ISSUE 496: The high-tech office- April
For the gutsy, 'hands-on' computer user,
Linux is an operating system to beat the rest
Are you old enough to remember the classic
British sports cars such as Morgan, Triumph and MG?
How about a 12-cylinder Jaguar XKE? Owning one in the 1950s or
'60s often meant spending about as much time fiddling with the hardware
as driving. But the cars have a loyal following.
Move forward to the present and replace cars with
computers. Linux is an example of an operating system for people who
are willing to spend the time working with the guts of their systems to
get performance that's a cut above the rest.
Just in case you've missed it, Linux is software that
enables your computer to read, write files and run programs. It runs on
a wide variety of hardware in place of the more common Windows or
Macintosh operating systems.
Linux was developed in the early 1990s by Finnish
student Linus Torvalds, as a recreation of the
industrial-strength Unix operating system. One of the main reasons the
system has thrived is that Torvalds insisted the original programming
code be freely published, customized and altered to fit.
Like the sports car of yore, that means the
possibility of endless tinkering and sports car-like performance. Even
older hardware can weave nimbly around the lumbering hulks of Windows
However, unlike our classic sports cars, many Linux
users report they are able to keep systems running for months at a time
with no crashes or need to restart. Linux is also affordable. Users
with infinite patience can download it over the Internet. The rest of
us can buy any of a variety of "distributions" on CD for about $50.
How could I resist? I've installed different versions
of Linux onto several different machines from older Pentiums to
an almost new Pentium-II and even onto a Mac. Installation was easier
and more straightforward than I'd been led to expect, though
repartitioning a hard drive for a clean installation is probably too
hairy for many users.
However, as soon as it starts up I find myself
immediately transformed into an almost helpless new user.
Buying a couple of books didn't help much. It seemed
as if every page raised more questions than it answered. The local
Linux community, however, was a real source of information and
assistance (www.linux.bc.ca). E-mails to Linux users brought
near immediate responses with one person even volunteering a Saturday
to help me get up and running.
As you can tell, I'm not a Linux pro by any means.
Here are a few of the conclusions I have drawn so far:
* Linux is everything that the fans claim. It's fast,
powerful and seems stable. While I haven't used it as a network server,
I have no reason to doubt that it would perform well in a wide variety
of settings such as a print server or Web pages host. In these areas it
will certainly perform much better on older or limited hardware than
* There is an increase in standard business
applications for Linux. Most distributions include the Netscape
Navigator Web browser. Corel has released a Linux version of
Word Perfect that is free for home users. The company has also promised
to bring the rest of its office suite core applications over to that
platform. Less well-known products such as the Star Office Suite exist
and large software firms from Oracle to IBM are
increasing support for Linux.
Still, I can't recommend that Windows or Mac users
rush to replace their operating systems with Linux. Too often,
seemingly simple things are still too hard. For example, when you've
installed Word Perfect onto your system you don't automatically get an
icon on your desktop. It takes more fussing.
A new Linux distribution, TurboLinux, is promising a
ready-to-use package. Linux is constantly evolv-
ing and sometime soon may be ready to challenge Microsoft and Apple
for mass market desktops.
For now, it remains a strong product for fans who
don't mind a little fiddling. *