Is there a perfect operating system (OS) for software development? According to some, Linux might just be as close as you can get.
Let's take a quick look at what Linux has to offer and suggest some great Linux distributions (distros) that you might want to check out for yourself.
What is Linux?
Since you're actually reading this article, chances are you already have an idea of what Linux is. But for the uninitiated, Linux is a type of an operating system just like Windows, iOS, macOS, etc.
It is a very popular OS. In fact, the Android operating system is built on top of the Linux kernel, so you could say that the Linux kernel is the foundation on which Android is built. But Linux also powers many other internet and business servers, including numerous stock exchanges around the world. It has been around since the mid-1990s, give or take. Linux is literally everywhere today.
It is widely considered one of the most reliable, stable, and secure operating systems too. In fact, many software developers choose Linux as their preferred OS for their projects. It is important, however, to point out that the term "Linux" only really applies to the core kernel of the OS.
One of the most important aspects of Linux is the fact that it is open source. This means that the code used to create it is free and available to the public to view, edit, and even contribute to its development (if you are skilled enough).
Linux is similar to other operating systems you might be used to, like Windows and macOS, etc. It comes with a graphical interface, and even has versions of common software you are probably accustomed to like word processors, photo editors, video editors, etc.
But as the core pieces of it are generally open-source, Linux differs from other operating systems. There are also many distros of Linux available that include different software options.
What this means in practice, is that the operating system, unlike many of its competitors, is incredibly customizable. Many different aspects of it, not just applications, can be swapped out and experimented with to suit your specific needs and tastes.
Linux users can also choose core components, for example, which system displays graphics and whatnot.
It is important to note, however, that the term "Linux" is a little misleading. Technically speaking, any Linux operating system consists of a combination of the GNU software with a Linux kernel. The former is actually a standalone operating system that was originally designed to be a replacement for Unix.
"GNU is an acronym for "GNU’s Not UNIX!". It is a replacement for UNIX and contains no UNIX based code. Also, this operating system contains an extensive collection of software." - pediaa.com.
For the remainder of the article, we will refer to GNU/Linux as simply Linux for brevity. You should also be made aware that the use of either of these acronyms alone is something of a controversial subject.
Is Linux good for developers?
As we have already touched upon above, Linux is widely considered one of the best operating systems around. This is especially true for software programmers.
Your choice of the operating system, as we described in a previous article, will ultimately depend on your personal taste, software development environmental needs, etc.
However, there is a vast swathe of programmers who swear by the benefits of Linux over its competitors. This is for various reasons, but arguments tend to praise its open-sourced nature and its overall user-friendly ecosystem.
Some of the main reasons programmers love Linux are as follows.
1. You can't get any cheaper than free
Linux, being open-source, is free to download and install on your computer. This makes it great for software developers, whether they are a hobbyist, student, aspiring programmer, or a professional.
Since you don't have any financial upfront costs, the only cost to you is gaining an understanding of it. Of course, this excludes the cost of getting your hands on a Linux-compatible computer (which is fairly common).
Most of the software for it is also open-source, which is a nice bonus.
2. Linux is easy as pie to install (usually)
If you have never built a computer from scratch, chances are you have never had to install an operating system yourself. Thankfully, installing Linux is relatively straightforward -- you don't need to be a seasoned IT professional (though that helps).
It isn't that much different from installing a software program in Windows. Another benefit is that you can also keep any existing operating system, like Windows, by using a dual-boot option.
Though, some Linux distros can require a bit more technical knowledge. Consider yourself warned.
3. If you love to customize stuff, Linux is for you
Linux is an ideal operating system for those who love to tinker and customize. Being open-source, pretty much every element of it can be played around with, from the GUI to the core kernel.
You will have near-absolute freedom to play around with different options and you won't have to worry about any legal ramifications. In fact, you normally aren't required to agree to any user license agreement.
4. Linux has great support for most programming languages
Generally speaking, if a programming language isn't limited to a specific operating system, like Visual Basic for Windows, it should work on Linux. But do a proper research first to make sure.
If you do run into support issues, you can usually get your hands on the required packages from Linux's distribution repositories.
5. Linux has a ton of apps to choose from
Linux has a lot of great supported apps that are handy for many programmers. While you could just write your code using a simple text file, Linux has some very useful, and time-saving, text editors to make your life a lot easier.
By default, you get apps like Gedit and Kate. These are usually all you need, but you can also get your hands on Emacs, nano, and Vim, which can be used inside of a terminal. Not to mention Atom, of course.
You can also take the nuclear option and go with a full-blown integrated development environment (IDE) with Linux as well.
6. May we introduce to your programmer lord and savior, Bash scripting?
If you need to program something a bit more specific and don't need to care about the language, you can "Bash script" using Linux's commands. A Bash script is a plain text file which contains a series of commands. Linux comes with these commands as standard, but you can also install others if needed. These are incredibly efficient, not to mention powerful, and many Linux-loving programmers prefer to practice their trade in the terminal.
"With a Bash script, you can put commands together to create more complex combinations. For example, someone managing a mailing list can create a script that merges lists of subscribers, removes duplicates, and formats it so that other programs can read it." - makeuseof.com.
7. Learning to use Linux can land you a great job
Linux is a great option if you simply live and breathe programming. But most of us need to pay the bills, too.
This is where learning to use Linux can actually improve your employability in the market. Experience in using Linux is a very desirable skill for many high-paying positions.
Whether your prospective job will require you to manage a company's server, or develop their cloud-based services, potential employers are crying out for people who know the ins and outs of Linux.
Even if you have no real ambition to become a Linux-legend, having some basic functional knowledge of it will give you a competitive edge as a programmer.
What have you got to lose?
Is Linux hard to learn?
Like anything in life, just how easy, or difficult something is for that matter, is determined by your personal experience, dedication, and willingness to learn. After all, how long did it take you to get used to Windows, macOS/iOS, Android, etc?
The operating system is actually fairly simple to learn. But this comes with a caveat -- it helps if you have some experience with technology as well as learning syntax and basic commands of an operating system.
One of the best ways to get to grips with Linux is to develop some projects using it. This will help accelerate your grasp of Linux.
As previously discussed, learning the syntax is key. You will also need to develop a knowledge of the basic commands.
Simply put, start using it and practice, practice, practice. If you are a newbie to Linux, here are some of the basic steps you need to master the OS.
Is Linux necessary for programming?
In short no, but it is very popular among programmers for various reasons. Unless, of course, you want to join, say, RedHat or be a developer using Linux -- in which case it is a must.
For everybody else, there are some distinct advantages of Linux over other OSs. We have covered some of them above, but other advantages of Linux over competitor operating systems are as follows:
- Linux tends to come with most of the compilers and interpreters you'll need to get the job done. Other operating systems, like Windows, usually do not.
- If Linux doesn't have the compilers you need, you can usually get them from the OS's command line. Example commands include "yum install " or "apt-get install".
- Linux tends to contain the best suite of low-level tools like sed, grep, awk piping, and so on. Tools like these are used by programmers to create things like command-line tools, etc.
- Many programmers who prefer Linux over other operating systems love its versatility, power, security, and speed.
- Linux has a massive community to help you out if you get stuck for any reason. They are, usually, very patient with novices, but prepare yourself for some light-hearted banter.
- The operating system also comes with a handy, built-in package manager.
- The ability to customize Linux with any of its different distros is great for tailoring the OS to your needs.
- Error messages on other operating systems, like Windows or macOS, for example, tend to be less than helpful. On Linux, you can usually find the solution from someone else who has solved it. If not, just ask the community support staff.
- One great thing about Linux is that you can often automate many repetitive tasks using simple lines of code. For example, say you are learning C and want to create a new file, you can run some simple code to automatically create a file with the same syntax you use regularly.
Which Linux distro is best for software development?
If you are now sold on using Linux as a software developer, your next question might be which distribution is the most useful for your needs? As it turns out, there are quite a few options that will really set you up for a faster, smoother, more secure, and happier Linux-powered programming future.
But please bear in mind any choice of this kind is ultimately subjective by its very nature. That being said, you should look for the most secure, stable distros that offer a thriving support community, too.
By doing so, you will benefit from regular updates and loads of resources, such as official forums or wikis, as well as third-party resources like subreddits. Here are some of the most highly rated Linux distros.
1. Debian comes highly rated
The Debian distro is not only one of the most popular distributions around but it also forms the mother operating system for many other Linux distros. The reason for its popularity is the fact that it comes with a large number of packages aimed at stability and security.
For beginners in the world of Linux, it has an absolute ton of tutorials and other support on the net to solve many of the common issues you'll run into.
One important thing to remember with Debian is that if you want to use Linux to learn the nuances of coding, it might not be the best option for you. Better options include Ubuntu 20.04, Linux Mint, or Zorin.
2. Ubuntu is very good too
If you are into web development, Python, etc, then Ubuntu is probably one of the best Linux distros for you. Thanks to the support from the likes of Canonical and the open-source community, Ubuntu has also grown to become one of the shining lights of the Linux ecosystem.
A Debian derivative, Ubuntu is widely used in cloud and server applications today. This distro also comes in a variety of forms with different desktop environments and other features to suit most tastes.
Its huge user support community and polished user experience, not to mention regular Long-term Support (LTS) releases make this a great choice for software developers. It also supports the highly-rated .deb package management system.
3. CentOS is great for Red Hat development
Red Hat Enterprise Linux's (RHEL) free community edition CentOS is a great alternative to the premier RHEL. A lot of it is the same as the paid-for version of Linux by Red Hat with one crucial difference: it is free.
It is a highly stable Linux distro and also comes with the Developer Toolset, which offers a range of essential tools for most software developers. CentOS's Xen Virtualisation Platform also offers a way to compartmentalize your projects and run applications safely inside a virtual machine.
4. Pop!_OS is awesome for programmers
Pop!_OS is yet another great Linux distro. The difference with this one is that it was designed from the ground up to be programmer and maker-oriented.
It is based on Ubuntu and also features the very popular GNOME desktop environment that you will learn to love too. It comes with a ton of useful functions like handy keyboard shortcuts, a robust app store, and access to repositories such as TensorFlow (an open source machine learning platform).
Its great window management system and seamless switching between the integrated and dedicated graphics offer what many think is an unparalleled programming experience.
5. Fedora is favored by the creator of Linux's kernel, Linus Torvald
It comes with cutting edge features and is very popular among software developers around the world. This is because of its stability, up-to-date feature set, and awesome developer portal.
Fedora is also a neat alternative to Red Hat Enterprise Linux and comes with a multi-language IDE in Eclipse which can be used for things like PHP, Java, C, C++, and many more.
And that's a wrap.
Are you sold on switching to Linux for your software development needs? If so, enjoy the adventure you are about to depart on. If not, feel free to let us know why.