Linux was originally created by Linus Torvalds, and is now worked on by a
large group of talented volunteers coordinating their efforts on the Internet.
It is published under a strict copyright that assures it will always be
available free, with source code always included. Proprietary versions cannot
be created because any code incorporated into Linux becomes "contaminated" by
the copyright and must be turned over to the public.
This is not to say Linux cannot be sold - it certainly can be, for anything the publisher cares to ask - only he must compete with free versions. This is done by "adding value". Popular ways of doing this are by cleaning up the install so it is easier to get started, providing support, and bundling commercial software with Linux. Such distributions are referred to as "Commercial Linux".
Much has been made in the press lately of the possibility of "Linux forking", in other words splitting into multiple and incompatible versions. This hasn't actually happened, mind you, and isn't particularly likely, but the Microsoft FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) machine is being put in high gear, and the press is its servant.
Here are the most popular distributions and what makes them unique. Note that most Linux software will run on any or all of them with little effort. The kernel code (core program) is the same for all.
Check out our Linux News for the latest happenings.
With the announcements by nearly all the big database companies (Oracle, Informix, Inprise, IBM) of Linux versions of their flagship enterprise products, the current availability of two complete office productivity suites (Applix, Star Office) with a third in the works (Corel WordPerfect Office), Linux software development is in full swing. CAD, Desktop Publishing, and a host of network and communications products are already available - in both free and commercial versions.
Although Unix and Unix-like operating systems are commonly thought of as having cryptic command line interfaces, there are a number of competing GUI (Graphic User Interface) mouse & windowing environments, and more in development. Some are equal (depending on your opinion) to Windows98, but it will be a while before any equals the OS/2 WorkPlace Shell.
Linux's reputation for stability is not surprising, it is, after all, a variety of Unix. Unix servers supporting many applications and hundreds of users with uptime counters over 700 days are not uncommon. It also shares with Unix the most advanced networking and communications features available. Most of the Internet runs on Unix, Linux and Free BSD (another Unix variant).
Linux can be configured as a workstation, a peer, or a server. It can also be configured as a failover cluster for non-stop applications and as a performance cluster to achieve supercomputer level performance at a ridiculously low cost. The U.S Postal service reads OCR coding and sorts the mail on 900 Linux clusters at centers across the U.S., and all the difficult image rendering for the film Titanic was done on a Linux cluster.
The pool of support personnel for Linux is currently the pool of people with Unix experience, but this pool is growing quickly. Many universities are converting to Linux because they can't afford Windows, so Linux experienced graduates will be in good supply very soon (except in Texas where the university system has been sold to Microsoft (quite literally)).
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