The world's most popular operating system is Windows, which is made by the Microsoft Corporation. Linux has no links with Windows at all. Microsoft doesn't contribute anything to Linux and, in fact, is rather hostile toward it because it threatens Microsoft's market dominance. This means that installing Linux can give you an entirely Microsoft-free PC. How enticing does that sound?
Windows is used on 91% of the world's desktop computers. In other words, it must be doing a good job for it to be so popular, right?
Let's face facts. Windows is not without problems, and that's putting it mildly. It's stunningly insecure, and virtually every day a new security hole is uncovered. This leads to the creation of worms by malevolent programmers. Worms are small programs that exploit security holes within operating systems, leaping from computer to computer and spreading like wildfire via the Internet. Examples include Sasser (as well as its variations), which causes your computer to crash and shut down as soon as you go online.
Then there are the viruses—hundreds and hundreds of them. This has led to an entire industry that creates antivirus programs, which are additional pieces of software. Antivirus software is vital if you want to use Windows without losing data or running the risk of your files being stolen!
Some argue that Windows is hit by so many viruses merely because it's so popular. But consider that many of these viruses are simple programs that merely take advantage of security holes in Windows. For example, the Melissa virus took advantage of a bug in such a way that just viewing an e-mail message caused the virus to infect your computer! And we're paying for this quality of software?
Although I'm being disparaging about Windows here, unlike many books, Beginning SUSE Linux doesn't ignore Windows. Throughout its pages, you'll find frequent references to Windows and the software that runs under it. You'll find direct comparisons with actual Windows programs. The intention is that anyone with prior experience will be able to get started with SUSE Linux much more quickly.
And how about the speed at which Windows runs? It's just dandy when your PC is brand new. But after just a few months, it seems like someone has opened up the case and poured molasses inside. It takes quite a few seconds for My Computer to open, and there's time for a coffee break while Internet Explorer starts up.
So is Linux the solution to these problems? Most would agree that it's a step in the right direction, at the very least. Linux doesn't have antivirus programs, because there are virtually no Linux-specific viruses. As with all software, security holes are occasionally discovered in Linux, but the way it is built means exploiting those holes is much more difficult.
There have been a couple of viruses for Linux, but they're no longer "in the wild" (that is, they are no longer infecting PCs). This is because the security holes they exploit were quickly patched, causing the viruses to die out. This happened because the majority of Linux users update their systems regularly, so any security holes that viruses might exploit are patched promptly. Compare that to Windows, where most users aren't even aware they can update their systems, even when Microsoft gets around to issuing a patch (which has been known to take months).
There's also the fact that Linux encourages you to take control of your computer, as opposed to treating it like a magical box. As soon as you install Linux, you become a power user. Every aspect of your PC is under your control, unlike with Windows. This means fixing problems is a lot easier, and optimizing your system becomes part and parcel of the user experience. You no longer have to take poor performance lying down. You can do something about it!
One of the biggest questions asked by most newcomers to Linux is whether it can run Windows software. The answer is yes… and no.
Linux is completely different from Windows on a fundamental technical level. Its creators based it on Unix, an industrial-strength operating system, and deliberately steered clear of emulating Windows. This means that Linux isn't a swap-in replacement for Windows. You cannot take the installation CD of a Windows program and use it to install that program on Linux, in the same way that you cannot install an Apple Mac program on Windows. However, several current projects let you run Windows programs on Linux. Wine (www.winehq.com) is an example of such a project. You can also use programs like VMware (www.vmware.com) to create a "virtual PC" running on Linux. Then you can install the Windows operating system and, therefore, any Windows software you like.
In most cases, however, you'll find that there's a Linux equivalent of your favorite Windows software. Frequently, you'll find that this Linux version is actually superior to the Windows program you've been using. We discuss many of these in Chapter 11.