The Importance of Being Linux

9 Nov, 2017

Linux is a free operating system that broadly denotes a family of free and open-source software operating system distributions. We interviewed bitjam web developer Jakub to provide a useful guide to the Linux operating system, it’s affect on IoT and why it’s a system that’s not going anywhere fast.

In layman’s terms, can you explain what Linux is?
Linux is another operating system, just like Windows and Mac OS, but it’s completely free. It’s actually closer to Mac OS as they both are from the UNIX family. Most operating systems are built from certain components so you can interact with it in a graphical way, such as using the browser or office suite.

These components are:
Kernel: the operating system’s heart that controls everything
Desktop environment: it renders all of the elements that you are used to, such as graphical windows and their controls (for example close, minimise, maximise buttons, etc)

Why is Linux such a major operating system?
Many people would say it’s because it’s free. As much as this is true, there are some other factors to its popularity. Linux architecture is built in such a way that it is very easy to make it minimal, and easy to scale to satisfy many different needs. Security is very strong in Linux as too.

Combine all those and you have the perfect package for a server. Each website that you visit every day needs a server. Free, strong security and scalability allow Linux to serve more than 90% of all websites on the planet. This is unlikely to ever change.

Why is it important to understand Linux as an OS?
It’s important for different reasons depending on your profession or merely personal preference. For me – a web developer – being able to understand the system makes it easier to deploy websites and also make them more secure, and efficient. For other people one such reason could be privacy. With the recent Windows 10 release there were a lot of privacy concerns that Microsoft collects various data from you without notifying you about it. There are options to disable some of them, but it has been proven that you cannot disable all data collection, which can concern some people.

What are the benefits of using Linux?
Linux is free to download and use. Because of it’s architecture it’s very easy to customise it and fit to your needs. You can change how your system looks visually, meaning that you can change your theme, icon style, cursor style. Almost anything! Those things are not easily achieved on Windows or Mac, especially not for free.

Linux does not collect your personal data without your knowledge. Because Linux is built by many different communities there are no single entities like Microsoft or Apple that could make use of you as the consumer. Be it data collection or forcing you to use your PC, not in the way you want to but how they want you to.

What are the challenges?
GAMING GAMING GAMING. Although it’s much much better than it was 5 years ago gaming is still challenging on Linux. There are some big titles available on Linux, but there are 2 fundamental problems:

Firstly, graphic drivers. Companies like NVIDIA or AMD don’t support Linux drivers with the same attention as Windows or Mac. Because of this reason, game producers do not put enough effort into Linux development as it causes them additional problems that are not worth getting into. This is slowly changing with the efforts of companies like Steam though.

Another challenge for many people could be the lack of MS Office or Adobe products support on Linux. There are alternatives available but people in many cases don’t like the change or additional learning curve.

How did Linux influence the explosion of “Internet of Things?”
As mentioned above there several factors that make it the perfect system for IoT:

Low system resource requirements
Minimal image
It’s free

Low system requirements make it the perfect system to drive IoT devices. In many cases they are small devices with restricted processing speed, memory and data capacity. For example, you could install a perfectly functional Linux system that would only take less than 400MB disk space (because IoT devices in most cases will not need a graphic environment), whereas if you were to install Windows you would need a fair few gigabytes, not to mention the processing power and memory required. Security is another added benefit as the product is instantly more secure straight out of the box, an important factor as there is so much networking between devices in the IoT world.

The fact that Linux is also free encourages developers to tinker with the devices without breaking the law as they don’t need to possess any kind of licences, so in theory, anybody (from their bedroom) can contribute to IoT.

Can you give examples of where Linux is present in public sector technology such as healthcare?
A few examples include Cancer Research, BBC, Keele University, bmj.com and healthsites.co.uk. Surprisingly the NHS website is on a Windows server. This is perhaps due to the fact that back when the NHS website was created Windows was more popular in the UK. Moving such a large site as NHS to Linux would be a VERY expensive and long process, however there are some early developments currently underway that are working to change the digital practice of medicine by making improvements to sharing information and learning.

What does the future look like for Linux?
Linux is not going anywhere. I see Linux crashing Windows and Mac in the future, but perhaps not during my lifetime! If Microsoft won’t change their strategies Linux will dominate in the server space forever. If it comes down to general computer usage, Linux is always the prefered choice, especially among developers like myself.