Linux is a Better Teacher

khess 0 Tallied Votes 775 Views Share

I learned a little from my dalliances with Apple products. I learned a lot from PCs running DOS and Windows. I've learned the most about computers from Linux. However, productivity-wise, the order goes in reverse. The learning curve with Linux is at least twice as long compared to Windows and many times longer compared to Mac. If deep understanding of computer architecture, programming and operating systems is important to you, start with Linux and enjoy the others as curiosities or productivity tools.

Back in 1986, when I first acquired (as a gift) a used Apple IIe, I was thrilled. It didn't take long for the green text-based screen and two full-height 5.25" diskette drives to wear me down to the point of needing something more powerful. Several of my friends bought what's now known as a Mac Classic that could talk, do graphical things, play games, run a nuclear power plant and much more. They were cool but expensive. I didn't learn much from that Apple IIe. I learned almost nothing about computers from my friend's little Macs. I also could never figure out what was happening with a Mac or where exactly I am within the system.

To this day, it still confuses me when I open a word processor on a Mac and it does nothing except change the menu bar at the top of the screen. They seem to work in reverse to Windows and Linux, which further contributes to my utter distaste for the much hailed Mac OS.

I opted for an IBM compatible PC in 1987 that came with DOS 3.x for $1254 USD. It had one half-height 5.25" floppy disk drive, an 8086 processor (Turbo 4.77MHz/8MHz), an RGB monitor, a 30MB hard drive and 640K RAM (Which is all you'll ever need).

I learned a lot about computers from messing with that old compatible. By the time I dumped it, I'd replaced every component on it except the motherboard and processor and I added a Math Co-Processor (essential in those days for real computing).

Fast forward to 1994 when I worked for a large telecommunications company in desktop-level support. I picked up a friend's computer magazine and noticed that I could order something called Linux on CDROM for a few dollars. I read about it extensively and decided I'd like to try Linux. I downloaded Linux in floppy disk images (The computer I wanted to install it on didn't have a CD drive) and installed it. The rest, as they say, is history.

I learned about recompiling my kernel (something you always had to do back then), setting up X (not easy), creating shell scripts and installing new programs. I also learned that checking the hardware compatibility list (HCL) was more than just a good idea.

My attraction to computers and Linux grew to the point where I became a Linux evangelist. In 1996, I started the local Linux Users Group (still going and growing today). By 1998, I was teaching Linux all around the city for large and small companies. I even taught a class to a group of people who were going to provide telephone support to Linux users worldwide.

If it weren't for the availability of Linux-based operating systems like Slackware, Red Hat, Caldera and Debian (the early ones), you might not have this blog to read now. Linux has taught me to understand computer systems more thoroughly. It's through the use of GNU/Linux systems that I can attribute much of my career success as a technical writer and as a support engineer today.

I think GNU/Linux systems are superb teaching tools. My students learned more about computers in a single Linux class than they did in all their overpriced MCSE classes combined.

And your greatest learning comes from logging into the system with a terminal window and digging around not from pointing and clicking your way through an operating system. The GUI is simply a dumbed-down version of the command line. If you're really into learning, you'll have to do it at the command line.

What do you think? Do you think Linux has enhanced your learning of computers and operating systems? Let us know about your experiences.

ompaul110 0 Newbie Poster

I've been having fun on the command line, first shell (FreeBSD in 1993), X November that year. Used that until about 00, then I got into GNU/Linux. Since 93 I have preferred Free as in Freedom to Costless or Costly!
A funny thing happened a few years later, gNewSense. ;-)
My advise is simple, use the freedom to enable your ambitions, you are not owned by anyone else!
Paul O'Malley

cbleslie 0 Newbie Poster

Linux systems are perfectly productive, and to say to the contrary is insulting to my hard work. I am an artist, designer, and web developer, and I work exclusively on a Linux system.

The work-flow is different. Yes, your hands will get dirty. Id est: For my batch photo processing on a Linux system, yes, it helps to know a little shell scripting, but it all widens your skill set. But tell me this, do you know one designer who doesn't wish they could program, even a little bit? No. I thought so.

From my end, after switching from Windows, to OSX, and then finally (there is no going back now :) ) to and Ubuntu based system; being a productive artist is all a matter of knowing your tools, accepting the change in work-flow, and not being lazy/afraid about tackling the tasks you were once accustomed to doing one way.

I have come to learn that if your a Linux user, your limitations are only bound by your ability to learn.

asphy 0 Newbie Poster

I think productivity gain is very much dependent upon what you're doing with the system. As a programmer, network engineer and sysadmin (isn't it always the way at small companies, general dogsbody would be closer!!) I honestly don't think I could get my days work done without my trusty Ubuntu desktop in front of me. I could probably get by with a good OSX install, Windows? nah...

Believe me, I did give Windows7 a very good go. I tried and tried to work with it (and I have to say, its not that bad once you turn off all the useless "making your pc easier" cludge) but at the end of the day my productivity fell, dramatically. Finding good tools for it was a chore, without aptitude even more so! Using the command line was a chore, the list is endless..

Then again, that's how I use my computer, for others I'm sure it may be the other way around ;)

khess 95 Practically a Master Poster

I'm not discounting your work. It's just that for beginning users, Mac is most productive followed by Windows and then by Linux. But, that is changing rapidly with Fedora 13 and Ubuntu 10.04. It won't be long until Linux surpasses the competition for learning and productivity.

cbleslie 0 Newbie Poster


Agreed. I figure in 5 years, with distros that push for a bi-annual release cycle, you will have a great desktop experiance for anyone/everyone to enjoy.

Although one could argue (hardware/install issues aside) for your average user*, the difficulty curves are about on par with OSX when considering the UI Gnome in upcoming next release of Ubuntu.

As an aside: I think all that Linux really needs right now is a rigorous set of UI standards, that the software consuming community should expect from it's developers. This in full force, everything else will fall into place.

*Average = What the current, non-tech/non-art student is actively doing right now. Web browsing, photo management, word processing, etc.

blacksmith_tb 0 Newbie Poster

I don't disagree with the general idea - if you want to learn more about how your computer actually does things, Linux or BSD are a great way to go. But I think it would be fair to say that the great bulk of users just want to write emails and watch youtube videos, and don't really care how the magic happens (unless it stops happening). A fair comparison is a car - knowing how the engine works will actually contribute a bit to the experience of driving, but most drivers will remain blissfully ignorant, because they don't need to know.

Brotherred 0 Newbie Poster

I have learned far more from GNU+Linux than I ever would on Windows. But is that do to the high learning curve of GNU+Linux or the deliberate obfuscation of technology that has made Microsoft such a success? I firmly believe it is that latter and can only be made better by the spread of technology has a whole. The initial learning curve to GNU+Linux or any technically fundamental topic just should not be so high.

jamestreee 0 Newbie Poster

My wife actually prefers Ubuntu over Windows XP, Vista or 7. She's not a developer or engineer, and does not care at all about how/why it works 'under the hood.' All she cares about is that it does what she needs done. Ubuntu gives her that. In fact, I accidentally left her computer booted to Windows for something I was doing with ASP.NET and she was like 'huh, what the heck is THIS crap!? Fix it!' By 'Fix it' she meant booting it into Ubuntu. As soon as I did that, she was able to get on with life. When I installed Ubuntu on her machine (at her request), she hit the ground running and did not feel any sort of sting from a learning curve.

I've been a Linux lover for several years, and never attempted to 'preach' it to her or (hardly) anyone. Yet, many people that have come over to my house and see what I do (not necessarily in the command line, but in both Gnome and KDE), and I've ended up installing it on THEIR machines as well.

Linux is NOT harder; it is just different. Just like driving a pickup truck is NOT harder than driving a car - it's just different. Now as for Macs, I've no use for that junk. If someone were to GIVE me a 'Smack-n-toss,' er, I mean Macintosh, I would say 'No thank you;' I wouldn't even waste my time dumping OSX and installing a different OS. It would still have that wretched Apple logo. By the way, if you find yourself in 'Jobstown,' remember - do NOT drink the Koolaid...

ultimaOS 0 Newbie Poster

I agree with the author. Having spend countless hours with linux and windows, i finally switched to MAC. Linux is too geek-required to be productive at any point, the apps provided in linux are very amaturish (3 star kinda apps), getting it to work with certain wifi in notebooks is hell and compiz is just shallow hal.
Windows have the biggest choice of applications, very high class of UI apps .
However, MAC rules when it comes to longer usage due to the minimal time wasted on Antiviruses, defragging and no crazy Windows update.

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