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Nashville Scene Penguin Poises

Is Linux getting ready to take over the world?

By James Hanback Jr.

FEBRUARY 1, 1999: 
Anyone who's ever been inside a computer software store is familiar with at least two corporate logos that appear on software vendor packages all over the world: the four-color Microsoft Windows logo, and the Macintosh multi-dimensional smiling face logo (or the rainbow Apple logo, depending on how long it's been since you last purchased software).

Now that the Unix-like Linux operating system is growing in popularity among those outside hard-core Internet and hacker circles, however, software shoppers might start seeing a new logo on some of the packages they peruse on the shelves.

Imagine walking into your favorite software outlet and finding packages displaying not only the Windows and Macintosh software titles, but some new and familiar titles with a chubby little penguin sitting in the lower left-hand corner of the box. That penguin, you see, has become the accepted logo for Linux.

It could happen.

In fact, it probably will happen. In the Internet community, Linux has remained the more popular choice for running e-mail and World Wide Web servers. It's freeware; it's 32-bit; and it's developed for multiple types of processors.

The OS was originally developed in 1991 by Linus Torvalds at the University of Helsinki. It was released under an open source software license, which--to put it simply--meant that other programmers could take the Linux source code, modify it, and compile it to fit their own needs.

"Some people have told me they don't think a fat penguin really embodies the grace of Linux, which just tells me they have never seen an angry penguin charging at them in excess of 100 mph," Torvalds once wrote in an Internet announcement about the release of Linux 2.0. "They'd be a lot more careful about what they say if they had."

Indeed, Linux is a graceful, powerful, and robust operating system.

From its release into open source, Linux blossomed. Programmers and hackers all over the world adopted it as their OS. They developed it. They even wrote their own hardware drivers for it when device manufacturers didn't provide their own.

Lately, the operating system has been getting a bigger nod from the more commercial side of the computer industry. Last year, Dell Computer, for one, announced it would be shipping some computers with Linux as the pre-installed OS. Other hardware makers are following suit.

Some industry prognosticators say Linux may become the next big rival for Microsoft Windows' position as the dominant operating system. And with the world becoming one large network, and more emphasis being placed on networking, who can blame them?

It's also getting the support of applications developers. For LinuxPPC--a version of Linux that runs on the PowerPC processor--Applix has just released a version of its Applixware Office suite.

Meanwhile, Linux for the Intel processor has several powerful office tools at its disposal, including last year's big announcement, the Corel WordPerfect 8 word processor, and the free-for-noncommercial-use StarOffice.

With the applications on its side, computer professionals will be more willing to implement Linux as their OS of choice. The fact that it's also a programmer's operating system will offer them a greater ability to develop custom tools for their applications.

The only thing that could possibly hold Linux back from mainstreaming itself in the operating system market is the fact that it is quite a bit more difficult for new users to grasp than Windows or Mac OS.

Linux can require quite a bit of custom configuration. It was meant to be user-programmable, user-controllable, and user-configurable, but not necessarily user-friendly. If you're going to use Linux, you're going to need to spend time with it, have patience with it, and learn it. With the pace at which things change and grow in technology, it might be wise to put yourself in perpetual learning mode when it comes to this operating system. There's always something new to discover in Linux.

Finally, Linux has made the big time in that more Internet software outlets are becoming sources for Linux programs. Earlier this month, the people who launched the well-known TUCOWS (The Ultimate Collection Of Winsock Software--http://www.tucows.com) software download site also started a separate site devoted entirely to Linux. It's called Linuxberg and can be found on the Web at http://www.linuxberg.com.

While critics say Linuxberg has a ways to go before it becomes the outlet for Linux applications, the mere fact that it exists is a testament to the operating system's growing popularity. On one of its main pages, Linuxberg features a graphic of the Linux penguin roasting marshmallows over a campfire. The kindling is a copy of Microsoft's Windows.

Look out, Bill!

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