Saturday, October 23, 2004

Linux, Linux, where for art thou linux?

Well, I finally did it. I have been saying I will do it for a long time now. But, I have hat it with security holes, corporate shananigans, monopoly and shaddy software. So, in the garbage can went my Windows XP partition.

I no longer have windows, or any Micro$oft product, installed on my laptop! I am currently running with the penguins! (The penguin is the official Linux animal.) For those of you who are a little liss software oriented, let me explain a little bit about Linux. It is based upon the Unix operating system. It is an operating system, just like Microsoft Windows XP, NT, etc. Except one small difference, Linux is free. How is that possible? Software is so expensive. Well, not when it is develepped as open source. This means the source is available for anyone to download for free. Not only that, if you dont like something about the software (or in the case of Linux itself, the operating system), you can download the source and change it through a complete sweet of programming tools. Yes, the tools are free also. What? Oh, it gest better. Linux, once installed, is ready to be used. It comes with a 3 different versions of office software, (compatible with Microsoft Office documents) completely free. Free email software. Free games. Free tools. Free servers. Free development environments. Free databases. Free compilers. If Linux was a kitchen, it would also make coffee... for free. How is this possible? Oh, and did I mention that the security features that come with Linux can turn your computer into a virtual Fort Knox.

Linux would not have been possible without the work started by Richard Stallman in 1984 from MIT. He developped a buch of applications that he called GNU (for GNU is Not Unix). These included a C compiler and libraries. Without GNU Linux would not have been possible. The GNU tools initially ran on Unix and made for a free alternative to compilers that were available commercially. These gained rapid popularity as they were open source and quickly gaining functionnality through an international group of programmers excited at the idea of robust, reliable and scalable free software. Then, in the 1990's, man named Linus Torvald thought it would be a great idea to continue this idea and build an entire operating system in open source.

Fast forward to the year 2004. There numerous Linux distributions available, Red Hat, Mandrake, Slackware, Suse, Edulinux, Gentoo and the list goes on and on. There are almost as many distribuitions as there are uses for them.

The two most populare distributions on the market right now are Red Hat Fedora (Core 2), and Mandrake Community 10.1. You can download them freely from their respective websites. Both of these install pretty much by themselves, I found the installation process to be simpler than installing microsoft. Each site will provide detailed installation instructions. And if you do encounter a problem, there are numerous website forums and mailing lists that will provide quick and easy reference to fix whatever issue might arise. A lot of the time, you can even email the programmer who built the application to see if he can help (and they will respond, the Linux community is very friendly and helpfull).

So it is all really that great? Well, yes an no. Yes, because I don't have to be worried about security all that much anymore. As long as I keep my distrobution up to date and hide behind a firewall, I am pretty safe. Specially since the threat of getting a virus is almost zero with linux. Most viruses these days are writen for Mac or Windows and will not affect Linux/Unix systems. It is also great because I find software to do almost everything I want for free. Its also great because I can run servers right off my machine, without installing extra software. Servers like email servers, ftp servers, web servers etc. You can do so with windows also, but be prepared to shell out TONS OF MONEY. Linux = free. Also, Linux takes a lot less resources from your processor to run, so expect a better performance from Linux than you would from other currently available.

But there is a downside. Not all hardware components are supported by Linux. After an entire week of running Linux, I have not figured out how to get my Wi-Fi card to work, but everything else, digital camera, sound card, video, ethernet card, cd burner, dvd player and mouse all worked with NO extra configuration. Oh, and did i mention I am running all of this on a laptop? Phenomenal. Another thing, there are some specific Microsoft things that you will not be able to do. Forget about visiting any specific websites such as MSN.COM who work exclusively on Internet Explorer. And you can forget about playing the latest computer games on Linux. But you can always keep a seperate partition on your hard drive and boot into the other operating system if you have special needs that cannot be met by Linux. (I suggest to any beginner to have 2 partitions, 1 for yoru current OS and one for Linux.)

But what about me? I am running Mac OS X Panther. Well guess what: you are already running Linux. *gasp* You don't have to do anything to take advantage of the Linux open source community. You just need to do a bit of reading. Apple, in a brilliant move, released its last OS on top of a LINUX kernel. More details are available on the Apple website.

I suggest to you all, to do a bit of research on Google and find out more about Linux.

Do not be scared to email me your questions if you do want to give Linux a test drive.

Be warned, Linux is not Windows. It is an operating system that is built by nerds for nerds. But as it continues to evolve, it is becoming simple enough to be used for desktop users and home PCs.

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