What is it?
When our kids see this they immediately think of Pingu, the famous penguin of TVO. When those of us in the industry see this, we think of Linux, the lean and mean UNIX clone available on the 'net. Linux is more efficient and more stable than the commercial PC operating system counterparts, and it is also efficient for the pocketbook. You can get it on CD with plenty of other great software for much less than you would expect to pay for MSFT Windows XP. See Red Hat , S.u.S.E for details on purchasing on CD. Or, pick an alternative distribution at Distro Watch. You can also download it from one of the MetaLab mirrors.
If you buy the Windows CDs, Microsoft goes through great pains to make sure that you install it on only one machine. If you use it on multiple machines, you need to buy multiple licenses from Microsoft. If you paid $500 for that XP Pro set, likely you will be paying $5000 for all ten machines in your office.
On the other hand, if you buy the Linux CD set, you get to install it on as many computers as you like. You can even loan the set to your friends and have them all, copy/install the CDs, and its totally legal, even encouraged. That is because the Linux copyright and license agreement actually is designed to protect you the user, not some multi-billionaire technology baron. The Linux agreement even encourages you to modify, improve, and distribute your own version if you like. Bug fixes typically happen quite quickly in this kind of a world, so that is one of the reasons that Linux viruses are almost unheard of. With Linux, for those ten machines, you will be paying a grand total of $80.
Linux is being used in a number of settings which may surprise some people. Like in the movies for example. The film Titanic used Linux extensively for its computer imagery. As well, NASA has created clusters of PCs running Linux as a supercomputer. These Beowulf clusters are being used for scientific calculations everywhere. The largest Beowulf to date purportedly involved 512 PCs which included multi-CPU Alpha AXPs running at >600Mhz -- very cool.
The number of unit sales of Linux CD's were close to the number of sales of Microsoft Windows NT over the past few years. The Economist estimated the number of worldwide Linux users at around 8 million back in spring of '98. By now, of course, there are many more than that. This is quite remarkable when one considers that the Linux sales force is almost zero.
You might ask: how is it possible to get something for free, which has been traditionally sold by the likes of Microsoft, HP, and Sun, for hundreds, even thousands of dollars? Linus Torvalds was a grad student at the University of Helsinki in '91 and was frusterated by the state of the art of operating system (OS) software which was available for commodity, affordable PC hardware. He wasn't happy with Windows and DOS, and UNIX was too expensive to his student budget. So he decided to write his own OS.
The Internet at that time was quickly becoming a conduit for interaction amongst programmers around the world, and in a relatively short time, literally thousands of such interconnected developers put together an operating system that rivals the best available. It was named Linux after Linus, although many people mimic the Finnish pronounciation: 'lee-nux' or 'linn-ix'.
Ok, it may be good, but is it easy to use? While it is true that most current users of Linux are power users, it is also becoming very easy to use. It has not only one, but a choice of several, easy-to-use graphical user interfaces. It is nice to have choice.
Linux is then more comparable to XP, than to Windows '98. It has all of the server capabilities available for NT, such as web, e-mail, news, ftp, as well as an easy to use workstation interface. If one adds up the value of the software included with the average Linux distribution, together with the development language and compiler support, it would cost well in excess of $5,000 for equivalent NT software. So, the earlier comparison was overstating the case in Microsoft's favour.
Recent announcements by major software houses have made several popular business software products available on Linux. This will make it easier for people like me, who now have less reason to be on Microsoft's upgrade treadmill.
The vast majority of software for Linux is free, including much commercial software such as WordPerfect and the Sybase Relational Database Server. For those interested in knowing more, this page contains a collection of links to Linux related resources and software.
But, is the recent commercial success of Linux, beneficial to the state of the art of software? Some argue that even Morgoth was amongst the Valar in the beginning. Is Sauron really that different from the dark lord himself? Read The Two Towers, an interesting essay.
Web Server is Apache. As the number one web server on the Internet, it has a lot of the same appeal as Linux: it too is fast, lean, efficient, and open source. Case in point: these pages are served on a 66Mhz i486DX/2 with 8meg of RAM. Find out more about this web server at the Apache Organization.
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