GNU/Linux can Empower Computer Users

Have you ever had your computer reboot to update when it was least convenient? Has your computer ever stopped working after an update? Has the workflow of Window or macOS installation just not been what you need? Well, I might have a solution I can recommend to solve those problems.

What if I told you that there are hundreds, if not thousands of alternatives to the two most popular operating systems? What if I told you that these alternative operating systems put you in control of your computer and your workflow? What if I told you that these operating systems function just as well, if not better, in many cases for day-to-day usage.

The operating systems I mentioned are all (for the most part) based on the same underlying system with their own configurations on top. These operating systems are generally known as Linux distributions (although some say GNU/Linux because the most important core utilities are from the GNU Project and not the Linux kernel project) because they are all built on top of the same fundamental base known as the Linux kernel.

Okay, okay, sure there is this fancy Linux thing that I can run on my computer, but why is it better than my existing system? Why should I switch to something that I know little to nothing about when my existing system works just fine? The short answer for these questions is that Linux Distributions are yours to control, so you can do whatever you want with them, however, that doesn't provide a whole log of detail. The long answer is... complicated.

For many, there will never be that "perfect Linux distribution." This is something you must come to know when you start getting into this. While there are many really nice "out of the box" experiences out there, if you need something a bit more fine-tuned, you are going to have to go a bit more in-depth. While there are many computer users who will be just fine with the "out of the box" experiences of such projects as Manjaro or Elementary OS, There are also users who will not find these first-launch workflows to be satisfactory. If you are one such user, then you will likely be delighted to know that you are almost never stuck with the "out of the box" experience.

One thing that Youtuber Chris Titus Tech has pointed out in many videos (This one is a good example), is that it doesn't matter which distribution you use, if you don't like the default workflow of a Linux-based operating system, you are allowed to change the workflow to suit your needs. If the graphical user environment (generally referred to as the "desktop environment") that you are using isn't easily changed, then you are even allowed to change it to something that can more easily be tweaked to suit your needs.

There are many graphical user environments that can easily be tweaked to suit your needs as a computer user. Some are more easy to configure than others. If you are new to computers, you might wish to go with something that has a graphical configuration tool, however, if you are a bit more daring, you might wish to go with one of several "window managers" which give you a minimal base which you can tweak and configure into your ideal computing experience. Another cool thing is that if you don't know how to make changes to the configuration of a program, you can always read the documentation. If that doesn't work then there are many communities where you can ask for help. If you choose that route, be sure to explain what you have tried in order to fix the problem and make sure to post the logs or records of what the program did right before it stopped working correctly.

If you want examples of really cool looking environments that have been created by individuals, I would recommend perusing the unixporn subreddit as many cool examples are posted there (don't worry there should not be any pornography on that page, just aesthetically pleasing computer user environments).

You might now ask: Why am I allowed to make these tweaks and changes to my environment? Wouldn't that be against the TOS? That is one of the beautiful things about GNU/Linux, the licenses (legal documents that dictate what you are and are not allowed to do with the software) that are used by the vast majority of the software within any given distribution of GNU/Linux are copyleft and permissive licenses. That is to say that the legal documents that much of the software on your system use grant you a ton of freedom to do what you want with the software.

Copyleft licenses as well as most permissive licenses are part of a broader category of licenses which are often referred to as "open source licenses," however I prefer to use the term "free software licenses" because "free software" covers the business model that is "open source" along with the ethical considerations that face software developers and how they should treat their users. The licenses that follow the definition of free software allow the users of such software to do pretty much whatever they want with the software, including distributing exact copies of a program, as well as distributing your modified version of the program.

These licenses are in stark contrast to the licenses associated with operating systems like Microsoft Windows and macOS, because the licenses they use restrict what you are allowed to do to a rather interesting degree. It is the primary difference that distinguishes free software operating systems such as distributions of GNU/Linux from Microsoft and Apple's operating systems. You can take any Linux distribution and, quite often, very easily use it as a base for your ideal computing environment. It is not quite so simple with Microsoft Windows and macOS.

With Windows and macOS, you almost always have to worry about an update changing or breaking some change in the deep system configuration you made (this happens on some variants of Linux as well but not anywhere near as often as it does on Windows). Also, because of the freedom you get from GNU/Linux, you are able to so such things as blacklisting updates. I have heard some horror stories about an application someone uses in a production environment breaking after an update as a result of a coding bug. With Linux you can postpone updates to software that you depend on so that you don't have to worry about an update to that software breaking things. I wish I could say the same for Window and macOS.

So to reiterate, why should I bother installing a system that I know little to nothing about? Because you can create your ideal workflow and computing environment in order to make your computer, your computer.

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