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Linux: The end of the Personal Computer

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their
own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today.
]

Contributed by Linux Today reader João Miguel Neves.

By now we all know how great the PCs
are, how they made the mainframes and mini-computers industry
giants fall (or at least rethink their business), how companies
like Microsoft made it possible that enough people used Personal
Computers so that today we have an “inexpensive” machine that’s
more powerful than supercomputers ten years ago.

This revolution, or evolution, has changed a lot of people’s
life. The simple fact of owning a computer passed from only the
rich and technology aware people to a more wide market today. It’s
now something that is usual. It’s normal for teachers to expect,
and even ask for, computer processed reports. It’s usual for a kid
to have a console. What would be unthinkable before computers like
the Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amiga and the PC is today’s
reality.

But is this the end? Have we finally got the ultimate concept in
computing for people? Is there nothing more than the Personal
Computer? The answer is, there’s more to this than the Personal
Computer. The Personal Computer has already begun the next steps of
development. We now have the PDAs and Wearable Computing is coming
closer to the market every month.

But, if this is the future of the Personal Computer, what
happens to those boxes we have in our desks? Those monitors will
all get replaced by glasses? Those supercharged boxes with the
latest hardware will simply vanish? No. Remember the last time your
computer was used by someone other than you? Your
parent/brother/sister/children/friend/colleague for seeing
something in the internet, to see a document, or simply to play a
game?

Those boxes will be the same, the usage of them is what will
change. They will turn themselves from Personal Computers to Family
Computers, where the children can play, the students can write
their reports and even thesis, the adults can write their documents
and letters.

The Family Computer is the personal computer for each family
member. Each one sees it differently and use it differently. I
believe that today the most used capacities of a computer is
gaming, wordprocessing and internet browsing, usually depending on
who uses it.

Ok, this is all fine, but where does Linux enters the equation?
Microsoft already has user profiles since Windows 95 which allow
each user to customize his/her desktop, why should we use Linux?
The first reason comes from the the operating system background:
DOS was a single-user “operating system” with the objective of
providing the minimum needed for the computer to work. Linux is not
UNIX, but comes from a UNIX heritage, which has always been a
multiprogrammed, multi-user operating system. This is important not
because of what the operating system can do, but because of what
the applications can do.

On Linux, as on UNIX systems, the programs are developed being
aware that many different users will use it, and each one will have
its different configuration on his home directory. On DOS the
programs saved their configurations were they wanted. Here the
configuration is done per program, not per user. Even with Windows
NT this continues to be a true statement. If, like me, you’ve ever
had to deploy NT desktop machines with permissions as closed as
possible and several programs working, you know exactly what I
mean.

Other than this, the only real reason to use Linux in the Family
Computer is permissions. Once the Family Computer will use PC
technology, wich is known to be poor in security if you have
physical access to the machine, this comes not as the ultimate
security feature, but a simple protection against “distractions”.
Who has never heard a story of a work/report/important letter being
erased from the hard disk by a child that needed the disk space to
play?

Of course there are other features that could be useful on a
family environment, like disk quotas, X for remote execution of
programs in a little house network, etc. But the most important
idea is that you have a computer that’s the house’s computer, and
yet your own at the same time.

João
Miguel Neves
is a student in Computer Science and Electrical
Engineer in IST, Lisbon, Portugal.