The past year was a tempestuous one in the world of desktop operating systems, it seems fair to say, with big changes occurring in just about all of the major contenders.
Most notably, we saw a raft of mobile-inspired features being brought onto the desktop, sometimes to a chilly reception among users.
If you're wondering--or perhaps even fearing--what other changes 2012 will bring to your desktop, this may be a good time to take matters into your own hands and choose a system that puts you in control.
The system I'm referring to, of course, is Linux. It's probably already on your phone. Here are just a few reasons you should give the free operating system a try on your desktop as well.
1. It's Diverse
Detractors like to refer to Linux's diversity as a “fragmentation problem,” but in fact it's one of its greatest strengths. Users have countless Linux distributions to choose from, whether it's one like Mint or Ubuntu that puts usability at the forefront, or one like Fedora with numerous enterprise-focused features and extra security. There are even flavors focused on specific industries and niches. There's something for everyone in the world of Linux, and it's increasingly cross-platform as well.
2. It's Customizable
Not only can you choose the particular Linux distribution you use, but one of the hallmarks of Linux is that it's also highly customizable. Don't like Ubuntu's new Unity desktop or Mint's GNOME 3? No problem--there are many others to choose from, and your pick can be easily installed. There's no vendor lock-in here to dictate how you must use your computer.
3. It's Open Source
A big part of Linux's flexibility, of course, derives from the fact that it's open source software. That means that no other entity controls the code--any developer or user can see and modify the code as they see fit. A world of custom tweaks and apps is before you, in other words.
4. It's Free
Linux doesn't cost anything, it's true, unless you choose a commercial option with paid support. But it's also free from patents and other restrictions that determine how it can be used. Free and open source is a really good combination, because it means you're in control. The free price is really just icing on the proverbial cake.
5. It's Reliable
There's a reason Linux has such a stronghold in the server world -- many, actually -- but one of the biggest is its reliability. When you're on Linux, you won't even remember all those hours of productivity lost to crashes and downtime.
6. It's Fast
Linux tends to require much less in the way of hardware resources than other operating systems do, and there are even distributions designed with a small footprint as a primary goal. The result is that it's generally really fast -- even on older hardware. Will you miss the hardware-upgrade treadmill? Didn't think so.
7. It's Secure
Windows is the most targeted operating system for viruses and other malware, thanks primarily to the fact that it's still the one that's most widely used. No operating system is perfectly secure, of course, but in the Linux world malware is a rarity for many reasons, and there are extra-secure distributions available as well if that's a priority for you.
8. It's Well-Supported
Besides all the many paid support options for Linux users today, there are also countless ways to get help for free through the active community of users and developers that surrounds most distributions. Ask and ye shall receive, as the saying goes.
9. It's Always Improving
Along similar lines, the communities that tend to surround Linux distributions also tend to keep improving them continuously, both with new features and by zapping any vulnerabilities quickly. No more waiting months for patches to come your way.
10. It's Compatible
Not only does Linux tend to be compatible with users' needs, but it tends to offer much better interoperability than proprietary operating systems do. If you ever collaborate with people in other companies or parts of the world, your best bet is an operating system committed to supporting international standards rather than proprietary ones.
The Linux world has seen its own share of upheaval over the past year, primarily due to the new desktop environments that have been introduced. What people sometimes forget, however, is how easy it is to bypass those changes and simply install what you want.
No operating system is perfect, of course, but when it comes to giving users control of their computing environments, Linux takes the proverbial cake.