1. Why Run Linux?
This chapter introduces you to the
upstart operating system Linux. It helps you determine whether Linux is
right for you, by surveying the features and performance that Linux
offers. It demonstrates that choosing Linux is a practical -
even wise - decision for many computer users. The chapter also
helps you feel at home with Linux and other Linux users, by introducing
you to the history and culture of Linux. Finally, it points you to some
popular gathering places on the Internet where you can correspond with
other Linux users, get up-to-the-minute Linux news and information, and
obtain free technical support.
1.1 Linux at Home and at Work
Perhaps you learned about Linux from a
trusted friend, whose enthusiasm and ready answers convinced you to
learn more about Linux, or perhaps an article or anecdote that
mentioned Linux simply sparked your curiosity. In any case, you may
find it interesting to learn what other computer users, ranging from PC
hobbyist to guru, have accomplished by using Linux:
Tired of slow telephone modem transfer rates, a PC
owner leases a cable modem that provides high-speed transfers. He
installs the new modem in a Linux system that routes packets to and
from the computers of other family members. Now the entire family can
simultaneously surf the Web at warp speed.
Struggling to complete a dissertation, a graduate
student determines that most of his problems stem from bugs and
inadequate features of his word processing program. Dumping Microsoft
Windows and Microsoft Word, he loads Linux onto his computer and uses
free text processing software he downloads from the Web. In contrast to
the frequent system hangs and lost work he experienced with Windows,
his new system runs for over 100 days before needing to be shutdown for
installation of new hardware.
Considered among the world\'s best, the experienced
graphics artists at Digital Domain have generated visual effects for
such films as
The Fifth Element,
Interview with the Vampire, and
True Lies. But when director James Cameron selected Digital
Domain to conjure visual effects for
Titanic, the artists faced a task of unprecedented size and
complexity. Concerned to obtain enormous computing power at the lowest
cost, they purchased 160 DEC Alpha computers. Most DEC Alpha users run
Microsoft Windows NT or Digital Unix as an operating system. However,
Digital Domain chose to run Linux on 105 of their new computers. If
Titanic and Digital Domain\'s breathtaking effects, you know
what a good decision this was.
Needing a supercomputer, but having a budget
sufficient for only a minicomputer, scientists at the Los Alamos
National Laboratory created Avalon, a system of 70 networked computers
that run Linux. Instead of millions of dollars, the scientists spent
only about $152,000 - none of it on software, because Linux is
free. Their Avalon system performs more than 10 billion floating-point
operations per second, roughly on par with the Silicon Graphics
Origin2000 system, which costs $1.8 million. Linux-based Avalon ranks
as the 315th fastest computer in the world.
Linux began as a hacker\'s playground,
but has become progressively easier to use and consequently more
popular: today, perhaps as many as 7.5 million computers run Linux.
Many Linux users are not hackers, but relatively ordinary computer
users. Linux has become an operating system of formidable appeal and
In 1996, computing trade magazine
Infoworld named Linux \'Best Computer Desktop Operating
System.\' A year later, they named the Linux community \'Best Tech
The cover of the August 10, 1998, issue of the
influential business magazine
Forbes featured super-programmer Linus Torvalds, author of
the Linux kernel. The article pointed out that Intel, IBM, Netscape,
Oracle, and other computing industry giants have taken a keen
commercial interest in Linux and other open-source software.
Market research firm International Data Corporation
reported that in 1998, Linux held 17.2% of the server operating system
market, up 212% from 1997. In contrast, Microsoft\'s flagship operating
system, Windows NT, held a 36% market share - barely twice as
Lawyers defending Microsoft against the U.S.
government\'s antitrust charges argued that Linux poses a real threat to
Microsoft\'s domination of the desktop operating systems market.