Although Linux has made it into the vocabulary of average people, many don’t know anything about it. They might know that it’s an alternative to Windows, but not why they should consider it. Sometimes the reasons get lost or confused in the din of over-enthusiastic FLOSS supporters … We’re kind of intimidating
In this article I’ll provide fact-based information addressing specific weaknesses in other operating systems (mostly Windows) and the related strengths in Linux.
Today, I’ll focus on security, which addresses the operating system’s ability to prevent unauthorized people from accessing or controlling your computer.
In the early days of home computing, all we had was a command line. We could only run one program at a time, the only person with access to the files was the person sitting in front of it, and the web wasn’t even a thought. This was DOS. There were a few different brands, but the most common one was MS-DOS. The “MS” stood for… you guessed it… Microsoft.
Microsoft Windows has evolved from MS-DOS and it’s single-user roots are still evident. Windows has changed a lot to meet modern requirements, but mistakes have lead to critical system vulnerabilities and even problems for legitimate users (See User Account Control Criticism – Wikipedia). It’s an ongoing battle that Microsoft continues to fight because the underlying design encourages an insecure single-user paradigm. As features are added, problems are created that need to be fixed.
On the other hand, Linux (properly named “The GNU/Linux Operating System”) is based on Unix, a secure, multitasking operating system designed to be run by multiple users on a network. Although the Linux source is entirely independent of Unix, the same security model and multi-user paradigm was implemented. (See Overview of the GNU System)
Mac OS X is also based on Unix and implements most, if not all, of the security benefits described for Linux.
An example of these differences can be found in the typical software installation process. On a Windows system, software is installed in a central location for all users and application configuration settings are stored in the same central registry that has the operating system settings. When changes to these critical system files are required, the average user only needs to click on a button to accept the changes. On a Linux system, an average user can’t change any critical system files and can install new software to their home directory without affecting other users.
In terms of security, Linux is better than Microsoft Windows because the Linux security model originates from a multi-user paradigm while Microsoft Windows retains the basic complications of its single-user origin.