Top ten reasons web developers should be interested in Linux

Linux is a free (as in "free speech", and also "free beer") operating system bundled with a large number of similarly free applications. Here's why you should care about it:

10. The fastest web server in the world runs only on Linux.

TUX aka Red Hat Content Accellerator, a new web server program for Linux from Red Hat, is faster than Microsoft's IIS + SWC when serving huge websites. (This won't matter to the average developer, but it is a handy factoid if you need to impress a pointy-headed boss.)

9. Microsoft charges more and delivers less support with each passing year, whereas Linux is free, and keeps getting better each year.

Microsoft "effectively doubled the licensing cost for Windows" for corporate customers, and recently cut the amount of free support provided with its products.

By contrast, Linux is free. You can give copies to your friends legally, because Linux is provided under the terms of the GPL, which ensures that it will forever remain free and open.

(The above was written in November, 2000, but it seems even more important in July 2002, as Microsoft's new licensing policies are driving many companies to consider alternatives.)

8. Linux is growing faster than any other server operating system in the world. More web sites use Linux than any other operating system (including Windows).

According to IDC, twice as many copies of Linux were sold in 1999 as in 1998. That's a 200 percent growth rate, roughly four times the rate of the server OS market as a whole. "Linux is moving much more rapidly than we thought," IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky said. "We had projected it would be No. 2 in 2002 or 2003. It happened in 1999."

According to the July 2000 Netcraft survey of active web sites, Linux led the market with a 30% market share; Microsoft Windows (all flavors) came in second with 28%.

7. Linux comes with Apache, the most popular Web server in the world

According to the July 2000 Netcraft survey of active web sites, Apache led the market with a 60% share; Microsoft's IIS came in a distant second with 27%. Two years later, Apache had 64% share, and IIS had 25%.

This matters to webmasters as well as people who just write dynamic content, because Apache uses dynamic content languages like PHP and JSP rather than Microsoft's ASP. (You can use ASP with Apache, but the scripting language supported is Perl rather than Visual Basic.)

Running a copy of Apache on your own computer lets you test out changes to dynamic content before uploading it to your production server.

6. Free office suites

Several office suites are available for free, and are often bundled with Linux. Open Office 1.0 is the all-around best office suite, and AbiWord is the best lightweight word processor. Microsoft Word users will feel relatively comfortable with either. They aren't 100% compatible with Microsoft Office yet, though.

5. Free HTML editors

Several free HTML editors are available for Linux, including Quanta (see review), Bluefish (see review), and Screem.

Dreamweaver doesn't run on Linux yet, although it should eventually work under WINE, a free Windows Emulator, once that is released. (Wine is still alpha.)

There are several other free web development utilities available for Linux. Together these tools can partly make up for the lack of an integrated package like Dreamweaver, but they require a fair bit of skill to set up at the moment.

4. Good graphics/video software

The Gimp (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a free clone of Photoshop. It's a couple years behind Photoshop, but is highly usable, and has a large loyal following. There are many books about the Gimp out, and there are even user group conferences.

There are also commercial graphics software programs available. One that is available now as free beta downloads is Corel PhotoPaint 9.

Linux still lags behind other operating systems in video editing, but some software is available:

3. A friendly and helpful user community

There are Linux user groups in every large town. (Los Angeles has sixteen.) Most of the groups are more than happy to help you get started installing and using Linux, and many hold periodic Installfests, where you can bring your computer and get free help installing Linux on it.

People in the global Linux community write a lot of free software (see and DaveCentral) and read sites like Linux Weekly News and Linux Today for news, and Slashdot for gossip.

2. Easy remote server administration

Linux is as easy to use across the country as it is to use at your desktop, thanks to the remote access tool OpenSSH and the fact that XFree86, the graphics system used by Linux, is by nature network-friendly. With Linux and Apache, you never need to drive to your colocation site to tweak the server.

1. Linux is fun!

The look of the Linux desktop is highly configurable. Newer versions of the Gnome and KDE desktops let you load themes. Here are some screenshots of Gnome themes and KDE themes.

Linux also comes with oodles of games. The desktop packages KDE and Gnome come bundled with more games than Windows; old friends like Solitaire and Minesweeper are there, along with addictive tile-matching games like Shisen-Sho and "Mahjongg".

You can also download more games. One good source of free software is Freshmeat; their four game categories are games that run in text-only mode, games that run in X, games that run in X and require Gnome, and games that run in X and require KDE.
Another good source is DaveCentral.

Finally, Linux (as a benefit of being a true Unix) is very scriptable. If you're so inclined, you can speed up common tasks by writing scripts in languages like Python or Perl to automate them.


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Last update: 9 July 2002
Copyright 2000-2002, Dan Kegel
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