July 21, 2007

Many Linux users work with multiple OS platforms, survey finds

Author: Joe Barr

I recently received a new MacBook Pro running Mac OS X 10.4 from our corporate headquarters. The choice of platform was deliberate, driven by professional requirements for applications not available on Linux. Still, it has been a long time since I've run anything but Linux, and starting to use a different platform after all this time made me curious. I decided to conduct an informal poll among Linux users -- including notables like Linus Torvalds -- to see how their platform usage compared with mine.

I got the MacBook Pro because I needed video editing software a step up from that which is available for Linux. MainActor is no longer offered for sale, as the parent firm has refocused on developing codecs. The Kino project is active and improving, but it isn't yet on a par with commercial offerings. I chose Final Cut Express on the Mac rather than a Windows option for two reasons: the recommendation of a coworker and a pervasive distrust of Microsoft.

To see how others felt, I asked a local LUG mailing list:

If you consider Linux to be your primary platform of choice, then:

  1. Do you ever use Windows or Mac OS X?
  2. If you do, what do you use them for?
  3. If you don't, would you use them if that were the only way you could accomplish what you wanted to do on your computer -- for example, to play a particular game?

In addition to the mailing list members, I asked a few notables -- including Linus Torvalds -- directly. Here's what I learned.

Of the 21 users who responded, roughly 3/4 say they also use Windows, primarily for work-related purposes, but also for such diverse endeavors as gaming, photo editing, syncing their PDAs, OCR, and even text editing.

Only about 1/4 reported using Mac OS X, and the primary purpose for using it was job-related. The big surprise for me was that fewer than 15 percent said they use Linux exclusively.

These responses indicate a pragmatic bent to group, using the platform that fulfills their needs rather than sticking to Linux for political or philosophical reasons.

It probably comes as no big surprise that one of the Linux purists is Linus Torvalds himself. "Nope, I don't use either [Windows or Mac OS X]. OS X is kind of pointless (pretty much anything it has, Linux can do better) and Windows offers stuff that I don't much care about (mainly games -- and I've got games machines for those)."

At the other end of the spectrum was uberhacker H. D. Moore, who reported he used both Windows and Mac platforms regularly, in order to test against them with Metasploit. He said, "Running Wine just so I can use Windows exploits against my Linux box is just silly."

John Dierdorf, a longtime Linux user, provided this snapshot of how he mixes and matches Windows and Linux:

I have a KVM switch between my primary Linux desktop and my lonely XP box, and have no trouble (mechanical or moral) switching back and forth (or even using both simultaneously) depending on the job. Hard drives are shared via Samba. For example, I may edit a photo on the XP and switch over to Linux to incorporate it into a Web page or email it. (No email client on the XP box, and I only use a browser there in emergencies.) Many open source programs (Emacs, Vim, OpenOffice.org, Firefox, Perl, ImageMagick, ...) are on both boxes. Backups are to the other machine -- i.e., my Win files are backed up on the Linux box and vice versa.

A poll this small, with a sampling size of less than 25, is hardly scientific, but I do think it is safe to conclude that for most Linux users, platform choice is not a binary thing, but rather is driven by need. I would also venture to say that this represents something of a change from 10 years ago, when platform choices, whether for Windows, Linux, Apple, or whatever, seemed to be much more of an either-or thing. Perhaps it is a sign of the growing maturity of computer consumerism.

As for me, well, the Macbook Pro is not a bad piece of hardware, even if it does have a defective rodent. So I'm hard at work making it a dual-boot machine -- native Ubuntu and OS X -- so that when I'm on the road, and not doing video editing, I can use the platform I prefer rather than the one I need for work.


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