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Why Linux makes sense...

Jun 26, 1999, 21:27 (9 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Patrick Lambert)

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By Patrick Lambert

...On the desktop

While Linux is currently not the best desktop OS out there, it is moving at tremendous speed.

The GNOME and KDE projects started from nothing a few years ago, to full featured desktops with hundreds of applications now. Their easy to use and cool looking graphical libraries make them a natural graphical interface for the user. Nearly every domain of desktop computing has applications available for Linux. From office products, to personal information programs, you will most likely find what you are looking for in the thousands of available graphical and text based applications on the web.

While RedHat Linux comes with over 600 packages, Debian comes with even more, and sites like and have thousands of programs which can be compiled on a Linux system. While a few companies still refuse to support Linux, like Apple with the Quicktime player, I'm sure that this will change very quickly, with the growing popularity of Linux.

...In the business

Linux makes even more sense in the enterprise. Ten years ago, only the biggest companies had Unix mainframes or Novell NDS servers. Right now, every company, even small ones, are going wired. To manage a pool of workstations, central administration is required. The administrator has two choices: Buy a Windows NT server at around $800, and a commercial Unix for around $2000, plus powerful machines to run them on; or get Samba to play the role of the NT server, NFS and NIS to serve Unix workstations, running on a simple system on Linux, which is free, and get the same results at a much lower cost while often having more stability than the original thing.

The hint that the Linux model works in commercial rings is obvious when you look at the commercial Unix systems and at Microsoft. Five years ago, nearly no one knew what Linux was all about. Now, the media talks about it all the time. In the same time frame, Solaris went from a several thousand dollars system, to free for non-commercial use, Microsoft went from ignoring Linux, to laughing at it last year, to forming a Linux attack group a few months ago.

Even other domains of computing are affected by the open source and freeware models surrounding Linux. In the last 2 years, Corel ported Word Perfect 8 to Linux and is offering it for free for non-commercial use, Sun opened up parts of the Java language, Apple opened up parts of its latest server OS, MacOS X, and Netscape released Communicator as free software in the Mozilla project.

...On the Internet server

Networking and Linux go together. Linux lives on the Internet, is distributed on the Internet, is developed on the Internet, and has nearly every feature you would want to use on a network. Linux distributions come with an SMTP mail server, a POP3 mail server, Apache, the most popular web server, a DNS server, and a whole lot of other servers that can be used on the Internet.

Linux comes with very customizable server programs, can be configured from any telnet capable terminal, and can turn any old 486 PC into a powerful web server. You can't beat that kind of wide range features.

...In the data center

With last year's release of Extreme Linux, using tools from the Beowulf project, anyone can turn several computers into a super computer cluster. Many organizations are now building Linux cluster, for research purposes and for number crunching.

Be it the Goddard Space Flight Center, or the US government laboratories, everyone feels the power of clustered Linux boxes. With the improved SMP support in the Linux kernel 2.2 and the clustering abilities of Linux, any data center can be built on much smaller budgets than what was required a few years ago. The years of mainframes are long gone, and distributed computing is a reality, brought to the world in large part to open source projects and the Linux OS.

Looking at the future

Last year, the media began to discover Linux. This year, nearly every computing magazine talked about Linux at least once.

Several organizations are predicting giant growth rates for Linux. From 7M users in 1997, to 12M in 1998, to about 15M to 25M in 1999, Linux simply gets more popular each year.

The next step for Linux is the desktop. The job is half done, with powerful desktop environments, and hundreds of programs available right now. Now the main concern should be in the user interface, the ease of use, and the documentation. We also need to look at the newest technologies, including handhelds, wireless networks and cross platform languages like Java.

1998 was a good year for Linux. 1999 is looking good, and I think the next years will be even better.

In a nutshell

  • Linux, being a Unix system, has the stability and reliability that Unix is known to have acquired over the years.
  • Linux comes with nearly every program you need to build an Internet server, an Intranet server, or a desktop system, thanks to the hundreds of built in applications.
  • Linux is open, allowing anyone to change how any part of the system works, and most Linux applications are very customizable.
  • Linux can turn any older PC system into a server, because it does not suffer from having to load a heavy graphical interface to act as a server.
  • Linux can be configured in nearly every way using graphical interfaces, thanks to LinuxConf, COAS and others.
  • Linux is freeware and can be downloaded from the Internet, or bought for $1.99 from several online vendors.
Patrick Lambert writes: "I am a software developer, system administrator and part-time writer. I am currently studying in Computer Science and creating Linux software. For the last 5 years I have been busy designing information web sites and promoting Linux."