Why is the Linux operating system so popular?


I will tell this from my own perspective, which you can probably generalize more or less, although my career is certainly unique.

I first came to Linux in 1997 when I worked for a new media agency in Bern. The employer was an old hand at the Chaos Computer Club and liked to use SuSE Linux in the office for the servers. Until then, I had a little modest experience with Solaris and BeOS, both UNIX variants, and was impressed by their performance (though less enthusiastic about the ease of use of Solaris).

Since I always had a penchant for technology, I wanted to get to know it better. But I only had Macs at my disposal – at work a PowerMac G3 and at home a Performa 6200. At work I installed VirtualPC and tried to install SuSE; after several attempts with the help of the curious boss it worked, but you couldn’t do much with it.

Then I came across MkLinux, a microkernel version of Linux that was half-heartedly supported by Apple. But that was a nightmare – it was totally buggy and I tried everything I could to get it to work. It didn’t work with the stupid Performa, then I also bought a G3 at home and at least got further, but it wasn’t that good.

Then came LinuxPPC and Yellow Dog Linux, both optimized for the G3, but still in the beta version. Macnews DE has started a mailing list about Linux on Macs. I signed up in the hope of finally getting help. However, it quickly became clear that I was the “expert” because I had been working on it for a few years.

The result was a FAQ website, which I built, which gradually turned into a news site. The boss of Macnews saw this, was thrilled and invited me to redesign Macnews and integrate my site with it. That’s how I started my own business.

After that, I kept using Linux for my servers. Every now and then I tried to use it as a desktop solution, but didn’t get far because as a web and graphic designer I could hardly do without Freehand or Adobe apps. For a while I used MacOS within LinuxPPC with a Sheepshaver variant, but it didn’t work that well. But the servers were always running at top speed.

So…I learned to appreciate Linux because it was much more stable and powerful than MacOS at that time. It was better than Windows 9x/ME/2000 anyway. If I installed Linux on an old computer, it was suddenly like new – no bloatware, nothing superfluous, and you could really optimize and adapt everything. So I could squeeze years out of old Macs and PCs (my main server at home was a Mac mini G4 until two years ago!).

Unfortunately, I’m still dependent on MacOS – but MacOS is UNIX now, and my experience with Linux has made it possible to get to know UNIX better. So I can profit from the UNIX substructure of Mac OS X, and I owe that to Linux.

Is Linux perfect? Nope, but I love it anyway, because it would have been the only way to get access to the UNIX world, and because it allows me to do a lot of things (especially in the server area) that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise – or it would have cost a lot more.

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