What is it about Linux which attracts geeks—and even non-geeks—away from Windows? It seems crazy. Windows has some of the most advanced software in the world, it works automatically on every PC with every device, and anyone who masters it is almost assured a high-paying tech job. But, still, geeks flock to Linux. Why is Linux so cool?
Linux Is Cool Because You Can Change It
Linux appeals to people who want to be masters of their own destiny. Anyone with modest programming skills can change open source software, whether it’s the Linux kernel or a simple graphical app.
Even non-programmers can contribute to Linux. Thousands of users contribute every day by filing bug reports—and unlike complaints to Microsoft, Linux bug reports almost always get answered quickly by a developer. If you’re a geek, dealing directly with the people who made your operating system is pretty darn cool.
Linux Lets You Use Cool Devices
I have a Raspberry Pi—a tiny but complete $25 desktop computer built using a mobile phone chipset. It won’t run Windows, but it runs Linux with style.
There are thousands of different devices using dozens of different CPU chipsets which run Linux well. From standard x86 computers to old Sun SPARC workstations to PowerPC Macs, Linux supports all of the coolest hardware. And not just the old stuff—Linux supported 64-bit x86 computers for almost a year before the first version of Windows XP 64-bit, and practically every new CPU type released these days has Linux support out of the box.
If you want to use the coolest new devices before everyone else, you’re going to be using Linux.
Linux Is Fast, And Fast Is Cool
Windows is bloated. Compare the minimum system requirements of Windows against the minimum system requirements of Linux. Windows 8 requires at least a two gigahertz processor and two gigabytes of RAM and a few gigabytes of disk space. Linux will plod along with a couple dozen megahertz, a couple dozen megabytes of RAM, and (if you strip it bare) about 50 megabytes of disk space—in other words, Linux requires only about 1% of the resources of Windows.
Of course, a minimalistic Linux can’t do all the things a default Windows system can do, but the optimizations which let Linux run at all on slow hardware ensure it runs faster than Windows on fast hardware. People who value speed (and the productivity boost which comes with it) really like Linux.
Linux Is Cool Because It’s Fringe
Ironically, Linux’s relative unpopularity helps make it cool. Over 90% of computer users use Windows; Linux and Mac OSX each only run on about 3% of desktop and laptop computers.
That makes Windows fairly boring. Everyone knows what Windows looks like and how it works. But Linux is novel. Non-Linux users want to know how it works, how well it works, and whether or not it’s a viable day-to-day option.
People who spend a few hours exploring Linux can tell an interesting story. People who use Linux full-time can describe how they vanquished various Windows-only websites or requirements. People who encounter a bug on Linux can boast about helping fix it. Linux is cool because its users always have a fun story to tell.