Why I Use Linux

I've been asked a number of times recently why I use Linux. As there really isn't any quick answer to this, I thought I'd dedicate a post to the subject.

I have, in the past, been accused of being a tight-fisted Scotsman who would rather use a free (and presumably, by implication, inferior) product than pay for Microsoft Windows. Not only that, I've been accused of being excessively anti-Microsoft and their products while praising the virtues of Linux.

I'll treat that first misguided, misinformed, inaccurate and offensive accusation with the contempt it deserves. As for the second, "guilty as charged m'Lud".

First up, let me make one thing clear. I do not hate Micrsoft products per se. Indeed, Excel and Access are two extremely good applications which I have used extensively over the years. That doesn't mean they don't have their faults.

Microsoft have spent billions of dollars, force feeding the World with marketing propaganda about their products. The Linux community do not have that luxury and so, as a Linux convert, I'll take every opportunity to mention it as a viable alternative to the norm.

Linux has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and is indeed an excellent alternative to Microsoft for the vast majority of computer users, if only they knew about it. The fact of the matter is, that with rapid improvements in the Linux desktop, this open source operating system is becoming ever more popular. A fact demonstrated last Thursday when the BBC evening news bulletins, reporting on the imminent release of Windows 7, listed "the free operating system, Linux", along with Apple and Google, as being one of the competition that the new Microsoft OS faces.

I cannot recall ever seeing a main news bulletin mentioning Linux in one of its reports. Certainly, a lot more people will have heard about it now. They may still have no idea what it is, but they've heard about it.

I make no apology for encouraging those people to at least try it.

When I first thought of doing this article, I thought I'd do a comparison table of pro and cons for Windows and Linux. Or list the many features that make Linux such an excellent option - such as superior security; the absence of Linux based viruses and malware; the absence of restrictive and expensive licensing; the inclusion of virtually every piece of software the average user is likely to need, including a full MS compatible office suite; the quick installation; superior disk management; the absence of Microsoft spyware and malware in the form of Digital Rights Management (DRM) and Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) etc, etc, etc.

I decided against that, partly because that information is easily gleaned from the Internet by any interested reader, but mainly because, beneficial though they are, those are not the reasons I found myself turning to Linux - the main point of this post.

This may be an appropriate opportunity to point out that I am a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, a Microsoft Certified Internet Specialist and a Microsoft Certified Product Specialist in Excel. I have been supporting Microsoft products since the days of DOS and earned a living doing so for many years. Does that mean I have to support them at home? Of course not.

I am anti-Microsoft not because of their software, but more for philosophical reasons.

Over the years, I have found it increasingly difficult to accept the way the Seattle Behemoth does things. There hasn't been one thing in particular that tipped the scales but numerous little things that have led to a change in attitude on my part.

For example, I object to the way that for every new 'upgrade' existing hardware is effectively rendered obsolete. Now of course, from the point of view of Microsoft and the hardware manufacturers, this helps to stimulate business, but it is a financial impact that I could do without, not to mention the environmental cost that this entails as our ever increasing disposable, throw-away culture slowly but surely fucks this planet up.

As an engineer, with a degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering as well as a Postgraduate Diploma in Information Technology, the thing that annoys me the most, is Microsoft's continuing refusal to adhere to internationally agreed standards, preferring to impose their own on the World.

For example, their refusal to follow design specification laid down by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for how web browsers treat certain pages, specifically Cascading Style Sheets, preferring instead to do their own thing and to hang with concensus. As a result, web designers have to spend additional man hours creating multiple versions of web pages that will render correctly in Internet Explorer as well as more compliant browsers.

Or take the idea of the Open Document format. A format for documents that allows a user to edit that document in whatever suitable application they wish rather than the one in which it was created.

If I assemble a bookcase using a screwdriver made by Black & Decker, I can dismantle and reassemble it the following day using a screwdriver made by Stanley. Like those screwdrivers, a computer is nothing more than a tool that allows us to create and modify documents. The Open Document format provides a means for us to use whatever software screwdriver we wish.

Microsoft, would rather we didn't and couldn't use any software other than their own. Fair enough, they are a commercial organisation with shareholders to satisfy. By locking people into a software application's document format they are forced into an upgrade path they may have no choice but to follow.

The final straw for me was the introduction of the 'ribbon' in Office 2007 and the removal of the standard, and very familiar, menus.

I'm old enough to remember the days of DOS and the applications running on it. In those days, each application, even those produced by the same software company, had a different interface. Users not only had to learn what the program did, they had to learn each individual interface.

The introduction of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) and Windows in particular changed that by giving every application a familiar menu that every software manufacturer followed. Now, users working with a new and unfamiliar application had a good idea where the commands were on the menu.

The introduction of the 'ribbon' changed all that. In one fell swoop, twenty odd years of user familiarity were swept aside leaving users baffled when trying to complete the simpliest of tasks. Going by my limited experience with my clients, millions, if not billions, of dollars will have been wasted in lost productivity World wide by that change alone.

As I became more and more disenchanted with the monopolistic and questionable business practises of Microsoft, I started looking for alternatives.

So, over two years ago, I started dual booting into Linux. I quickly found that I was spending more and more of my computing time in that environment. It was only natural that I switch completely.

Windows 7 SinsIt is interesting to note that I know next to nothing about the inner workings of Linux. Why? Because it has NEVER fallen over. Not once have I had to delve into its depths to figure something out. I certainly cannot say that about Windows.

Linux does everything I want it to do. It is stable, fast and secure and I am spared the hassles of running a system that isn't.

The excellent Windows7Sins site discusses these issues, and more besides, in great detail and is very much worth a visit. I'd encourage you to read it fully to understand just what it is that Microsoft does on YOUR computer.

So how does this effect my sports trading?

It is ironic that one of the reasons I took the plunge to completely switch to Linux rather than dual boot was my intention to give up gambling/trading. I'd decided I'd thrown enough money at this particular hobby and, up to that point, it was the main thing holding me back from changing completely.

At that time, there were no, or so I thought, trading applications that ran on Linux. With my abandonment of trading, there was nothing holding me back from making the switch.

It was six months later that I heard about BinarySoft BDI, a Java based trading application and therefore cross-platform. I decided to give it a whirl and I haven't looked back.

Unfortunately, BinarySoft is no more. A few months after subscribing, it was sold into private hands and is no longer commercially available or developed. It does however still work and will continue to do so as long as the Betfair API, Java or the current owner doesn't do something that causes it to fail.

That situation surely won't last. Indeed, the latest release of Java has caused minor changes in its behaviour. The fear for me of course is that it falls over completely thereby forcing my hand into a return to the Evil Empire.

There is hope on the horizon though. With the popularity of Linux increasing, software manufacturers in all areas, including sports trading, are starting to cater for non-Microsoft operating systems.

We have Bettrader Evolution currently running through its re-release phase and I've recently had confirmation that Betpod Pro will have a Linux version towards the end of the year, beginning of next.

I could also try trading on Betdaq as their trading application is also Java based and runs quite happily on my system.

So clearly, there are options for me, which hopefully will continue to increase as manufacturers from all areas start to realise they are missing out an increasingly sizeable user base.

If the worst comes to the absolute worst, I can install Windows XP in a virtual box running on top of Linux which will allow me to run any Windows based trading application I like. It will be desperate times before I'll take that step though.

So, once again, I make no apology for waving the flag for Linux. Indeed, I'd actively encourage users to give it a try. Yes, it is different from Windows, but certainly rewarding. Most distributions come as a LiveCD so you can run it without installing on your PC. As it is open source, you have nothing to lose other than a bit of your time.


Paul said...

Great article, Alistair! Years ago, I bought an early linux version (can't remember which one) but was so hamfisted, I couldn't work half of it out. This was back in the old windows m.e. days. I must look into it again. Any particular strain of linux stand out in your opinion?

Anonymous said...


Interesting article. I would be interested to hear more about dual booting. What does this involve? Is it hard to achieve? Would it be much quicker?

I only need windows for trading but for the rest of my PC use I would be keen to try Linux.

Do you just select a different option when starting up the PC to decide which you boot in?

Does it require much skill/knowledge to install?

Many thanks,


Anonymous said...

If I may be so bold, I highly recommend PCLinuxOS as an excellent distro. I've been a linux convert for about 3yrs now and that was my first experience. It just works for most folks and KDE3.5 is very comfortable for ex Windows users.

Alistair said...

Hi guys, and thanks for the comments.

As far as distros are concerned there are numerous to chose from. One of the great things about Linux is the freedom of choice the user has, rather than being lumbered with whatever Microsoft thinks is good for us.

So, instead of one desktop environment, we can install one, or a number of them and choose at logon.

The two most common are Gnome (which I use) and ,KDE, Xfce, Fluxbox, to name but a few.

It is this wide choice that I'd imagine puts some people off Linux.

Equally, there is a multitude of distributions, all aimed at provided a different user experience.

Ubuntu (which I use), OpenSUSE and Fedora are popular distros and, from a trading aspect, Racingtraders Bettrader Evolution specifically supports these three.

There are others you might like to try, for example, LinuxMint (based on Ubuntu), Mandriva and PCLinuxOS (as recommended by anonymous) are probably the main ones.

You can get an excellent overview of these and many others at the excellent DistroWatch site.

Some distros may not be suitable, or you may not like. It is worthwhile trying a few to find what suits you best, which is where the LiveCDs come in as you can try them before installing.

People brought up on Windows expect things to be the same and work straight out of the box. In particular, there are often issues with playing mp3s and watching videos/dvds. Because these are proprietary formats, they are subject to copyright and licensing. As a result, many distributions do not install these 'out of the box'. Users are encouraged to use non-proprietary media codecs instead. However, if you MUST play these formats, it usually takes just 2-3 mouse clicks to install them.

With regard to dual booting, you need to have windows already installed, on which you should perform a full system back up as the installation process will require you to repartition your hard disk. If you've got a second disk installed, to put Linux on, even better.

I have not had any trouble installing Linux in an XP based environment for dual booting. I have never used Vista or windows 7 so cannot vouch for those configurations. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if Microsoft have done something to prevent dual booting in those operating systems.

As I mentioned earlier, Windows must be installed. You cannot install Windows after installing Linux due to the way Windows configures the master boot record and the drive on which it expects to find it.

To install a dual boot arrangement you also need to be familiar with partitioning of your hard drive. If not, do NOT do it as you run the risk of wiping your hard drive of Windows. On second thoughts, just go ahead and do it! :-)

Once installed, the boot up process will give you a menu from which you can choose Windows or Linux.

Apologies for making this comment almost as long as the original post, but I trust you found it useful.


Phil Wadsworth said...

I can recommend PCLinuxOS 2009.2 as an excellent "it works right out of the box" solution to a replacement for Windows. You can try a LiveCD in your PC to see what it's like without affecting your existing system (it runs direct from the CD into RAM).
I now dual boot with WinXP so I can run a couple of specialist applications that won't run under Linux.
It's also easy to set up a dual boot (providing windows is already on your hardrive) as when installing it will enable you to re-size your partitions, shrinking windows to create room for a new Linux partition. Best to read up about this beforehand so you know what you're doing.
I've done it twice and it worked faultlessly.
If you want to take the plunge, you can install Linux to take all of your hardrive and then install "Virtualbox" (from Sun) which then enables you to host many other operating systems. Thus, instead of a dual boot you can install Windows into Virtualbox and run it from there.
I've done this and WindowsXP is actually faster in my Virtualbox than it is in a stand alone system !.

Anonymous said...

Spot on, Alistair !



JS said...

Great post Alistair. I've always been tempted to give Linux a go and I think you might of encouraged me to finally do so. Was going to dual boot XP and 7 next month (using XP solely for trading and 7 for everything else). I'm tempted now to triple boot with Linux as well just to give it a go. I've dual booted before but have never triple booted, I'm guessing it would be the same as dual booting if I set up a separate partition for each OS, would that be correct?

I'm also going Linux on my mobile, the new Nokia N900 which comes out mid November uses a Linux based Maemo OS, and it looks really clean and fast. Nokia look like they're really going for it with regular compotitions for the best hacks to encourage people to develop applications. the phone itself is pretty much as powerful as most mini-laptops. Here are a couple of links if anyone is interested:



Anonymous said...

Howdy!, great post.
May I mention 'Puppy Linux'? Start with a live-CD, and if desired, do a 'frugal' install. This is 4 files that co-exist with current OS, no partitioning required.
Easy to dual-boot. Or just run entirely
in ram, loaded from the CD.
Thanx ,,,jw

Alistair said...

This article seems to have brought out a lot of closet penguins :-)

I've never used PCLinuxOS for the very reason that it perhaps more like Windows than any other Linux distro. Certainly, from what I've seen, it will make newbies coming from Windows feel at home quicker.

Sorry JW, I forgot about Puppy Linux which is a particularly good option if you've got an old, lesser spec machine.

Thanks as ever for your input guys.

crotig said...

Well put Alistair.

I can confirm that you can dual boot Windows 7 and Ubuntu as I have them running on my laptop. You have to install Windows 7 first and the GRUB loader identifies it as Vista but it works.
I recently did a system out of old bits from my father and put Ubuntu on it and it runs well, better under Karmic(9.1) than Jaunty(9.04) but I did have some driver problems for hardware so that is something people should be aware of. There is help available in the excellent Ubuntu Forums though.

Running BTEvolution in firefox under Ubuntu and it's early days yet but looks not bad.

Keep fighting the good fight.

Alistair said...

Thanks for that crotig.

I haven't downloaded Karmic as yet. I'll give it a few weeks to 'settle down'