Opinion by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

If you want privacy you need to run Linux

Windows is unsafe by design, and macOS isn’t a lot better

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Opinion by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

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I recently bashed Windows for being too darn snoopy, but you know what? It’s not just Windows. Ever since Yosemite came out, Apple’s macOS has been just as untrustworthy. As for Chrome OS, Android and iOS, come on! They’re all built around cloud services; by design, they share everything you do with third-party services. What’s the answer? Desktop Linux.

With President Trump considering asking foreign visitors to disclose all websites and social media sites they visit and Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general pick, wanting cryptographic back doors, I think privacy is more important than ever.

True, I’ve been praising desktop Linux for ages, but privacy is a new reason to use it. In the past, while Windows had lousy security, at least it didn’t report into headquarters. Now it does. So do almost all operating systems.

Chrome OS and Android, for example, are Linux distributions, but they perform at full power only with an internet connection. Google makes its money from your information.

So if privacy really matters to you, you need an operating system that doesn’t broadcast your moves to the World Wide Web. For all practical purposes, that means desktop Linux.

Why? Because while you can certainly use cloud services such as Gmail or even Microsoft’s Office 365 on Linux, most Linux desktop apps live and work on your desktop.

These applications, such as the LibreOffice office suite, the Evolution email client and the GIMP image editor, are every bit as good as their Windows equivalents. If you do need a specific Windows application, chances are good that Wine 2.0, a set of Windows APIs that have been ported to Linux, will let you run your program on top of Linux. For example, Microsoft Office 2013 now runs on Linux with Wine.

If you think Linux is too hard to use, think again. Modern Linux distributions are as easy to use as Windows XP ever was. In particular, I like Linux Mint 18.1 with the Cinnamon desktop. Mint has everything that a traditional WIMP (windows, icons, menu and pointer) desktop should have. If you’ve used any desktop in the last 10 years, you’ll get up to speed with Mint quickly.

In addition, Linux is less prone to vulnerabilities than Windows. Windows 10 still gets its regular share of critical patches every month. I’m also not at all comfortable with Microsoft dropping its security bulletins in favor of a searchable database of support documents. I think that will make it much harder to know what’s wrong with Windows.

If you want even more security, and if you’re willing to go the extra mile to get it and you’re no ordinary desktop user, try hardened Linux desktop distributions such as Kali Linux, Qubes OS and Tails. Keep in mind, though, that what you do on the internet determines your level of privacy. If you post your every thought on Facebook, even Tails you can’t give you any real privacy to speak of.

Don’t get me wrong. Linux has its share of security problems, but there are far fewer of them. Still, as security guru Bruce Schneier wisely said, “Security is a process, not a product.“ With Linux, however, you’re starting from a more secure and private foundation.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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