In recent years, the global marketplace has witnessed an enormous rise in the use of computers and ultimately the software used in them. Computers have principally made their mark in almost all the spheres of mankind (Kirby, 2000), and with this growth the softwares required for them have also grown at an exponential rate (Kumbhar et al., 2011).
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With an abundant rise of the computer industry, new software products keep on creeping in the market, adding more capabilities as well as complexities to the assiduous and conscientious end users. Now, more than ever before, customers or end users have a wide range of software options available at their disposal which can be used for their requirements and/or business purposes (Lone & Wani, 2011).
As acknowledged by Kumbhar et al (2011), the development of high quality software has followed two main trajectories, namely open source and closed source softwares. A recent trend in the field of software is the open source genre, and it can rightly be said that the Linux operating system has become the embodiment of this genre (Kirby, 2000). The present paper purposes to argue that Linux has not only emerged as a competitor to both Microsoft Windows and Macintosh operating systems, but is a better choice than the other two.
Overview the Linux Operating System
The history of the Linux operating system can be traced back to 1991 when Linus Torvalds, a student at the University of Finland in Helsinki, decided to develop a UNIX-type operating system called MINIX (McLaren, 2000). Available literature demonstrates that the MINIX platform was initially developed by university student Andrew S. Tannenbaum, but Linus decided to add more functionality into the system than originally proposed by Tannenbaum (Delozier, 2009).
As acknowledged by Balakrishnan (1999), Linus “…released version 0.02 of the operating system in 1991 and worked steadily on till 1994 when he released version 1.0 of the Linux Kernel” (p. 3). Eventually, according to this particular author, more and more programmers around the world came together and decided to give a Portable Operating System Interface for Computer Environments (POSIX) compliant UNIX-like system hinged on the founder’s operating system to global users under the GNU General Public License (GPL).
Technically, according to MacKinnon (1999), “…Linux just refers to the core of the operating system, the so called kernel, which interacts directly with the hardware and supervises the operation of other programs” (P. 2). However, it is imperative to underline the fact that a fully functional Linux system includes many other components, without which the system would not be of much use.
The important fact that makes Linux more appealing than Windows or Mackintosh operating system in this context is that most of these components are entirely non-commercial, and are developed and maintained by thousands of volunteers across the world (Delozier, 2009).
Growth Trends of Linux Operating System
The popularity of Linux, the open source operating system originally developed and launched by Linus Torvalds, has grown noticeably over the past decade, (Delozier, 2009) and even more tenaciously over the past three years (Hong & Rezende, 2011).
While some sources cited in McLaren (2000) now claim that millions of end-users have already installed Linux on their computers, a report released by the International Data Corporation (IDC) and cited in Kirby (2000) point to a “…rapidly increasing usage of the Linux operating environment among a large sampling of organizations” (p. 85).
In 2006, the IDC projected that Linux-based server shipments would reach 25.7% of total shipments by 2008, and that Linux-based packaged software was expected to surpass $14 million the same year (Economides & Katsamakas, 2006).
In 2006 some studies suggested that the market-share of Linux operating system was around 3% though it was largely anticipated to rise to 7% by 2007 (Economides & Katsamakas, 2006).
As acknowledged by these authors, the slow growth of Linux in these formative years was largely “…attributed to lack of ease of use, small variety of applications and problems with drivers that [enabled] users to connect other devices to their computing systems” (p. 210). Many of these challenges have been adequately solved by the open source community, making Linux to become the operating system of choice as we progress deeper into the 21st century (Hong & Rezende, 2011).
Statistics released in 2011 by the IDC demonstrated that Linux server demand was increasingly growing and represented “…18.4% of all server revenue, up 1.7 points when compared with the fourth quarter of 2010” (Vaughan-Nichols, 2012, para. 2). It is important to note that while the market share for Windows and UNIX-oriented software shrank in 2011, the demand for servers running on Linux open source software grew due to high performance computing (HPC) as well as cloud infrastructure deployments (Vaughan-Nichols, 2012).
Available literature demonstrates that “…with a reputation for speed, reliability, and efficiency, GNU/Linux now has more than 12 million users worldwide and an estimated growth rate of 40% per year” (Lone & Wani, 2011, p. 166). The market threat of Linux to Microsoft’s and Apple’s proprietary software (Windows and Mackintosh) is becoming more evident because more that 50% of Fortune 500 companies has already made the big switch to GNU/Linux (Lone & Wani, 2011).
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Linux: Why it’s a better Choice than Windows or Mackintosh
A strand of existing literature (e.g., Hong & Rezende, 2011; Lone & Wani, 2011) demonstrates that with the recent surge in the use and adoption of Linux operating system by individuals and organizations, it may be just a matter of time before users of Linux eventually outshine those using Microsoft’s and Apple’s proprietary software.
This section attempts to demonstrate why Linux is a better choice than Windows or Mackintosh by analyzing several issues, including: code accessibility; cost concerns; security issues; distrust of monopolies; functionality and features; applications; support availability; as well as ease of use and quality.
A predominant attribute of the Linux operating system that differentiates it from Windows, Mackintosh, and other proprietary software is that it is one of the few feasible operating systems whose source code is also easily obtainable as free software under the protocols of the GNU GPL. According to Balakrishnan (1999), “…the GNU GPL is intended to safeguard and guarantee the freedom of any user of free software to share, modify and also share the modified software” (p. 1).
This view is reinforced by Mackinnon (1999), who argue that open-source software such as Linux “…is free in the sense that it can be obtained without payment, and it is free in the sense that users are allowed to modify it, but it is not free in the sense that anyone can do whatever they want with it” (p. 2).
This orientation, according to Balakrishnan (1999), is in sharp contrast to the authorization agreements given for Windows and Mackintosh commercial software that forbids customers or end-users to distribute or adjust the software without seeking express permission from the parent companies.
It can be remembered that “…Apple pioneered the home computer, only to pay the penalty for steadfastly refusing to make its Mackintosh operating system available to users of other PCs” (Daisy, 2004, p. 12). In sharp contrast, Linux software code is freely available online and thus holds the advantage of being entirely customizable to cater for the unique needs and demands of different customers and end-users (Delozier, 2009).
According to Daisy (2004), this is precisely the reason why Linux is increasingly becoming the operating system of choice for government-sponsored institutions within emerging countries like China and India who are also using a Sun Systems package instead of the well known Microsoft Office operating system.
As noted by McLaren (2000), “…the most obvious way in which Linux differs from Microsoft Windows is in its price: Linux is free” (p.82). Indeed, Linux and many of its components can be downloaded from hundreds of FTP sites on the internet for free because it was developed, and continues to be developed and fine-tuned, by a huge number of hobbyists and enthusiasts from all over the world (Kumbhar et al., 2011).
The difference in cost between Linux and other proprietary software such as Windows and Mackintosh makes Linux operating system a very serious contender in the home, business, government, and academic domains (McLaren, 2000). The cost consideration seems to put Linux squarely ahead of other operating systems, including Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s Mackintosh.
Security challenges and risks are hurting windows operating system, thereby giving millions of computer users a reason to migrate to Linux (Schryen, 2011). An independent study cited in Economides & Katsamakas (2006) demonstrates “…that Linux kernel has 0.17security flaws per 1,000 lines of code, compared to average 10-20 flaws of proprietary software” (p. 211).
According to Schryen (2011), the Linux open source software development is credited for preventing extremely bad patching behavior that is repeatedly accused of leading to potentially harmful security vulnerabilities in Windows and Mackintosh operating systems. The way the account privileges are assigned in Linux makes it impossible for users to be given administrator access by default as is the case with Windows (Kumbhar et al., 2011).
In Windows, users have access to everything on the system, making it vulnerable to attacks from viruses and worms. However, due to the incapacity by users to get ‘root’ privileges in a Linux system, the viruses and worms are denied access to critical system resources, implying that only a few user local files and programs are damaged in the event of an attack (Noyes, 2010). This in effect means that Linux has more efficient security features than either Windows or Mackintosh and therefore is a better choice.
Distrust of Monopolies
One of the reasons that continue to draw more customers into the Linux fold is the modicum of distrust associated with Microsoft. As noted by McLaren (2000), Microsoft is viewed by many enlightened software consumers as an undemocratic organization because it has “…too much money, too much control, [and] too much industry influence” (p. 82).
This author bravely contend that monopolies are not good for consumers and Microsoft is a monopoly in the software market due to too much control and too much influence on the industry. In sharp contrast, there is no “corporation” or “influence” behind Linux as it is a grassroots operating system that has the interests of customers and end-user organizations at heart (McLaren, 2000).
Functionality & Features
Theoretically, the fact that Linux is a fully-fledged operating system makes it “…a viable alternative to any other operating systems, including DOS, Windows, UNIX, NetWare, and so on” (McLaren, 2000, p. 82).
Extant literature demonstrates that “…Linux does true multitasking and includes virtual memory, shared libraries, demand loading, memory management, TCP/IP networking and other features that are available with current full featured commercial operating systems” (Balakrishnan, 1999, p. 1).
In multi-tasking, the Linux operating system allows manifold programs to share a computer system that give the end-user the illusion that the programs are running simultaneously either preemptively or cooperatively (Schryen, 2011). Virtual memory, according to Balakrishnan (1999), “…is a scheme employed by the operating system to provide means of executing programs whose code occupy more space than the size of the on-board semiconductor memory” (p. 2).
The Linux operating system is capable of accomplishing this important function by provisionally managing recently used constituents of a program from memory into the system’s hard disk and replicating them back on demand (Delozier, 2009).
When combined with Linux’s low initial purchase price and an ever-increasing number of enterprises willing to provide fee-based technical support for Linux, these two features provide a compelling reason for customers and end-user companies to consider Linux as an effective and efficient alternative to commercial operating systems such as Windows and Macintosh (Kirby, 2000).
Moving on, it is imperative to mention that shared libraries are used with dynamic linking in the Linux open source software not only to distribute commonly used routines but also to achieve efficiency and reliability. As suggested by Balakrishnan (1999), “…each reference to a library routine is replaced with a stub that indicates how the appropriate routine can be located in memory” (p. 2).
A stub primarily executes/implements and substitutes itself with the signature of the suitable library schedule, meaning that the next time round a similar code fragment is triggered the library schedule is executed/implemented directly with no additional outlay of situating the memory-resident sector of the library (Balakrishnan, 1999).
The overall effect of this functionality is that Linux operating system is efficient in optimizing resources and therefore runs faster on slow computers (Kirby 2000). Proprietary software such as Windows has this functionality but is expensive to purchase and heavy on slow computers, ultimately affecting efficient optimization of resources (Loni & Wani, 2011).
Additionally, The Linux operating system has the demand loading functionality, which is basically “…a method of loading only parts of the program that is currently being executed into primary memory (RAM) from secondary memory (disk)” (Balakrishnan, 1999, p. 2). In memory management, the Linux operating system bears the capability to share “…the memory in a computer system among several programs or several programs or several modules of the same program” (Balakrishnan, 1999, p. 2).
Many computer users all over the world think that the most obvious drawback for Linux operating system must be the sustained lack of software applications that run on the system. However, this belief is further from the truth as “…there are thousands of applications that will run on Linux, and most of these are also free, from Web browsers to word processors to spreadsheets” (McLaren, 2000, p. 83).
The OpenOffice.org, which is an office software suite incorporating word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and drawing applications, runs well on the Linux platform and has inherent advantages when compared to the Windows Microsoft Office package not only because it utilizes XML file formats, but also because it is open source and multiplatform (Wusteman, 2004).
Additionally, while it is often difficult for users to read a document using a previous version of Word software because Microsoft is yet to provide filters on its Web site, the OpenOffice.org appears to have no difficulty in availing filters for all versions of Microsoft’s Word currently in use (Wusteman, 2004). This predisposition, in scope and context, implies that Linux is a better choice than Windows.
Other end-users believe that although Linux is supported by many applications, it is incredibly hard to use these applications and probably this is the sole reason why the operating system is being held back by Microsoft Windows in terms of competition (Karimi & Noori, 2011).
However, as noted by McLaren (2000), “…Linux has a number of GUI shells that can be loaded over the top of the command line interface (just as Windows 98 was loaded over DOS) that will give it a Windows look and feel” (p. 83). Two of the most recognized shells used by Linux, according to this author, include the K Desktop Environment (KDE) and Gnome, not mentioning that Linux has an actual Windows emulator available called WINE.
This view is reinforced by Economides and Katsamakas (2006), who observe that “Linux has been mostly an operating system for power-users who have Unix-like skills but this may change since the open source community is developing several friendly user interfaces such as KDE” (p. 210). These applications, it is argued, make Linux unbelievably easy to use for computer amateurs (Loni & Wani, 2011).
Extant literature demonstrates that Linux operating system has in recent years emerged as a viable competitor to other proprietary operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, Mackintosh and other commercial implementations of UNIX, primarily due to its solid support systems (Choi et al., 2007), as well as multifaceted functionalities (Delozier, 2009).
Indeed, as postulated by Kirby (2000), “…Linux provides a robust, stable computing environment on a variety of architectures including Intel X86, SPARC, and Alpha” (p. 85). Overall, these capabilities have made it possible for a substantial number of desktop and server applications to be ported to Linux (Kirby, 2000), making it the operating system of choice in the 21st century.
McLaren (2000) is clear in his analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of Linux that “…it will fail precisely because it does not have the one characteristic that causes so many to hate Microsoft Windows: a huge corporation backing it up” (p. 83).
Microsoft Windows users can escalate challenges discovered at their workstations or mission-critical servers to Microsoft technical support on a 24/7 basis, but it may not be possible for Linux users to receive immediate support to deal with their challenges because the system is developed by a global team of enthusiasts and lobbyists who appear thrillingly uncontrolled and unregulated (Schryen, 2011).
It may take a while for Linux users to get the kind of guarantees of system compatibility and stability provided by Windows and Macintosh operating systems (Apple Computers, Inc., 1997; Daisy, 2004), but this incapacity does not necessarily implies that Linux is simply inoperable due to support hitches (Economides & Katsamakas, 2006).
On the contrary, millions of users across the world are making the switch to Linux operating system due to small startup companies like Red Hat and Caldera that are beginning to get into the support act for Linux for a small fee (McLaren, 2000).
More importantly, according to McLaren (2000), “…is the interest that industry juggernauts like IBM and Hewlett Packard are starting to pay to Linux support” (p. 84). It has been reported in the literature that multinational computer company IBM is investing billions of dollars in Linux operating system and backing its distributors/ suppliers such as Red Hat and Novell (Moranda, 2005).
Available projections indicate that Linux may have a global support platform by 2015 (Delozier, 2009), further demonstrating that it is increasingly becoming the operating system of choice due to a multiplicity of variables that put Windows and Mackintosh operating systems at a distinct disadvantage, such as cost overruns and limitations of use (Hong & Rezende, 2011).
Even so, users must be cautious that it may take a very long duration of time before these companies demonstrate any support capabilities which may be equated to Microsoft’s or Apple’s knowledge base (Weber, 2007).
Ease of Use & Quality
Extant literature demonstrates that Linux is “…far easier to use out of the box than any proprietary version of UNIX, partly because it comes with so many useful programs already installed” (MacKinnon, 1999, p.3).
It is noted in the literature that most of these programs, including the comprehensive GNU tool kit, can be easily downloaded and installed on any adaptation of UNIX but fulfilling this command would generally consume time and effort (Delozier, 2009). Additionally, it is important to note that “…commercial training and support are available for most widely used OSS [open source software] such as Linux and Apache” (Wusteman, 2004, p. 232).
In terms of quality, extant literature demonstrates that the approach used in the development of Linux “…can result in software of higher quality and greater stability than that of many commercial rivals” (Wusteman, 2004, p. 232). Additionally, according to this particular author, the Linux operating system avail a Web site and discussion lists for users and programmers, as well as other documentation which assists to improve the quality attributes of the open source software when compared to either Windows or Mackintosh.
From the ongoing, it is indeed clear that Linux has gained much acceptance from users for a number of reasons. Indeed, the growth of Linux operating system in the global marketplace augurs well when factors such as code accessibility, cost concerns, security issues, functionality and features, as well as applications, ease of use, and quality issues are concerned.
Although Microsoft has evolved to become the dominant force in the computer software sector for almost a generation (Moranda, 2005), a sense of their decimation of the competition in the operating systems sector tends to be the prevailing feeling among mainstream commentators due to the increasing use and adoption of Linux by individuals and organizations across the world.
While Microsoft and Apple face challenges of their own and their dominance even in operating systems business seems not secure, Linux is increasingly becoming popular among users and governmental organizations in the developing world not only due to its low cost solution, but also its efficiency, security and enhanced functionalities.
Indeed, it is now correct to say that Linux has not only emerged as the new threat to Microsoft and Apple in developing markets, but will soon surpass them and become the incumbent operating system of choice.
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