Linux is a free and open-source operating system that is used by software engineers across the globe. Developers can be picky with the tools they use but Linux has remained an industry favorite for decades.
Software engineers use Linx because it gives them greater control over the operating system, is highly secure, free, and is faster than other operating systems. Around 25% of software engineers worldwide use Linux, making it the second most used OS behind Windows.
Let’s take a closer look at why Linux is so popular among software engineers and why after 30 years, it remains a firm choice of many programmers.
Why do software engineers use Linux?
Software engineers use Linux because it is a free, open-source operating system that is incredibly reliable and gives engineers total control with customizations. Around a quarter of all developers in the world use Linux as their operating system and it has only increased in popularity since its release in 1991.
Linux was developed by Linus Torvalds while he was a student at the University of Helsinki. It has since risen to become the largest installed operating system in the world. While Unix was proprietary software, Linux was developed as an open-source alternative and is maintained by developers across the globe.
Let’s take a look at 6 reasons why software engineers use Linux.
Reliability & Security
Linux is incredibly secure and reliable. Developers are constantly updating the operating system with fixes that present any security risks. Also, open-source versions of Linux are not widely used by the general public so very few viruses have been created for it.
Having a team of people constantly maintaining Linux coupled with fewer people trying to hack the system means its security is top-notch.
Linux is so reliable and secures that of the 1 million web servers today, 96.4% of them use it as their operating system.
Open source means technology is created and maintained by a community of people for free. Software engineers don’t have to pay a company to license and use Linux as they do with Windows or macOS.
The benefit of this means that Linux is continually updated and shared free of charge. You can also use open-source tools like Wine to run Windows applications on Linux – so you get the best of both worlds. I
If you want to make customizations to the open-source code you are free to do so. You have to do more legwork but developers are smart enough to realize the benefits and have the technical skills to minimize the time it takes to set stuff up.
Arguably the most important reason for software engineers using Linux is because of the level of control and customization it allows. It allows programmers to customize the operating system to their needs and be completely innovative in their approach.
As a software engineer, you can literally change any part of the operating system. From changing the desktop environment to removing the GUI, you are in the driving seat. Want to automate specific tasks or not have to deal with the Windows registry? Simple, use Linux.
One of the big annoyances for Windows and macOS users is the updates. These can take a long time and you have limited control over them. In contrast, Linux users control their updates and don’t have to worry about long interruptions.
There are multiple distributions of Linux which are essentially different variations of the platform. Software engineers are free to choose whichever one they like and make changes as they see fit. Developers pour in improving the platform in their free time, no wonder so many programmers are single!
This elasticity and ability to control every detail have proven incredibly popular with the programming community. Being a programmer can be tough, so it makes sense to use a platform that allows you to make your life easier.
Speed & resources
Not only is Linux faster than Windows and macOS but it also uses less of your computer’s resources. Less CPU usage means better battery life and an overall smoother user experience.
A typical Windows 10 installation will take up around 15 GB of storage space on your device. In contrast, the base installation of Linux takes up just 4GB. Windows and macOS machines also require more RAM to function properly – as new versions are released the hardware requirements continually increase.
Due to its lightweight nature, Linux works well on low-spec machines. It’s part of the reason why budget Chromebooks use a Linux-based operating system. In general, the more efficient an operating system is, the less taxing it is on your hardware.
So having something as economical and speedy as Linux makes it a no-brainer for many software engineers. Also because it is resource-light you can easily run it on a virtual machine on your Mac or PC.
Independence and interoperability
The major benefit of Linux is that it is platform-independent – running smoothly on phones, laptops, smart TVs, and even supercomputers. Its open-source nature means Linux can be easily ported to other architectures by any developer who wants to do so.
For software engineers looking to take advantage of the Internet of Things, and the smart home, using Linux makes total sense.
If you have used Windows before you know how difficult hardware compatibility can be. Downloading drivers for the hardware you buy is fairly commonplace on the Microsoft platform. With Linux, the majority of hardware is supported straight out of the box which means you can just plug and play.
Overall it just plays a lot nicer with Mac and Windows, and different pieces of hardware so the user experience is better.
Support and community
The Linux community is not a single monolith. Instead, each distribution such as Ubuntu or Fedora has their own community. Currently, Ubuntu has the largest community of software engineers associated with it which means releases and updates come more frequently. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, there’s likely a Linux developer on hand to help.
However, whichever distribution, or distro, you use will be widely supported. When you try to make customizations to an operating system there are always some hurdles. With the rich community-driven support that surrounds Linux, you are never far from help. Somebody will likely have run into the same issue as you and be able to answer your question.
macOS and Windows are proprietary systems so the inner workings are a black box. It means that there isn’t great support for bugs. In contrast, Linux systems are purpose-built to customize so the support around them is first-rate. If a bug is found developers from all around the world work together to fix and release it as soon as possible.
Is Linux necessary for programming?
Linux is not necessary for a career in programming and not all software engineers need to know Linux. Around a quarter of developers use Linux for programming but it does not make it essential learning for all software engineers. You should focus on learning the skills specifically for your area of development.
Programmers that make software for Windows will mostly use Windows. If you write software for Linux, you will primarily use Linux, the same is true for Mac. As a developer, you don’t have time to learn every language and platform in great depth. So it makes sense to focus on the things you use for your day-to-day job, which the majority of developers do.
If you plan on writing programs for Linux then it would be necessary to understand how the operating system works. But outside of that, it is largely irrelevant. A front-end developer isn’t going to need to know how to rebuild a Linux kernel, in the same way, they don’t need to know physics to code a front-end built around the topic. Even most back-end devs don’t delve into the inner workings of the operating systems they use.
Generally, if you intend to work in dev-ops you will need to understand how Linux works as nearly all servers use Linux as their operating system.
Make sure to get a firm grasp on the technologies you will be using on a daily basis first, then worry about how to tinker with your operating system. Unless it’s something you enjoy doing in your free time then fill your boots and enjoy!
Why do programmers prefer Linux?
There are several reasons why programmers prefer Linux:
- Open source: Linux is an open-source operating system, which means that its source code is freely available for anyone to study, modify, and distribute. This allows programmers to customize the system to their specific needs, and to contribute to the development of the platform itself.
- Command-line interface: It has a powerful command-line interface (CLI) that allows programmers to quickly and easily interact with the system, automate tasks, and perform complex operations. It provides a flexible and efficient way to work.
- Tools and packages: Linux has a vast array of development tools and packages available, including compilers, interpreters, text editors, and integrated development environments (IDEs). Many of these tools are open-source making it easy for programmers to get started without having to spend money on licenses.
- Stability and reliability: Linux is known for its stability and reliability, making it a popular choice for mission-critical applications. It is also less prone to viruses and malware than other operating systems which makes it more secure.
- Community support: Linux has a large and active community of users and developers, who are always willing to help and provide support. This community-driven development model means that bugs are often quickly fixed, and new features and improvements are regularly added to the platform.
Nathan Britten, the founder and editor of Developer Pitstop, is a self-taught software engineer with nearly five years of experience in front-end technologies. Nathan created the site to provide simple, straightforward knowledge to those interested in technology, helping them navigate the industry and better understand their day-to-day roles.