Editorial Feature - Looking At Linux
By Michael E, Callahan about six years ago
Part one of a four-part series on the Linux operating system.
Tucows Editorial Feature
Looking At Linux
by Michael E. Callahan aka Dr. File Finder
Alternatives. Options. Choices. People like having these things. Theability to decide for yourself. The right to have options when itcomes to surgery or software. To me that's what Linux really is.It's an alternative operating system. It's an optionthat's open to virtually everyone. And, it could be a choice youend up making. Over the next few weeks I'm going to look at the Linuxoperating system so you can see just what it is.
A Little History
Linux was created by Linus Torvalds in 1991 and the growthof Linux has been amazing ever since. Linux itself is free, many of theprograms are free, and much of the software for programmers is free.Linux has grown from a grass roots movement as the alternative toWindows. Programmers contributed to the operating system as well as tothe utilities and programs that ran on it. That led to the phenomenon of"Open Source" and all the great software that has come from that.It soon became obvious that in order to reach a broader market, Linuxwould have to some kind of support. Red Hat put out the firstcommercial version of Linux and it came with documentation as well astechnical support. That made Linux even more appealing to users who hadbeen afraid to try it previously.
Variations on a Theme
Linux is an operating system and it's an operating system thathas evolved through the input of countless individuals. An operatingsystem is the software that defines how all the other software behaveson a computer. Other operating systems you may have heard of mightinclude DOS, Windows, UNIX, Macintosh, BE, and OS/2. In some ways theLinux operating system is like other operating systems, but in some keyways it's very different.
Linux behaves like, and is very similar to, UNIX. UNIX isused on many large computers because it's very stable. It also has veryloose hardware demands so it's easy to run on a wide range ofconfigurations. Linux was designed to run on PC's and in fact,it takes advantage of your computers design so you get maximumperformance. Another interesting thing about Linux is that it'sfree! There are many variations of Linux that you can find onthe Internet and download. Keep in mind that some of the files arevery large, but there are also versions of Linux that will runoff a CD. Pretty slick really.
Until recently nearly all PC manufacturers only put Windows on thecomputers they sold. The movement behind Linux, however, got theinterest of some big companies, like IBM. Another company to startutilizing Linux was Compaq and both companies started selling computersthat came with Linux, not Windows, installed. That was a major stepforward. And, as more and more people and companies developed aninterest in Linux, the more "versions" there seemed to be. If you'vebeen wandering around the Internet you may have heard about, or seen adsfor, variations of Linux like:
Linux is free. Variations like Ubuntu plan to always befree. The backers of some variations, like Mandriva charge amodest fee, like $99, so they can support the product. To me that's notat all unreasonable. If you consider that Vista Ultimate can costup to $400.00, Linux is very reasonable.
Linux, regardless of version, is really optimized. It'sgreat at networking, it's great a multitasking, it's great at utilizinghard disk space and memory. It's been designed to take advantage of theIntel and AMD processors so that a computer functions more efficiently.There are also versions that support 64-bit. Linux is on the move andlets take a quick look at why it is.
One of the biggest factors driving the Linux phenomenon is the factthat it's roots are based in the Open Source movement. "OpenSource" means that the source code for a program is available and it'savailable for free. You can download it, alter it, and turnaround and sell your own version of it. This is all handled under GPL orGeneral Public License. Without trying to get anyone confused, OpenSource is free, but it's not freeware, it's not shareware, and it'snot "public domain." Every GPL software package has to providethe source code for free. All of this fits in perfectly with Linuxitself. Programmers and others work to make not only Linux software, butLinux itself, better and better. Because it's constantly changing, andconstantly getting input from users like you, it becomes more solid,more friendly, more appealing.
I've installed versions of Red Hat, Mandriva, Xandros, Ubuntu, andothers into "virtual machines" that I've created with VMware. Evenrunning in a virtual machine all of the versions of Linux I've tried areimpressive. Fast, efficient, and with lots of software to pick from.
Summing It Up!
In 27 years in this industry I've seen a lot of changes. I've seen a lotof software. I've seen a lot of miraculous things, but I've seen veryfew phenomenons. That's really what Linux is, and it'sworth investigating. It's a way to get a free operating systemand free software that's constantly being improved. Not every fiveyears, but continually. Many variations of Linux release major upgradesevery six (6) months. Impressive!
During the next three weeks I'll be looking at Xandros,Ubuntu, and Mandriva. I hope you'll join me. I'm soimpressed by all the variations of Linux that I've tried that I'mseriously contemplating installing a version of Linux on my maincomputer. Linux is worth looking into and I'll show you why.