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  Linux Letter 11

The Linux Letter for August 16, 1999

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 well.

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 others.

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!

Microsoft: http://www.microsoft.com

StarDivision: http://www.stardivision.com

RedHat Software: http://www.redhat.com

Hewlett-Packard: http://www.hp.com

Dell Computer: http://www.dell.com

IBM: http://www.ibm.com

Software in the Public Interest: http://www.opensource.org


Hot Tip of the Week

Got a big hard drive? For Linux, a big hard drive is anything that has over 1024 cylinders. For us, that's just about any hard drive. Remember, Linux has a problem with hard drives over 1024 cylinders…it can't boot from one if the boot partition lies above that magic number.

The easy solution is to create a small partition of 20-100 MB below that critical 1024 cylinder level and mount it as /boot. Then all of your kernels can reside there, and your root partition can happily lie anywhere else on the hard disk that it desires.

Happy computing!

Drew Dunn


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