Wednesday, June 28, 2017

In praise of Linux

I am not saying I want to proselytise or anything. I completely understand Windows users; after all, I was a happy Windows user myself until they produced Windows 8. And if somebody is into gaming, for example, then Windows is the obvious choice. But I am really, really happy using Ubuntu now.

For starters, we do not have to worry about the most common cybersecurity issues, such as the Petya attack that is currently making the rounds. Admittedly neither my wife nor I would open a suspicious attachment anyway, but still, it is nice to know that everything that attacks the most common operating system is irrelevant to us.

More to the point of what I did this evening, I program a lot in Python these days. Well, for certain values of "a lot". I am obviously not a programmer, but the language is very useful for many tasks in science, from quickly reformatting a large data file to scripting complex analyses.

And the thing is, Windows makes it unnecessarily hard to use Python (or most programming languages, really). First, I need to install the language. Okay, perhaps understandable. But then I need to figure out how to tell Windows to look for Python in the Python folder whenever I try to run a Python program. Then perhaps I need to install a specialist Python library like BioPython to run certain analyses, and that is where things really go downhill, because it usually doesn't install because some dependency is missing or whatnot.

Now compare the Linux variant Ubuntu. First, it comes with Python already installed. Second, it is clever enough to automatically access Python from any folder where you start a Python script. Third, Linux makes it really easy to install things on top of Python, because it is usually smart enough to recognise dependencies and install them also. In fact that is such an obvious advantage that it seems bizarre in retrospect that Windows won't do it.

Anyway, today I decided to spend the evening coding a simple script. I was able to just plop down in front of a computer that had Ubuntu installed two weeks ago, and I did not need to do anything in preparation. So. Nice.

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