Friday, March 11, 2005


What operating system do you use? Chances are you use some form of Windows. Have you thought about Linux? If not, why not?

Linux has become much easier to setup and use. Redhat and Mandrake have pretty much gui-fied all of Linux and while I have 0 experience with Redhat or Mandrake I understand it has made it much easier to setup and use Linux. Worried about plunking down the bucks to buy Redhat or Mandrake? Search around for friends with the Distributions and borrow them. Don't worry the PC police will not be hunting you down.

IMO, the two biggest obstacles to using Linux are software compatibility with a limited set of applications and new hardware compatibility.

The first point refers specifically to the MS Office Suite. Not a problem as there is a software package named OpenOffice which can read and write MS Office application files. It made my use of Linux nearly hassle free. Previous to OpenOffice I had to ask people to resend documents in text format, now I can even send them documents in word format. It does a real good job too.

Hardware is a trickier issue. New hardware comes out all of the time and depending on many number of factors that hardware is impossible to use with Linux or a snap. My printer was a snap, I have an HP 2300 Laser printer with PS and PCL print languages built in and it was a snap to get it setup and printing away (I use CUPS as a printing system, which was an effortless install). I had a little trouble the HP2300 printer description file that came with CUPS was inadequate but the printer came with a good printer description file.

I also have a Lexmark Z51 which I think I can get to work with the Z52 drivers but have not gotten around to it yet. Some printers will not work with Linux.

This is because the printer language is proprietary and does not release that language or the printer's application programming interface (API) (i.e. the printer manufacturer does not release it to 3rd party developers). Then those who work to develop Linux "drivers" for the printer must reverse engineer that interface and that is not a trivial task. Some printer manufacturers are open about their APIs and print languages and hence the Linux community is able to quickly develop drivers for those printers. This same idea is true for all peripheral hardware.

In fact the most important thing about Linux is not free software (though this is a powerful attractant) but open standards! Open standards are a set of standards a vendor releases to the public. It is up to the public then to develop the software to implement those standards. The most famous set of open standards is TCP/IP which is what the Internet is based on. Anyone can obtain the standards to communicate over the internet and write their own programs based on those standards. How much do you pay? You pay nothing for accessing the standards. That is what I touch on above about hardware vendors not releasing their APIs to the public, so only they can write software to access those devices and picks and chooses for which platforms they will support and those they do not.

This is why I had no problems getting my printer to work. Linux is able to communicate directly with the printer and does not require any extra software to translate from PS to some proprietary language. My Z51 needs that extra layer of software.

Now onto the free part. All of Linux is not free, but most is. I bought my Linux distribution (Slackware 9.0) for 30ish dollars. However, it comes with tons of powerful software and it is no problem finding software that is free for download. For example on my system I have Apache webserver, MySQL relational database server, OpenSSL, PHP, and other professional grade software packages running. How much did I pay for it? The time it took me to download it. Truth be told I have to compile and install the software but for the most part that is a matter of typing the following commands: './configure' 'make' 'make install'. Of course that is a simple as it gets it can be much more complicated (usually it is made complicated by your special needs) and from time to time I run into a package that does not compile cleanly. However some google searching usually takes care of that.

Now you may say its (or next to it) free what good is it? Linux runs some huge websites. For example you have heard of Yes, the giant search engine, Google runs on Linux. E-Trade's customer facing systems run on Linux (My guess is their backends are on mainframe class systems). Apache is reported to account for running a majority of the websites on the Internet.

Linux is more than capable running in small office or home office. Check it out!

What is the drawback to Linux? The Penguinista! The Penguinista is a leftist who believes there is an active conspiracy to keep Linux down. Certainly there are outfits fighting Linux (Microsoft for one) but they Penguinista sees this as going beyond simple market competition but sees conspiracies everywhere. They have 0 confidence in Linux and feel the Government must intervene to rescue Tux (the Linux mascot a penguin) from the evil clutches of the Evil Overlord Gates and his cronies in big business and government. Namely they stridently oppose patents in the data processing field of human endeavor, they stridently support lawsuits against MS to make it give up its competitive high ground. Both are badly mistaken ideas and can only harm Linux in the longrun.

Linux is here to stay and is going to prosper, it does not need the crutch of government intervention!