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Breaking the Myths

I've been using Linux for several years, and I like to think I know a bit about the operating system and what it can and cannot do. As I'm an avid USENET reader, I follow the latest developments and of course, the various flame-wars that invariably crop up (those darn cross-posting advocacy people! ;-) ). I've seen my share of myths (often called FUD -- “Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt” which seems to be a common tactic used by commercial technology vendors to frighten their market away from competing technologies) that more than a few people believe. So, let me try to run down a few of the more common ones and attempt to shatter them. :-)

Some people seem to have the notion that, because a piece of software was written by volunteers with no profit motive in mind, that the results must clearly be inferior to commercial-grade offerings.

This may have been true in the past (I mean, there was a lot of freeware which was absolute garbage in the DOS and early Windows world), but it is most certainly not true in recent days.

The power of the Internet has made it possible to bring together some of the brightest minds in the globe, allowing collaboration on projects they find interesting. The people who have put a hand into developing Linux or the thousands of GNU utilities and applications packages are from a diverse background, and all of them have different personal reasons for wanting to contribute.

Some are hard-core hackers who develop for the love of coding, others have a need for something (for example, a network traffic monitor for a LAN at work) and decide to write it themselves, others are academics and computer scientists who are using Linux for its research qualities.

Unlike a commercial offering where a package is developed and sold, source code excluded, to the end-user, code used in Linux is scrutinized, debugged, and improved upon by anyone who has the interest and ability. This act of peer-review is one of the reasons that Linux offers the high reliability and high performance that it does.

Don't forget: The Internet itself was built and runs almost exclusively on Open Source projects. The e-mail you exchange on a daily basis with people around the world has an 80% chance of being handled on one or both ends by Sendmail, the web pages you browse while “Surfin' the Web” are served to you by Apache on over 50% of the world's web sites. Reliable enough for you?

Hearing this myth somewhat sickens me. And supposedly the “other” vendors do offer support? I've had personal experience with one very popular commercial operating system, where the vendor's so-called “support” was completely useless.

First of all, there is support for Linux. Yes, commercial support. There are some companies that can provide as much support as you are willing to pay for; offering telephone and e-mail support, many offering to come right to your door to deal with the problem!

However, in 99% of the situations you will run into with Linux, you will be able to accomplish what you wish if you can simply get the answer to a question or two. This is easily accomplished on USENET or on any of the many mailing lists available!

I've never had a problem I couldn't find a solution to, by either searching on http://www.dejanews.com/, or by asking in one of the comp.os.linux.* newsgroups. Normally I can receive an answer to any of the support issues I ask about within three to twelve hours of my posting.

Another interesting aspect of Linux is that, because the source code for the entire kernel and most of the other operating system components is freely available, key-support issues such as security, denial of service, or CPU bugs (such as Intel's F00F fatal exception) are tracked down and solved very quickly -- usually an order of magnitude faster than solutions offered for similar or identical problems on the commercial offerings. So, where's the commercial support!?

There are countless others that I would like to debunk, but that is beyond the scope of this document. However, for further myth debunking, check out the “Linux Myth Dispeller” at http://www.KenAndTed.com/KensBookmark/linux/index.html as well as “The Linux FUDfactor FAQ” at http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Hills/9267/fud2.html