a relaxed individual. Possibly because of this laid back style his keen intellect could catch people off guard. Sometimes people just assume that mellow people are also slow thinking. Tim was quite good at analyzing situations. However, when given the chance he was a proponent of making people do stupid things until they figured out what was happening. Wherever he went he was followed by an air of self-aware, and slightly shy, absurdity.

Tim worked with me up on the ranch for a little while. One of our projects when on the ranch was building a house. The site of our proto-house was nestled in the mountains south of the main ranch house. The idea was that this small cabin, when completed, could house the main ranch hand as well as a guest or two when needed. I particularly liked this project because it allowed me to proudly (and unusually truthfully) declare one of those “life goal” things, that I had "built a house."

One hot day Tim and I volunteered to put the insulation on the bottom of the house. This task involved crawling into the two foot high space under the house. Once under the house one would drag in a bunch of insulation and lie on one's back stapling it to the boards above.

For the most part, the crawl-space under the house was sealed off from the outside by the external wall. This meant that getting under the house involved going down one particular big hole on the side of the house. This entrance shaft looked sort of like an over sized dry square well.

Stepping down into that hole I remained blanketed in the New Mexican sun. However, while standing in that hole I was the only thing I could see that was well lit. The crunching and grinding of the gravel under my shoes, hands, and knees as I crawled under the house was surprisingly satisfying. The noise of my feet on the ground and the rough textures around me lent the experience a feeling of present reality.

As Tim handed me the insulation to pull under the house behind me it was also nice to think about how for the next few hours, at least, I would get to work in a cool place rather than the hot sun directly above us.

Once we were under the house I lay down on one side of a particular side of the building and Tim lay about an insulation lengths away from me. With the sudden twangy clicks of the staple gun I secured one end of the insulation to the boards above me and then passed the other end to Tim who then secured the other end.

Though it was nice and cool under the house, deep and dank places are not without their own dangers. After working for a little while I came across a black widow. I was in an ideal position to identify a black widow's red hourglass on the abdomen of this particular arachnid because it was about five inches above my face. I stopped scooting toward the next section of floor-in-need-of-insulation. At first all I did was squirm a little while I looked up at the little spider dangling above me. After a moment or two I started yelling. During my yelling the spider started to lower itself towards my face. It was apparently unaware that I was so close to it. I figured it should have been scared of my relatively large teeth. In retrospect, this would have been the best time to "dodge" and get out of the way.

The back widow has a very small amount of very potent neurotoxic venom. Because of the small volume of the venom, a bite from a black widow is rarely fatal. Before the days of antivenom 5% of reported bites resulted in fatality. Despite the rarity of death, a black widow bite can lead to “latrodectism”. This can mean sever pain in muscle groups near the bite, muscle cramping, headaches, dizziness, tremors, joint pain, rapid heart beat, hyperventilation, and other less-that-fun experiences.

Alerted by my yelling, Tim rolled onto his side to look at me. Then he slowly extended the hand with the staple gun in it. He clasped his wrist with his left hand to stabilize and support the gun hand. Tim carefully closed one eye. With a little chuckle he delicately aligned his one open eye with the top of the gun, and with the black widow.

When the spider was about three inches directly above my upper lip Tim started firing. *Click. *Click. One staple after another arched by my face, none of them hitting the spider, one or two delicately bouncing off of the side of my face.

"Tim, what are you doing?"
"No worries, I'm going to kill it."
*Click, *Click
"I hate spiders. What if you hit the strand of web that it is hanging from?"
"Then I will be able to shoot it once it lands, or squish it"
Tim continued to shoot the staple gun. *Click, *Click, *Click. Then with a slow and careful grasp...*Click. The staples sailed by the spider, and its web.

"Are you kidding me?"