Chapter 5 Assignment
July 8, 2010
Linux was developed in 1999 by a second year student of the University of Helsinki, Linus Benedict Torvalds. Before the development of Linux, the computer software market was dominated by DOS, but this operating system’s command line interface made it an unattractive choice for the average computer user. Other alternatives included the Apple Mac and Unix, two very expensive operating systems, which did not provide interested users with their source codes. Two important developments inspired Linus to create the famed open source software that continues to be a hit in the software industry. One of the developments was Professor Andrew S. Tanenbaum’s MINIX that was created to teach wannabe programmers the basics for designing an operating system. The beauty of Tanenbaum’s creation was that the source code was available, unlike the previous operating systems. The other important development was Richard Stallman’s GNU project that advocated for the availability of free software. Work on Linux began as based on MINIX with a GNU compiler. Despite facing severe criticism from his mentor Tanenbaum who even claimed that “Linux is obsolete,” Linus went on with the release of several versions that he licensed under the GNU General Public License so that it will be available to everyone.
Today, Linux is still available as free software, but companies and individuals are allowed to develop it and distribute it, as long as they do not alter the original source code. A Linux Distribution refers to an operating system that was built up from the Linux kernel. More than 600 Linux distributions exist today. Some of the companies that were successful in distributing Linux include Novell, Red Hat, HP, IBM, and Dell. Two representative examples of Linux distributions include Ubuntu and openSUSE. Ubuntu is free, open source software, that was developed by Canonical Ltd. Its marketshare among the Linux-based operating systems is currently 50%. The company makes a profit mainly from the technical support that it provides to Ubuntu users. Ubuntu is a good choice for many users because it is easy to install and to use, and it is compatible with many Windows programs. OpenSUSE is also free open source software, developed by Novell. A graphic user interface as well as a command line interface are available, and the consumer can choose between several user GUIs, such as KDE SC 4, GNOME, and Xfce. Similar to Ubuntu, the software is highly compatible.
One can get a Linux Distribution by either downloading it from the respective distribution website, as is the case with openSUSE, or can purchase it from retail stores. Another used method is by installing with a Live CD. This method can be very useful when using someone else’s computer, or when great portability is needed. Instead of storing the operating system on the hard drive, a CD, a DVD, or flash drive is used. In many cases, companies, such as Canonical, will even ship the CD needed for installation for free.
Many user applications/suites are available in Linux. Two popular open source suits are OpenOffice.org and Gnome Office. OpenOffice is included in many Linux distributions, including Ubuntu, and openSUSE and was developed by Sun Microsystems, as a free alternative to Microsoft Office. It includes a word processor, a spreadsheet, the Impress presentation program, the Base database management program, a graphics editor and a math editor. Gnome Office is another free open source application suite that encompasses the AbiWord word processor, the Gnumeric spreadsheet, the Agnumis presentation, the GIMP graphics editor program, an email application, a document viewer, any many other useful programs. Many of the Gnome programs are compatible with other operating systems, and some only work with Linux.
There are many advantages, as well as many disadvantages to using Linux. Linux’s simplicity can be viewed as both an advantage and a disadvantage. Many claim that its straight forward design makes it less susceptible to system failure. However, it creates a less friendly user interface as well, with less graphical innovations. Its open source code can be an advantage and a disadvantage also, as many well intended computer technicians can easily fix security problems, but ‘hackers’ can also easily depict security problems. Other advantages include saving money, and compatibility on old computers, that made Linux especially popular in less developed countries. Disadvantages include incompatibility with new hardware, as well as the need for higher technical skills.