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Linux, Unix, and *nix like Operating Systems Forum

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Why webmasters should use desktop Linux
I think its particularly well suited to what we do

 2:15 pm on Oct 6, 2013 (gmt 0)

Some of these are general advantages, some are general advantages of desktop Linux, some are specific to webmasters.

1) You probably use Linux or Unix servers. Its useful to learn Linux better. Things like commands that are useful on your server, are often useful on your desktop too, and vice versa. Use *nix on both and you can learn more, and can apply what you learn more.

You can also run development servers without bothering with VMs etc.

2) Easy software installation. This is a big one. If you are anything like me you install software regularly, and not standard desktop apps.

There is a huge difference between Linux software installers and Mac style app stores. The Linux variety install dependencies. For example, if you install something written in Perl through the installer, it will check whether you have Perl installed or not, and download an install it for you if its not. If different versions are available it will install the right version!

3) Easy upgrades to new versions. Most desktop distros (the big exception being Mint), allow you to upgrade painlessly within the GUI to a new version. I believe you can now do this with MacOS (and Windows?), but it looks like the Linux version is still simpler (automatic upgrades to virtually all your apps, virtually nothing to check before upgrade,...).

4) Security. Whatever the reason (popularity, better design - happy to argue about it in another thread) Linux desktops are less likely to be compromised. It is very easy to have lots of critical information on your desktop (database and server passwords, for example). Security is a lot more important for a webmaster than someone who uses a PC to go online to use Facebook. Yes, I know Windows can be made pretty secure these day, but if you have to work hard to do it, its easy to slip up (and a waste of time).

5) Lots of development tools. Linux has an excellent ecosystem of development tools. Many of them are cross-platform, but many are not, and good many of those that are cross-platform work best on *nix.

The wide choice is good. Not everyone likes, or works best with the same tools. Take text editors. I use a combination of Geany (for Python development) and Komodo Edit (for HTML, CSS and Javascript), whereas dstiles uses Kate. We have both tried multiple editors and selected what works for each of us.

One caveat: Linux does not have as wide a choice of WYSIWIG web design or graphics tools. IN particular no Dreamweaver or Photoshop for people who have spent years learning those particular tools.

6) Lots of support for managing servers and other common web master tasks. For example, most linux desktops will allow you to open the file manager, type in sftp://example.com/home/me and then act just as if it was a local directory - not just in the file manager but in most apps. You can use the file dialogue in your text editor and to open a file on your server.

7) Highly configurable. A choice of desktop environments, most of which themselves are configurable, means you can configure you desktop to suit your workflow and you preferences. Features like multiple desktops (which almost all Linux desktop environments support) support complex work flows.

8) No vendor lock-in. If Ubuntu starts being obnoxious, I can painlessly switch to another distro and use all the same applications.

This is also an advantage of the open source applications you use on Linux. Applications can be forked if developers let users down, and open formats make migrating your data to an alternative easier.

9) The *nix approach of combining lots of simple tools shines on the command lines, but not just there. Lots of applications work with/talk to/ each other.

Someone else think up number 10 please!



 5:14 pm on Oct 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

Planet13, I'm mainly a Mac user, not out of preference (I like and dislike things about both Mac and PC) but because it's so much less likely to get compromised than a PC. I've been reading about running Linux on Mac, and most articles take the position, "Why - Mac is already Unix".

What are the advantages of Linux over Mac OS?

And wrt not buying into the other op systems, is it possible to buy a computer that doesn't already have either Windows or Mac OS installed?

brotherhood of LAN

 5:19 pm on Oct 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

> is it possible to buy a computer that doesn't already have either Windows or Mac OS installed?

Seems easier if you're buying a desktop rather than laptop, but the big brands... dell, lenovo etc you are likely stuck with buying an OS. I was trying to price up a custom laptop online to buy in .ca but the decent providers are all US based and I'd incur a hefty customs charge.


 5:23 pm on Oct 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

Excel > OpenOffice why? Compatibility (e.g. support from Blomberg, collaborators using Excel macros) etc., but I do not do really big/complex spreadsheets any more, so cannot really comment much - all I can say, is that all I can see missing are the above.

I cannot think of any features I miss Libre Office, and Excel has some serious issues of its own such as the incorrect stats calculations MS did not fix for years (have they been fixed even now?)

That said, I think that the sensible way to use spreadsheets is to keep them simple, and for that even Gnumeric will do (with the added benefit that its stats calculations were fixed!). One thing I hate is an Excel based database driven app with massive macros....


 8:40 pm on Oct 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

I use wine only in extremis. I do not trust anything that requires any MS environment. I don't distrust wine as such but some VM ware running on linux was recently found to be tainted. But for real compatibility I keep an off-line windows machine on the network accessed via RDP.

I really urge anyone who is serious about their computing to subscribe to the threatpost feed (or read the web site). There are a lot of nasties aimed at both corporate and home systems which, when investigated, can be laid at MS's door; and not a few at Apple's pit (and many, many compromisable mobiles starting but not ending with Android!). But there are also a few linux compromises from time to time, as I noted earlier.

diberry - later Macs are indeed variants on unix, but without the robustness of the open linux system. Macs are not as vulnerable as windows but they are still virus targets and linux has far fewer exploitable vectors.

As to MS Office, the one thing I need that linux cannot manage is Access/MDB compatibility and that is insurmountable.


 12:30 am on Oct 10, 2013 (gmt 0)

For those of us who rely on graphics and video editing tools, is Linux really feasible at this time? I don't mind switching tools as long as I have something that gets the job done well.

I think the gimp is very comparable to Photoshop. For video editing there is Kdenlive. I have only got very limited experience of this piece of software, but I have been viewing some Youtube tutorials and it appears to be very powerful.



 8:09 am on Oct 10, 2013 (gmt 0)

@diberry, you can buy computers with Linux pre-installed from vendors like System76, Think Penguin and Emperor Linux. My location makes them inconvenient bur I managed to buy an HP Probook 4540s without OS (which I recommend if you want a cheapish laptop). If you spending a bit more you could look at the Dell XPS Developer Edition.

@dstiles, are you talking about this?

[vmware.com ]

It only allows a user with a login to Linux to escalate privileges, and does not allow Windows (or Windows software) to tamper with Linux.

Wine, which gives Windows software the same access to your system as native applications is probably more of a concern - some Windows malware runs on Wine, but every experiment I have read about trying this found they do no actual damage unless you deliberately run them as root.


 4:04 pm on Oct 10, 2013 (gmt 0)

Thanks, Mack, I will check out Kdenlive.

graeme_p, good to know. I may try Linux on my Mac first, however I can figure out to do that. :)


 4:13 pm on Oct 10, 2013 (gmt 0)

You can run Linux on Mac in virtualbox (and seamless mode works) or dual boot.

The easiest thing is to completely replace MacOS with Linux, but that might be a bit drastic - especially before you have tried Linux :)


 6:27 pm on Oct 10, 2013 (gmt 0)

"The easiest thing is to completely replace MacOS with Linux, but that might be a bit drastic - especially before you have tried Linux :)"

Yeah but...

If they are just test driving, there is always live boot off a CD or USB stick, or even load into ram, right?


 7:47 pm on Oct 10, 2013 (gmt 0)

Graeme - probably - I've lost the original reference. Yes, I accept the mitigation but remember that non-tech users are migrating to linux and many could be of the "Oh, right, password, click" school that have are used to viruses appearing as if by magic on windows and android. :)

I think my point was that some users could install viruses that, whilst not actually causing damage, gradually build a compromisable base.


 7:06 am on Oct 11, 2013 (gmt 0)

It depends on exactly what you are doing.

If you are using hardware virtualisation (which would be usual for running a Windows Guest under Linux with an 64 bit processor) there is no real risk. It is securely sand boxed by the processor.

Software virtualisation has some, but low, risk.

Of course your Windows install may be compromised, but if you use virtualisation you can roll back to a snapshot of the OS, which makes recovery easy (provided you have backed up any data you need to keep).

A social engineering attack may succeed (e.g. use Windows to write Linux malware to a shared folder, and trick the user into running it) but that would work even with a separate Windows box with network drives.

My own setup is Windows XP in a VM. All I use it for is testing sites with IE - hopefully neither me or my clients are hosting malware! Shared folders are read only to Windows. If I see any signs of infection I would roll back to the snapshot I took just after installing IE7. It is also very, very convenient - see screen-shot above.

For a non-technical user, I would advise them to use the Windows VM as little as possible, and back up data regularly (which they should anyway) so they can roll back to the last good snapshot. You cannot completely protect (on any OS) someone who clicks OK to everything , but I cannot see any high risks in that setup.

I would also advise non-technical users to switch completely to Linux as soon as possible!


 3:54 pm on Oct 11, 2013 (gmt 0)

While everyone is "sticking it to the man" have a think about this...

If all software and the apps for creating that software was certified and the developers were certified, how big a dent would that put in malware, exploits and the billions of dollars lost due to data loss each year?


 4:45 pm on Oct 11, 2013 (gmt 0)

Very little. The fact is the reason for exploits, unreliability, etc. is that customers put features and flashiness first. I see no evidence that certification of any sort would change it. Do you think anyone MS employs would have any problem passing any likely certification scheme?

Also, "sticking it to the man" is a pleasant side effect, not the reason for using Linux or open source. Also, some Linux companies are "the man" as much as anyone is - IBM does a huge amount of Linux stuff these days.

Software that does things like launch nuclear weapons, carry out financial transactions or run telephone exchanges is very reliable, because people care about it.

For day to day software I think transparency and competition are the best approaches to better quality - and nothing is more transparent than open source, and it is the best way to encourage competition. Its the free market approach to quality, rather than the central planning approach of certification.


 1:04 am on Oct 13, 2013 (gmt 0)

is it possible to buy a computer that doesn't already have either Windows or Mac OS installed?

I spend most of my life in Thailand and the transient nature of my life meant I'd been running my online affairs from notebooks for years. However, I married at the end of 2008 and settled, meaning I invested in a desktop in Thailand. To my horror when firing it up for the first time, 'No operating system found' greeted me. This was what forced me to look into Linux... My wife came into my life, shortly followed by Linux... On both counts, I never looked back :D

In the west, we're pretty much awash with apathy. 'The man' has it easy in such a market.


 4:06 am on Oct 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'm a Windows user. I do most of my work on Windows. I'm used to it and it works for me. I've considered Windows hosting. It just costs much more. Rather I have chosen linux VPS. And because of the VPS, I have learned a great deal about Linux.

Initially I set up Apache and MySQL using the command line connected through ssh. Configuring multiple sites with pretty urls, caching, and compression was not as complicated as I thought. Boy did it take me a lot of time learning to use vim.

After a while I realized the setup was a little wasteful. My site is mostly static with few pages hitting the SQL.

I was able to install Nginx with perl and gzip static enabled. And proxied the pages that hit the database to Apache.

Looking back my website could never have been this fast if I was on Windows. I am always impressed by the level of control you get using Linux.

I'm still running a system on my Windows machine to generate my static files. Who knows I might get the drive to migrate over to a linux machine with a GUI.


 7:23 am on Oct 14, 2013 (gmt 0)

@Asia_Expat, what no pirated Windows by default?

A few months ago, I installed Ubuntu for a friend who has hardly used a computer before and told me that her netbook "did not work" (it did not have an OS installed). She is very happy with it.


Use a text editor that can edit files over sftp (part of ssh). Some WIndows editors can do it, and almost every Linux editor can do it out of the box.

Essentially reasons 1 and 5 plus a new one: Linux desktops have better tools (out of the box anyway) for working with Linux servers. SFTP, Rsync, etc. are easier to set up (MacOS has most of this, to be fair).


 4:37 pm on Oct 23, 2013 (gmt 0)

I see no evidence that certification of any sort would change it.

Recently on am itnews site I noticed a comment on an article about how open-source was insecure. I agree because anything open-source is available to anyone for free regardless of their intent. Anyway, one guy disagreed and was slamming Microsoft coding as being "ubiquitous" and of dinosaur era. Well I had to look up the meaning of "ubiquitous" and was most amused because this guy was promoting languages such as PHP and JavaScript as being more advanced. So much for that opnion huh?

By "lack of certification" I mean that it is not difficult to take existing open-source code and make it malicious. The source is free and so is the software to rework it which means that all the crims and malovents on the planet can reap havoc and remain anonymous.

On the other hand by "certification" I mean that if only certified software was allowed to run on Windows then you will most certainly see a dramatic drop in malware. For example Windows software compiled by authentic Microsoft development products that were licensed to real companies and code-signed by authentic certifiers who vet those companies.


 3:07 am on Oct 24, 2013 (gmt 0)

If it was so easy, why is it rare? There is lots of widely used open source software (Firefox, Webkit, Android, Apache), etc.

It may be a little easier to produce a malicious version of an open source app, but it is a LOT easier for people to realise that it is malicious because they can audit changes to the code.

It is also very difficult to distribute a malicious version. Try forking Firefox and see how many people use your version of it!

So your idea is to give MS total control, and hope they ONLY use that control to make software more secure? You are very trusting. The result would be to kill innovation, and make a lot of money for MS, and the "certified" software would be full of holes. Central planning works to an extent, but I prefer a free market approach.

Incidentally, most versions of Linux already use software installers that only install signed by trusted sources - you can install software outside the installer, or add extra trusted sources if you wish, or install unsigned software as a one off, but that is your decision and not something that most users do often (if at all).


 7:04 am on Oct 24, 2013 (gmt 0)

Windows software compiled by authentic Microsoft development products

I am pretty sure most malware is written with authentic Microsoft development products - what else would someone targeting Windows use?


 2:00 pm on Oct 26, 2013 (gmt 0)

@graeme_p, thank you for pointing in the right direction.

I just configured Notepad++ to edit files over sftp. Now I don't have to sweet over copying a line of text and moving to another location.


 6:57 pm on Nov 7, 2013 (gmt 0)

I'm tied to Windows just for one pending project and because of photoshop (desktop publishing, cmyk and lab stuff, etc. My weapon of choice is Lubuntu, I just love it.

Had to remove Lubuntu and replace it with Mint because I was unable of running some webserver stuff. Before that I tried the latest Lubuntu but I faced some strange bugs, solved everything but one thing: a double Network & WIFI icon. Tried everything so finally I'm running the latest Mint with a custom theme to resemble Lubuntu.

wa desert rat

 9:53 pm on Mar 5, 2014 (gmt 0)

I've used Linux so long that I remember thinking that version 1.3 was about as good as *nix can get! (That would be around 1994.)

I shudder at the idea of "certified" anything. The world is "credential driven" enough; maybe we should think about becoming "competence driven".

Another reason to learn Linux would be found in the Jobs listing for any large-ish city's craigslist page. I just demonstrated to a friend that the word "linux" when searched in the top-level of "Jobs" for Seattle revealed 247 different ads. Most of them did not demand a college degree or certs but did prefer competence and experience. Starting salaries for Linux people are higher, too.

The main reason I have stayed with Linux is that you can make a Linux computer do just about anything in the computer world. Hadoop on a cluster? Try *that* on Windows.

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