I wrote this up to send to a friend who was interested in moving to Linux. Thought it might help someone else too.
Ubuntu is a Linux distribution. There are thousands of “distributions” based on Linux, Ubuntu being one of them, currently the most popular Linux Desktop distribution sponsored by Canonical, owned by Mark Shuttleworth.
Linux is at the core of these operating systems, the “Linux kernel” as it’s known. Linux and the Ubuntu distribution are free and open source software. This is all explained quite well here:
I start here because this is the fundamental difference between Open source software and Propriety software. Linux vs Mac OS and MS Windows.
The above is important in many ways, but it’s also the fundamental reason why Linux is more secure than Windows or Mac OS. It’s open. How’s that you ask? “Open” more secure? What this means in practice is that when a security flaw (or bug or both) is discovered, it is known to the community immediately and anyone at any time can fix it if they have the skill. This means that serious security flaws are often fixed within hours of them being found. This is NOT the case with Windows and Mac OS. This is because;
a) We only know of the “public” bugs, i.e ones that security researchers have found and published
b) We have to wait for Microsoft or Apple to write a patch to fix it. These are notoriously very slow in being released weeks, months, years in some cases…
Using the following website (or bug tracker as it’s known) you can see every single bug in Ubuntu, see it’s status and even contribute if you have the skill: https://launchpad.net/ubuntu. This is the power of an open source community in action. The users being able on report bugs and / or work on fixing them.
The other fundamental difference is the fact (Windows specific here) is that a normal user has “Admin” rights by default. By “Admin” we mean a “user” who has the right to administer (add/remove/edit operating system files, software or other users files). Why is this so important? If your user does not have Admin rights by default, it means that you have to ok changes to your machine by elevating your user permissions, this is not the default for Windows. Using a correctly set-up Linux distribution, system changes can only happen if you allow them! This means someone needs to know the administrator user-name and password to be able to make changes to your system or install malicious files. I.e. Only user error will compromise your system.
Why are you targeted as a Windows user? Because Windows has a large user base and is notoriously full of security holes, it’s the easiest target. Here is an example (one of to many to mention) of how serious this is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conficker. Note that Windows is only more prevalent on Desktops. The Internet is driven by Linux servers and routers. For example, Google uses their own customised Linux kernel to drive their servers.
Common malicious software for Windows like malware, trojans, keystroke loggers etc can also be used to target users and gather login details to online banking sites and other sensitive information.
All these malicious programs target security holes in software. So this brings us full circle, if you using open source software, the chances of a vulnerability not being fixed promptly, and therefore exploited, is much lower, so even if you where exposed to malicious applications, they would not be able to do anything as the security vulnerability would already be fixed.
The simple fact that you have to install (and sometimes pay) for additional software (antivirus) to protect the Windows operating system, which you already paid for, from attacks exploiting security holes that remain un-patched, says enough in my opinion…
So, the big question is if Linux ready for the mass market. Yes. With the latest release of Ubuntu 10.04, Lucid Lynx I can confidently say that it is.
However when making the change to there are some considerations;
a) Are there any applications you cannot do without which are propriety and that only have Windows versions? (i.e. no Linux version). It’s worth noting that MS Office has a very capable replacement which is installed by default in Ubuntu (OpenOffice)
If so you have a few options;
Wine allows you to run most, but not all, Windows programs from within Linux. It provides the basic Windows files the applications need to start and run.
a.2) Run Windows in a virtual machine. This is where you install Windows in a “virtual machine” which runs within your Linux desktop. You can start and stop it as required without having to reboot or leave your Linux desktop environment.
a.3) Dual-boot system. You can have Linux and Windows installed on the same machine. This should be avoided unless it is absolutle nessary. E.g. Some propreity Windows games will just not run under Linux. As a virtual machine will not have full access to 3D capabilities etc the only option is to boot into Windows to install and run the game.
I could go on into more detail but I think the proof is really in trying it out. You do not have to install Ubuntu to try it. Here is some more information on Ubuntu, how to get it and testing.
Review of features http://www.ubuntu.com/products/whatisubuntu/1004features
Get it: http://www.ubuntu.com/getubuntu
The Ubuntu community is an incredible resource. Use it. http://www.ubuntu.com/community
Hope to welcome to our community and problem free computing soon. Once you change, you will never go back.