Why I Made the Switch ... to Linux

eLABorations: Unlike other OSes, Linux doesn't care what you do with it, when you upgrade or what file formats you use

Apples made a lot of waves in the press with its "Make the Switch" advertising campaign, but when it comes to my own personal computing choices, those efforts have registered as little more than a ripple.

Users and reviewers of the latest, OS X-based Macs tend to laud the systems for their great beauty and for how OS X "gets out of your way" to let you work. I dont necessarily agree with either of those assertions, but theres no accounting for taste, and appearance and usability differences arent whats keeping a Mac off my own desktop, anyway. In order for me to make a switch to Mac, its Apple Computer Inc. thatd have to get out of my way.

My workspaces have played host to a long and proud line of Franken-PCs-systems with which Ive exercised my freedom to swap in and out motherboards, processors, drives and other components as my own needs and market prices have dictated.

Apples bundled hardware and software business model is pretty handy, particularly when its time to ramp up adoption of a major new platform like OS X. However, it can be a lot more handy for Apple than for users-witness the uncertainty for newspapers and magazines facing a forced upgrade to OS Xbefore all the applications on which they depend have made it to the new platform.

Windows is a bit better about this-at least I get to control my hardware. When it comes to software, Microsoft may ask, "Where do you want to go today?" But dont expect a cheerful "Yes you can" response if where you want to go is anywhere beyond Microsofts grasp.

For example, have you ever wondered why Outlook allows you to export individual contacts to the very portable and widely supported vCard format, but does not allow you to export all of your contacts to that format at once?

Dont get me wrong-Windows XP and Mac OS X are very good operating systems, and excellent improvements over the OSes that preceded them. Its just that what Apple and Microsoft identify as best for their business interests dont always jibe with whats best for their users.

In contrast, Linux doesnt care what you do with it, or when you upgrade or which file formats you choose.

Ive been running SuSE Linux 8.0 on my work machine for a few months now, and its been a relatively trouble-free experience. When I moved to make the switch complete by installing Red Hat Linux 7.3 on my home computer, I got a reminder of why I chose to make that move in the first place.

The drive Id selected for installing Red Hat held several gigabytes of MP3s, and I thought I might as well take advantage of the DVD-R drive in one of the test Macs we have in the lab right now to ferry my music files to my new system.

After learning the hard way how many writable DVD formats weve got floating around right now (I bought DVD+R media instead of DVD-R discs, and Im sure our copy desk will appreciate my renewed attention to proper punctuation), I was able to get most of my files onto a disc with only a little hair-pulling.

While my MP3 drive was formatted in Microsofts proprietary NTFS, I was able to bring my files to the Mac with the help of the open-source Samba networking package. However, OS X initializes data DVDs in only one format-Apples own HFS+.

So it looks like Ill be patching my kernelto include HFS+ support-Ill let you know how it goes ...

Where do you want to go today, and will it take a switch to open source to get there? Talk to me at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.