People have been known to exaggerate about Linux when singing its praises, and there's certainly some hyperbole around. But there are a couple of cast-iron facts about its benefits.
A primary benefit of Linux is that it doesn't crash. In years and years of using Linux, you will never experience your mouse cursor freezing on screen. A strange error box won't appear and not go away until you reboot. It's possible to leave a Linux system running for years without ever needing to reboot (although most desktop SUSE Linux users shut down their PC when they won't be using it for a while, just like the rest of us).
Of course, programs that run on top of Linux sometimes crash, but they don't take the rest of the system down with them, as can happen under Windows. Instead, you can clean up after a crash and just carry on.
Actually, very few programs under Linux crash. Because Linux programmers use a different method of bug testing than used by Microsoft developers, there are arguably fewer bugs, and those that are discovered are fixed very quickly.
The next benefit is that Linux is far, far more secure than Windows. Linux is based on years or proven computer science research. It works on the principle of users who have permissions to undertake various tasks on the system. If you don't have the correct permission, then you cannot, for example, access a particular piece of hardware. Additionally, privacy can be ensured because the files on the PC are "owned" by individual users, who can permit or deny others access to those files.
Another big benefit is that Linux can be obtained free of charge. Once it's installed, the latest updates for all your programs are also free of charge. Not only that, but if you want any new software, it will also usually be free of charge (and normally just a download away). Is this starting to sound attractive yet?
Because the software is free, you can share it with friends. Suppose that you find a really great image editor. You mention it to a friend, and he asks for a copy. Under Windows, copying the program is strictly illegal—to do so turns you into a software pirate! Unless that image editor is freeware, your friend will need to buy the software himself. Under Linux, sharing software is normally entirely legal. In fact, it's encouraged! I'll explain why in Chapter 2.
Another benefit of Linux is that it works very well on older hardware and doesn't require a cutting-edge PC system. The latest version of Windows XP requires high-powered hardware, to the extent that upgrading to that operating system usually means buying a new PC, even if your old one still works fine!
In contrast, Linux works on computers dating back as far as the early 1990s. This book is largely being written on a five-year-old Pentium II 450 MHz notebook, running SUSE Linux 9.1. There's virtually no waiting around for programs to start. On the same machine, Windows 2000 (which came installed on the computer) grinds and churns, and using it can be a frustrating experience.
With Linux, there's software for just about every type (or age) of computer. For example, you'll find stripped-down graphical user interfaces (GUIs) that are designed specifically for old computer hardware. Linux encourages an attitude of both recycling and making the most of what you have, rather than constantly upgrading and buying new hardware.
In other words, you can pull out that "old" PC and bring it back to life by installing Linux. You might even be able to give it away to a family member or friend who does not have a PC. Perhaps it's time for grandma to get online, or perhaps you can give the kids their own PC so they will stop using yours.
Alternatively, you might consider turning old hardware into a server. Linux is capable of just about any task. As well as running desktop computers, it also runs around 60% of the computers that make the Internet work. Linux is extremely flexible. You could turn an old PC into a web, e-mail server, or firewall that you can attach to a broadband Internet connection. If you were to do this with Microsoft software, it would cost hundreds of dollars, not to mention requiring an advanced computer. It's free with Linux.