5 reasons to use Linux in 2020

Here's a look back at the year so far and a review of what you need to know about Linux in 2020.
149 readers like this
149 readers like this
How Linux got to be Linux: Test driving 1993-2003 distros

Internet Archive Book Images. Modified by Opensource.com. CC BY-SA 4.0

Some of the best technology is a moving target. When technology stagnates, society tends to outpace and outgrow it. Linux, the widely used open source operating system (OS), is a foundational technology and the basis for some of the most progressive modern computing ideas. So, while it's startlingly unchanged after three decades of development, it also allows adaptation. As a result, Linux is in a unique position of being both a sound investment in skills because it doesn't change and a seemingly eternal driving force for new skills to learn.

The year 2020 has been a strange one—by any measure—but for Linux, it's been a typical development cycle. Here's a look back at the year so far and a review of what you need to know about Linux in 2020.

ZFS on Linux

The ZFS filesystem offers integrity checking for data and metadata, redundancy with mirroring, support for up to 256 trillion yobibytes of storage, hardware-accelerated native encryption, and efficient replication. ZFS is a Sun Microsystems innovation that, unfortunately, has a license that prohibits it from being bundled with Linux by default. However, the OpenZFS group has ported the project to BSD and Linux so that you can run ZFS on anything from your laptop to your data center.

Getting started with ZFS is surprisingly simple on Fedora Linux, as Sheng Mao demonstrates in his article on setting up ZFS on Linux.

Linux interrupts

No matter how familiar you are with Linux, there's always an opportunity to dive deeper and discover how it achieves what it does so well. Computers running stock markets, digital film studios, audio workstations, and other performance-intensive tasks need real-time processing, while other computers can afford to be a little lazy when processing requests, and it's no small task to manage the myriad loops happening on a computer at any given millisecond. Understanding how and why the Linux kernel manages interrupt requests (IRQs) may not be vital to the everyday user, but it's a fascinating study no matter what you do on computers. Read Stephan Avenwedde's article "How the Linux kernel handles interrupts" to learn more.

Linux in your pocket

Since Google's Android OS runs on a Linux kernel, many of us technically have Linux in our pockets. As comforting as that might be, Android's smooth Java frontend doesn't always provide the Linux feeling many Linux users long for. And some users don't have an Android phone at all.

The good news is that you can use Linux on your Android or iOS device, complete with a terminal, Bash, Python, a package manager, and all the other things you love about your favorite open source desktop OS.

If you're on Android, read my article about Termux. And if you're on iOS, read Lee Tusman's excellent article about running a Linux command line on your iOS device.

New commands on Linux

Time marches on, and sometimes the old, quaint commands of yesteryear are insufficient for modern systems. Although your muscle memory may cling to commands like crontab and ifconfig (and iwconfig and wpa_supplicant), there are perfectly good replacements for these and more. If you can't bring yourself to abandon your old commands, get familiar with Bash aliases because these new commands are worth learning.

  • Drop ifconfig for nmcli. Look, at some point, you have to admit that the unholy combination of ifconfig plus iwconfig and a foray into wpa_supplicant (which you secretly dropped long ago in favor of wicd anyway) just isn't efficient. Linux uses nmcli now, and it's become a highly usable, sometimes even intuitive way to interface with your network. Read Dave McKay's excellent nmcli tutorial.
  • Cronjobs, at, and batch are uniquely timeless commands that probably ought never be replaced. They're great for quick and simple scheduling, but for complex jobs, you might find some features you like in a supplement to them: systemd timers. David Both provides an extensive systemd timers tutorial that demonstrates how to write and monitor your important custom system tasks.
  • gcore and gdb are important debuggers that developers may be familiar with. A new take on gcore functionality is Microsoft's ProcDump, which obtains a core dump of a process ID (PID) so that you can analyze it with gdb. It's more an alternative than a replacement, but it's worth trying if you're curious about different tools. Read Guarav Kamathe's ProcDump tutorial for more information.

The cloud runs on Linux

As "the cloud" continues full steam ahead, Linux remains its main driving force. The cloud is a collection of computers (nodes) with a massively distributed filesystem (such as Ceph), and it's commonly managed with Kubernetes ("KOO-burr-net-eez"] or OpenShift.

Regardless of how well you know Linux on your laptop or desktop or even in your private data center, there's a whole new world of Linux experimentation available in containers running on the cloud. It can take some adjustment to learn how to get comfortable in an ephemeral container, but with some practice and a little context, you can build some interesting systems and then orchestrate them (that is, cause them to update, scale, and perform as needed) with Kubernetes.

Jiaqi Liu wrote one of the best overviews of the cloud workflow in "A beginner's guide to Kubernetes container orchestration." Read it, and then download Chris Collins' Kubernetes eBook to build your own cloud at home on a Raspberry Pi cluster.

Open source growth

Linux users relish the consistency and stability of Linux, and it's a testament to the original Unix system design that the OS can stay the same while also pushing its boundaries into exciting new forms of technology. Part of the fun of Linux and open source is the sense of discovery you get when you start learning a new command and the sense of accomplishment when it works to make your life easier. Take a look at the latest Linux developments, and get started with something new today!

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Seth Kenlon
Seth Kenlon is a UNIX geek, free culture advocate, independent multimedia artist, and D&D nerd. He has worked in the film and computing industry, often at the same time.

15 Comments

I'm always learning something new from you. Really interesting. I had no idea you could run Linux on an iPhone. I have to check that out.

So many years now, waiting for Linux to mature on the Desktop. Waiting now for the Appimage, Flatpak & Snap dilemma to be sorted. Hopefully Wayland will be ready one day, to handle the many new screen display options.
Meanwhile, still on Windows, like most desktop users. Android, including Chrome OS, are now appearing to challenge the main users of home & educational computers. Can Linux keep up with the accelerating changes happening in the Windows & Android worlds?

I guess I've been doing things incorrectly for the last 25 years of running Linux on the desktop. Still if Windows works for you, so be it. Unfortunately, I have to run Windows at work, and I am constantly amazed at how primitive the Windows interface is. No mulitple desktops, only one item in the clipboard, effectively only a single user machine, etc.

I work in a college, where we have Windows computers in a pool for students and teachers have Windows laptops (we can't wean them of ppt). Most students BYOD, mostly phones, a split of about 55% Android and 45% iOS. Students seem to do everything IT wise on phones successfully. They must have good eyes but not for long I suspect. I can barely see what is on a mobile phone screen.

In reply to by Greg Zeng

I suggest you give Linux as a desktop a fair go. Like any change from one OS to another, it takes some getting used to at first, but it quickly starts to feel natural, and then you start to notice all the cool things Linux does that the others don't, and then you're spoilt. Desktop Linux is a wonderful place to be; I can't imagine using anything else.

In reply to by Greg Zeng

Linux has gotten a lot better as a desktop replacement for Windows and OS X in the past few years. One handy aspect with Appimage, Flatpak and Snap is that if you must, you can have all 3 and I haven't seen any performance hit. I am using Pop! OS which comes with Flatpak but there is one application available in Snaps-only that I install Snap for only.

There are GUIs to cover just about everything so I don't have to use the command line, but I do out of preference and sometime the GUI is more cumbersome.

When I installed Windows 10 (years ago) my overall thought was "Windows is getting more Linux-like"; the installation worked, the generic drivers were at least usable (with a few gotchas) and they were looking to have rapid update releases (1-2 per year).

Cloud-based apps that use the browser have been growing and likely to continue with the current Work From Home situation. The popularity of Chromebooks, especially in school, hasn't hurt things either.

Cloud solutions has been my great equalizer. So long as I have a browser I can manage my base level of productivity regardless of the system. And then more apps are going (true) cross-platform (not just Windows, OS X and Android "cross-platform").

It all depends on what you use the computer for. I keep Windows around for games. My wife has an application that is Windows-only. Right now I am in work using my Linux desktop. YMMV. :)

In reply to by Greg Zeng

Had every chance to mention LineageOS or even ubports but didn't... Android suffers from a lot of vulnerabilities and while it's improved over time, It's still in all regards a GOOGLE product. LineageOS and the recent rise of legitimate pure Linux distros intended for phones such as postmarketOS, Mobian, PureOS (et al) at least do Linux the right way for the same platform.

I have a Desktop Computer, I call Video Editing Beast. Ont the M2 drive, I have Linux Mint 20 Uylana Cinnamon and Ubuntu Studio. On a SSD I have in the System, I have Windows 10 Pro Installed. I use Linux Mint about 85 % of the time, Ubuntu Studio to do my Video Editing, and Windows 10 Pro, less that 2 % of the my computer time.

Why bother keeping Win 10 then? You could test drive another distro in the space that occupies. BTW, Im also on Mint Ulyana Cinnamon as my main workhorse, but also messing with a couple of Arch derivatives, as well as getting my own Vanilla Debian to where I'd like it to be.

In reply to by Palladini

I'm starting development now and I want to start on Linux, for someone new to Ubuntu is really the best option?
Thanks

Ubuntu is a great option, because it's easy to use and stays up-to-date with the latest libraries (within reason).

Ultimately, I believe the best Linux is the one that works for you. I mean that pretty literally: load a distribution onto your computer -- if everything works as expected, go with it. If not, try a different one. You probably have already heard of the popular ones to try: Ubuntu, Fedora, Elementary, Pop_OS, Debian.

In reply to by Vaneska Sousa

Hi,
Very useful and nice article
Thanks a lot

Awesome article Seth!
This is top notch and full of very useful information!

One thing I want to add is the use of Linux on the edge. This will be a big thing this coming years specially for AI/ML type of use cases.

> Linux uses nmcli now, and it's become a highly usable, sometimes even intuitive way to interface with your network.

This is incorrect. NetworkManager's `nmcli` isn't available - by default - on many distros. The actual replacement for 'ifconfig' is in fact the iproute2 package with `ip`.

Great point.

I didn't mean to imply that nmcli was a literal replacement for ifconfig, only that a user might want to consider using it instead. In fact, ifconfig itself is still available on most Linux distributions, so the ip command itself isn't even required. They're just nice alternatives.

In reply to by Xanderificnl

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