The Linux Letter for August
Lately I've been thinking about the role
that Linux plays in the computer world. I like to spend some of
my time pointing out the benefits of Linux over other operating
systems, especially when I can show off some particular feature
(such as Internet connectivity) that Linux does particularly
So I'm a Linux advocate. I suppose by now
that ought to be no surprise to anyone. I use Linux whenever I
can and I encourage others to give it a try. But the most common
question I get goes something like, "Why should I?"
The answer may not be quite what you think!
A knee-jerk reaction might be,
"Because it's not a Microsoft product." But I think
that's not really a fair answer because Microsoft publishes
software that is very useful…software that even I use. And
it's equally unfair to say, "Because Linux is Open Source
and we should only use software that is 'free'." While I
certainly support the Open Source philosophy, I also think that
computers work best for us when we realize that they are just
tools. And so that is my answer to the question. I say that you
should try Linux because it's another tool for your computing
toolbox that may help you to do your work or play your games
better and faster.
But just as it's fair to consider Linux as
an alternative to mainstream operating systems like Windows,
it's also fair to give the same consideration to other niche
products like BeOS and OS/2. Remember, that although we are
advocates of Linux, it's probably just as important to maintain
a balanced view of alternatives.
So here is my world view of Linux as it
applies to me. I use Linux because I have a few computers that
aren't the most powerful systems available. I can type The Linux
Letter on a Pentium 166 using WordPerfect 8.0 for Linux much
easier than I can with Word 2000 and Windows 98 on the same
machine. The spreadsheets that I maintain with StarOffice 5.1
recalculate faster than with Excel. And email using Netscape
Communicator is quicker than with Outlook 2000.
But there are times when I've found other
operating systems to provide better support for the things that
I want to do. For example, I maintain an IRC server for several
friends. The program that has all of the features that we want
is much cheaper for Windows than it is for Linux. So, it runs on
a Windows 95 system. Until the release of the 2.2.x kernel,
multiprocessor system, such as the one at ftp.fluidlight.com
were very cumbersome to maintain, and simply didn't match the
performance of a properly configured Windows NT 4.0 system.
My Compaq notebook has hardware features
that are only supported by Windows. So I'm not ashamed to do a
lot of my work on that computer. In fact, the very words that
you're reading here were typed on it.
But Linux is rapidly adding those features
that it lacks and improving those that fall short. Last week,
after a short period of experimentation and testing, I was able
to use a USB keyboard, mouse, hub and Zip drive on a desktop
system running the 2.3.11 kernel. And as more Linux
distributions are created, extra functionality is added to the
system. Linux is becoming as easily configurable as Windows,
although more work is needed.
The big advantage of Linux is in its
performance as a desktop alternative. There should be no doubt
in anyone's mind that Linux clearly outperforms Windows 9x. It
is faster and much more stable than the Microsoft offering which
compensates for its sometimes difficult configuration utilities
(or lack thereof).
One of the great advantages of Linux is
that you can achieve performance on a par with the most powerful
Windows 95/98 systems with much less horsepower. You'll find
that a fast Celeron processor running Linux will handily run
with a Pentium III-equipped Windows system. So, for me, the cost
savings of Linux is a real benefit, especially since the
operating system itself is free.
And with greater acceptance by the
mainstream computing world, the situation can only get better.
Last week, RedHat Software announced its initial public offering
of stock. Unlike other Internet-connected companies that have
recently issued stock, RedHat's stock price soared. Why? Partly
because they have a physical product to sell, but also because
more and more people are accepting Linux as a bona-fide
alternative to desktop operating systems from Microsoft and
With endorsements from Hewlett-Packard,
Dell and IBM, Linux should, in short order, provide us with a
valid choice in operating systems. After all, competition spurs
innovation, and innovation is good for us, the consumers!
RedHat Software: http://www.redhat.com
Dell Computer: http://www.dell.com
Software in the Public Interest: http://www.opensource.org