Linux explored: Operating system offers alternative to Windows

Originally published in the Fullerton College Hornet, Vol. 78, Issue 17; 3 Mar 1999

In the midst of the Microsoft antitrust trial, a true competitor has arisen.

Recently, the popularity of Linux has begun to soar.

However, while Linux holds several advantages over other operating systems, it isn’t appropriate for everyone.

Linux has one distinct advantage over Windows — it’s a free program.

Not only in that it is handed out like America Online CDs, but also in that the source code is still human-readable, while other systems make their code machine-readable and indecipherable to humans.

Of course, someone can make copies of Linux on their CD burner and sell them.

However, the very fact that one can go online and download a distribution of the software from the Internet keeps price tags down.

There are many myths and misconceptions regarding Linux.

One of the most pervasive is that the system is entirely text-based.

While it is true that Linux has a text interface, so too does Windows, which uses DOS. Linux has its own graphical user interface (GUI), known as X Windows or, more simply, X.

Linux, currently available in version 2.2, can be installed on many different types of computers, including IBM-based PCs and Apple Power PCs.

While Linux is free software, there are many companies with financial and commercial interests in Linux. No company will develop for an OS that no one uses. Therefore, it is in the best interests of Linux developers to raise those numbers.

Many potential users of Linux have installed the software, been confused and revert to Windows.

No one will dispute that Windows has the largest base of any OS currently on the market. However, the average Windows user is not a computer genius. Windows compensates for this by adding features to simplify use of the computer. Many of these simplifications are disliked by those users who are more technically literate.

Linux is an OS designed by programmers for programmers. Todd Burgess, a Linux designer and computer science student at the University of Guelph in Canada, quoted on his web site one of Murphy’s Laws in regard to the design strategy of Linux, “Design a system an idiot can use and only an idiot will want to use it.”

As more people make a transition to Linux, accomodations will be made for the less technically-oriented users.

As Linux evolves, it is moving away from its hacker roots. It is no longer necessary to have a firm background in computer programming in order to run the software. According to Burgess, “Hackers are what make and break an operating system. Hackers are the people who are the first to do something that nobody else has and share their results.

“Hacking is the ability to sit and reason through a problem without flooding Usenet with questions that have been asked and answered many times before.”

It is advisable to question one’s motives before attempting to run Linux. If the applications require it, one wishes to expand their knowledge and is not afraid to research answers for themselves, Linux may be a viable choice for an OS.

Conversely, if one has trouble using existing OSes and applications, is looking at Linux simply because it is not made by Microsoft and thinks running Linux will make them cooler, more intelligent or better than everyone else, it may not be the appropriate OS. Several others exist and may be worth investigating.

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