You must be a linux expert

Yesterday after work was quite funny. Following british habits, almost everybody in the office went to a near pub for some drinks. That's quite interesting since that way you can learn what everybody else in the office is doing, or what do they do outside office hours, etc.

Then somebody asked me: You must be a linux expert, no?

Me? God, I wish I was! It seems that Ubuntu it's so easy that you look like an expert, hehe, that's really funny. Then I was asked why I was using it, if I wasn't really an expert on it, instead of using windows, and I must recognize it's quite complicated to explain.

In my previous jobs I could just use windows. It wasn't really a problem until I got my powerbook. Then I started feeling windows more and more clumsy - and annoying. But I still had to stick with it, since there was no opportunity to switch to mac or linux. One day I asked about installing ubuntu in one of the computers and there were two answers:

  1. linux is just for servers (and only red hat enterprise linux)
  2. how can someone install a linux distribution with such an ugly name? (ubuntu)
Obviously I got discouraged and just thought: ok, but you don't know what you're losing. Some time after we replaced a pirate copy of windows XP with ubuntu at our home server, and I quite liked that new version. I thought: if it wasn't because I have MacOsX... I would install linux in my powerbook! And somehow on the other hand I got aware of the goodness of using open source products. Now this is really hard to explain, as it may sound like a divine message or something, but the main reason is the data:

One day you don't care about open source or anything and consider the same freeware and open source. Next day (after the message came) you realise that you want to keep your data with you - and for that, you need to use programs which only use standard file formats, or open source software. So that if you change your program, your data keeps being usable.

I somehow got the final nudge when I switched from Apple's to Thunderbird. I don't know why, I started feeling bad about using Apple's Mail. I thought: and what if I bought another computer and it's not a mac and I want to copy my email data, what am I going to do? The horror!

I discovered that although used an standard mbox format at the beginning, they changed it so that the files could be indexed by the Spotlight. So what happened? It was not standard anymore, and I was quite lucky that some good soul had written an script for converting between Mail 2 format and the standard mbox one. Since then I got more and more interested in this kind of software. I know it may sound a bit ridiculous if you come from the commercial background that most of us live in, but the ubuntu philosophy -providing software freely- really hit me. The idea of not being tied to any company may sound quite utopical but I believe it's good to have utopies in mind.

And then (coming back to the topic) when new computers came to the office, they had a preinstalled windows XP. I asked if I could install linux on my computer and when they told of course! I was like W-O-H-!

Since then I've been using it continuously, and can't stop being surprised every day with the good achievements and goals it has reached. I also have become aware of how many money do companies spend stupidly in things like Microsoft Office, Microsoft Windows and all of that. I mean, companies could save lots of money if they could just buy bare computers with no operating system installed at all, and install only whatever they needed. Specially, computers for developers: I have a fully equipped computer for the price of 0. Just do some maths!

There are also other aspects even more complicated to explain, mainly that using free software is like making an payment to the developers. Paying with recognition, honours, and even bug reports, to be honest. I believe any decent programmer should be happy with people contributing to the software in any manner, as it means that they care about the product. So somehow there's like an spontaneous collaboration, which I personally find very interesting. (Let alone project donations, that I also have made, but that's another topic)

As you can see, the reasons for using linux are many and subjective, and most of them fall quite quickly in the personal beliefs area, being very easy to start evangelising and trying to force everybody to go linux. I do not think that it is the way, since as I said once, I got very dissapointed with linux zealots in the past. So when I have the opportunity to explain my opinions I do it happily, with the hope that it serves more people to understand this personal attitude (and maybe join it as well).