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Linux: The Popular Operating System No One Knows

Yuwanda Auliya’ Akbar [email protected]

Abstract:

Linux is one of the most used operating system in the world, but it’s surprising that nobody knows about it. It is popularly used in servers and android phones with different brandings. The reason of the low desktop adoption is caused by market domination by companies that promotes and bundles their proprietary softwares into newly sold computers and it directly affects its adoption, limiting customer’s perspective of software freedom. But for some reason, large scale deployment of Linux servers seems to not be affected by this.

Keywords: Linux, open source, software, freedom, networking, hosting, proprietary.

It is easy to place someone or a group into to stereotypes, be it being technologically literate and vice versa. Being an English literature student, I always think to myself that our studies don’t require that much usage of technology compared to other study program. For most of the cases and activities, a pen and paper combination is mostly sufficient, a laptop may be preferrable to have but it’s not required as much. But the world is changing, and it is changing at the rate we would have never imagined before. Technology has allowed us to understand the world better, to teach better, and to live better. This such rapid advancement in technology didn’t come from magic however. Thousands, or even hundred-thousands of engineers from many different backgrounds, ethnicities, and languages, committed themselves to create a better world by inventing a tool that could help humanity, becoming the first of the humans to be connected no matter where they are, bridging many cultural barriers into one interconnected society, the internet. The backbone of our internet service stems from servers that are kept running by the network engineers working hard to make sure they provide us the best service possible with the least effort and cost.

Linux is one the most popular software used for webserver and datacenter purposes due to its flexibility of being a community product. Being a very open operating system backed by thousands of software engineers around the world, Linux has become the number one choice for web developer to run their applications or web servers on. This popularity doesn’t only come without any justifiable reasons. Unlike other operating systems that we were already familiar with in daily computer usage such as Windows and macOS that dominated the personal desktop computer market, Linux is designed to be flexible no matter what the configuration the user demanded. This flexibility comes from by the fact that this operating system is not owned by a corporation that controls the entire development, but rather created by the community, so that the software fits everyone else’s demand. This makes the Linux operating system very open and customizable to what the user’s heart content. The very open nature of Linux is pretty much in contrast with the closed solutions such as Microsoft Windows and Apple’s macOS both of which does not allow the modification of their products, limiting their usage potential outside their company’s interest. Even worse, they do release their own product that tried to compete with Linux, but the latter costs so much money per license to use in contrast to the completely free Linux operating system for which everyone can use.

If Linux is so free and accessible for everyone can use, then why we do not see anyone uses it in public or their personal computer devices? The answer lies hidden the corporate shadowing of the personal computer desktop market. You might see it if you aren’t biased to one operating system and realized that every personal desktop computer sold today always comes bundled with operating system and some other software that the hardware company deems valuable to the consumer. But in reality, these big software such as Microsoft and Google pays big money for the inclusion of these softwares into personal computers sold to the customers. With this strategy in mind, these companies are able to secure their domination in the market usage cementing their reputation as software companies. However, this tactics proved to be fatal and harmful to the competition of the operating system market. This proved by time over and over that people would rather use softwares that were included there by default. As the market gained reliance on the default Windows operating system, personal computer and other hardware manufacturers would have no intention to replace them since software licensing are also able to generate a fair amount of revenue to the company. Even worse, this tactics are also used in schools and other institutions where many devices are deployed at once to suit their function. Many schools in the US and recently in Indonesia started to give students a Chromebook, a very cost effective and affordable small computer notebook that runs Chrome OS, an exclusive closed proprietary operating system developed by Google to tackle the issues with classical operating systems being slow to run on a low end hardware. As nice as it might be for the students to be able to affordably get a new PC and connect to the internet, Google has cemented their name to these students thought process, making them familiar with their software suites and prepare them into workforce where they would get Google products since it is the only product they are familiar with.

Linux basically runs everything in our life, from a complex datacenter sites with miles of electric plant, to a mere toaster sitting unused in your house, therefore it is a good idea to learn this versatile free and open source operating system. Learning Linux is quite a challenge for a novice computer user that doesn’t know the existence of another OS. For the main consumer market, Linux can be used to completely replace Microsoft Windows or macOS as the running desktop operating system.

Unlike Windows or macOS, Linux comes with many variants called distributions or distro for short. Every Linux distro has it’s own quirk and features. Some might praise the use of new software update that comes right after the developer releases and some is designed with stability in mind, using trusted and tested software releases. And some can be very secure with a completely sealed system and a different way of managing programs on the system. With all of these variations, users can suit themselves to what they need

Although the proposition of Linux having many variations for each needs could spark interest in the desktop space, the huge number of selection can be a pain for new users. This paradox of choice confuses new customers by the sheer number of distros floating around with various small modifications trying to attract new users. This often leds someone to try that new shiny operating system, use it for a while and feeling incomplete after seeing other offerings. After that, the new user could trap themselves in a vicious cycle of trying Linux distros, one and another, looking for that “one true” distro to rule them all. At first, this might be fun for them to try new things. But over time, this can put people into a wrong assumption that you should use that specific distribution to chase that feature. This is largely false due to how Linux is designed. It is designed to be modular, meaning features from other distributions can be easily copied to one and another. So if a user needs a certain feature that is available on by default on other distributions, they only need to install that one certain feature that they want, as opposed to reinstalling the whole operating system just to get it. This would also train people to define their own preference than only listening to someone else’s view on what sets of features they need.

The important thing a new Linux user should understand is that both operating systems also have different ways of doing things in form of one or another. One of the crucial factor is that Linux doesn’t only come with one graphical interface, users are able to choose what they prefer, from a desktop layout that matches to adapt Windows users, Mac users, or a completely new desktop environment with different layout. One might came with features the others don’t, such as multiple GPU switching, workspace overview, or even certain system settings. This level of customization is however, still bound to the developer’s view of how is the correct way to interact with the desktop. It means that a more advanced user might needs something else if customization is their main thing when they considered moving to Linux-based desktop. Those more advanced users would usually ends up using a tiling window manager, a standalone software than only handles how windows and apps shown on the display. This software are mostly barebones software that needs further configuration to make it even usable. Some even need to compile their own version of the code the software they want to run such as Suckless’ DWM tiling window manager. This level of configurability has brought many fans across the globes, showing off what they can do with their configuration. Linux desktop is a very configurable operating system from how they work and also how they look. Linux can be bent to whatever the user’s heart content, adjusting to their preferrable workflow, while also expressing their creativity.

Not only Linux can be a capable desktop OS replacement, Linux basically became the backbone of our internet contents and connections. Every company in the world right now, relies on Linux as their server operating system for their service. Being very minimal and configurable, Linux creates less performance abstraction layer resulting in a overall less performance overhead and potential system failure. This would bring profit to companies since every downtime of the service would add up to the cost of the maintenance of those servers. By bringing stable Linux servers to their datacenters, some hosting companies could reach 99% Service Level Agreement (SLA) which greatly responsible for the majority of new customer’s first impression of the service and in the long run.

For an unsuspecting new user that come in contact with Linux, they would quickly find out that simply installing a new software sounds daunting for most person. As an operating system with an integrated software package manager, Linux encourages their users to install softwares from a dedicated centralized software repository which ensures that all of softwares downloaded into the computer are all verified as safe. A package manager does all the things related with programs from searching, managing, and the most important, installing and removing softwares. This solves many security problem with many operating systems that rely on the user supplying their own softwares, giving a bad actor a chance to infect the computer with a malicious programs that could absolutely wreak havoc. With the advent of package managers on Linux, users also do not have to worry about updating each program that would take lots of time if done manually. This capability allows users to manage their own software but it’s not limited to the scope of a regular user. Package manager can be used to manage software updates in the system. So they don’t need to wait one big update to a system that will sometime break something with no documentation. Package managers are literally the bread and butter of the Linux operating system that just keep on giving, but sometimes people are not convinced enough to use Linux.

People do have some valid reasons to not use Linux for their operating system. Due to most people have another operating system such as Windows or macOS preinstalled in their system, their market usage is much bigger than Linux. According to the GlobalStats statcounter as per 2023, Linux only occupies less than 3% of the overall desktop OS market with Windows dominated them by 63.1% followed with macOS in the second place of 17.8% (Server Operating System Market Volume, Share | Analysis, 2030, 2023) This leads software developers to opt out in supporting their apps on Linux platform. This created a chicken and egg situation where the lack of software support would deter people from using Linux, while without the userbase demand, software companies won’t support it, leading to overall worse software support. Back in 2004 era, this adoption rate was even worse, especially due to the lack of software quality back then (Ven et al., n.d.).

Most of people who tried to move to Linux having difficulties in finding alternative software that has to work up to industry standards. These software might include:

  1. Professional Non-linear Editor (NLE) video editing software such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, the whole AVID Media suite and some other NLEs like Sony Vegas. Although one company decided to support Linux (Davinci), most of the time, the provided alternative doesn’t really work that well
  2. Microsoft Office 365.

Many organizations preferred to have their own instance of Office 365 due to their flexible use in the corporate and educational space. The hindering factor is that Microsoft also owned Windows, a competing operating system to Linux with much bigger market share. It would be a bad business decision for Microsoft to support Linux.

  • Adobe Creative Cloud suite.

Many professionals who works in the creative space such as graphic designing, and photo manipulation works have used apps created by Adobe for more than 20 years. Coming from a professional perspective, their apps work well with one and another, giving it a proper ecosystem which the alternatives do not provide.

People who’ve tried Linux also faces a some usability issues regarding user experience and user interface problem. This is caused by the variety of Linux DEs that’s available on Linux. The variety of choice also gives in for variety of quality. Depending on the computer proficiency of each user, Linux can be even more intimidating because of it’s nature of using the unfamiliar majority Command-line apps, which only allows the interaction between text interface and keyboard control. These apps that use the CLI interface might include:

  1. Text editor.

Text editing softwares are used extensively in Linux to edit files that are contained in the system. These softwares can be nano, vim, neovim, vi, or even GNU eMacs.

  • System utility tools

If a user need to configure their startup softwares, rebooting procedures, and many, they have to use something like systemd and it’s CLI tool systemctl to have a control on the startup method for those programs.

  • Configuration files

Unlike in Windows where every settings for how the system work are available through the easy to access graphical user interface, Linux relies more on manually editing those files to get the configuration to be set. There are some attempt to automate this using a daemon, such as the NetworkManager software that handles network settings and Switcheroo API that handles GPU switching procedure, but that is just the majority of it. Most still lives deep in the filesystem, requiring knowledge of writing config files to get the job done.

This sets the bar even higher for new user that will attempt to move from proprietary OS like Windows or macOS to a more freedom respecting Linux.

Despite the poor reputation in the desktop space, Linux dominates Windows in the server space. Linux occupies more than 60% of the server market share followed with Windows with just a mere 25% of the pie chart (Server Operating System Market Volume, Share | Analysis, 2030, 2023). This is likely due to how every machines installed with Windows Server Editions have to be licensed to be used legally. Unlike Windows, Linux is completely free and does not require any licenses to use it. This means that everyone can use it without any cost, giving opportunity for hosting providers to scale the operation even larger and reduces costs in the long run. With the less overhead given by Linux, hosting providers also don’t have to worry about the high power usage of those servers since less performance overhead means less overall power usage. Linux also have the ability to run parallel into other Linux servers using orchestration softwares such as Kubernetes, Docker swarm and many other. Virutalization and containerization also helps to ease the configuration and hosting overhead by a lot by reducing the abstraction layer. With classical QEMU virtualization, we are able to completely seal the machine off the system while with containerization, we are able to use the host’s kernel to run the aforementioned services (Joy, 2015) This makes scaling service capacity that much easier without needing to manually attaching one machine to another. Ansible playbook can also be used to manage many servers without using paid services. All of these advantages puts Linux into its respectable market share.

Linux is the direct product of the open source community that values freedom for all people. Its invention has taken the technology world by storm and revolutionized the entire world in the information sector. Enterprise grade hosting is made possible by the community that works hard to ensure it is appropriate to use. Linux also established a community where the usage of free and open source softwares fluourished, bringing freedom to use software. This new subculture inside Linux community also created a platform for Linux enthusiast to express themselves through creating config files that aestethically pleasing. Although the adoption has been shadowed by corporations establishing dominance over the market, Linux has become the staple name in the industry, bringing software freedom to the masses and to the big internet.

References:

Joy, A. M. (2015). Performance comparison between Linux containers and virtual machines. 2015 International Conference on Advances in Computer Engineering and Applications, 342–346. https://doi.org/10.1109/ICACEA.2015.7164727

Server Operating System Market Volume, Share | Analysis, 2030. (2023). [Analytics]. Fortune Business Insight. https://www.fortunebusinessinsights.com/server-operating-system-market-106601

Ven, K., Huysmans, P., & Verelst, J. (n.d.). The Adoption of Open Source Desktop Software in a Large Public Administration.

17 responses to “Linux: The Popular Operating System No One Knows”

  1. Howdy! This blog post couldn’t be written much better!
    Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
    He always kept preaching about this. I’ll forward this post to him.
    Fairly certain he’ll have a great read. Thank you for sharing!

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