3.1. What is Linux?

Linux is a true 32-bit operating system that runs on a variety of different platforms, including Intel, Sparc, Alpha, and Power-PC (on some of these platforms, such as Alpha, Linux is actually 64-bit). There are other ports available as well, but I do not have any experience with them. Linux was first developed back in the early 1990s, by a young Finnish then-university student named Linus Torvalds. Linus had a "state-of-the-art" 386 box at home and decided to write an alternative to the 286-based Minix system (a small unix-like implementation primarily used in operating systems classes), to take advantage of the extra instruction set available on the then-new chip, and began to write a small barebones kernel. Eventually he announced his little project in the USENET group comp.os.minix, asking for interested parties to take a look and perhaps contribute to the project. The results have been phenomenal! The interesting thing about Linux is, it is completely free! Linus decided to adopt the GNU Copyleft license of the Free Software Foundation, which means that the code is protected by a copyright -- but protected in that it must always be available to others. Free means free -- you can get it for free, use it for free, and you are even free to sell it for a profit (this isn't as strange as it sounds; several organizations, including Red Hat, have packaged up the standard Linux kernel, a collection of GNU utilities, and put their own "flavour" of included applications, and sell them as distributions. Some common and popular distributions are Slackware, Red Hat, SuSe, and Debian)! The great thing is, you have access to source code which means you can customize the operating systems to your own needs, not those of the "target market" of most commercial vendors. Linux can and should be considered a full-blown implementation of unix. However, it can not be called "Unix"; not because of incompatibilities or lack of functionality, but because the word "Unix" is a registered trademark owned by AT&T, and the use of the word is only allowable by license agreement. Linux is every bit as supported, as reliable, and as viable as any other operating system solution (well, in my opinion, quite a bit more so!). However, due to its origin, the philosophy behind it, and the lack of a multi-million dollar marketing campaign promoting it, there are lot of myths about it. People have a lot to learn about this wonderful OS!

3.2. Breaking the Myths

debugged. to the end-user. Hearing this myth somewhat sickens me. others are academics and computer scientists who are using Linux for its research qualities. there was a lot of freeware which was absolute garbage in the DOS and early Windows world). allowing collaboration on projects they find interesting. Doubt" which seems to be a common tactic used by commercial technology vendors to frighten their market away from competing technologies) that more than a few people believe. Some people seem to have the notion that. As I'm an avid USENET reader. Some are hard-core hackers who develop for the love of coding. hence. I've seen my share of myths (often called FUD -. . Don't forget: The Internet itself was built and runs almost exclusively on Open Source projects. and all of them have different personal reasons for wanting to contribute. This act of peer-review is one of the reasons that Linux offers the high reliability and high performance that it does. let me try to run down a few of the more common ones and attempt to shatter them. but it is most certainly not true in recent days. the web pages you browse while "Surfin' the Web" are served to you by Apache on over 50% of the world's web sites. others have a need for something (for example. where the vendor's so-called "support" was completely useless. And supposedly the "other" vendors do offer support? I've had personal experience with one very popular commercial operating system. Unlike a commercial offering where a package is developed and sold. source code excluded. and I like to think I know a bit about the operating system and what it can and cannot do. and improved upon by anyone who has the interest and ability.I've been using Linux for several years. The power of the Internet has made it possible to bring together some of the brightest minds in the globe. The people who have put a hand into developing Linux or the thousands of GNU utilities and applications packages are from a diverse background. :-) • Linux is freeware. I follow the latest developments and of course. Reliable enough for you? • There is no support for Linux. the various flame-wars that invariably crop up (those darn cross-posting advocacy people! . because a piece of software was written by volunteers with no profit motive in mind. a network traffic monitor for a LAN at work) and decide to write it themselves. The e-mail you exchange on a daily basis with people around the world has an 80% chance of being handled on one or both ends by Sendmail. This may have been true in the past (I mean. Uncertainty. that the results must clearly be inferior to commercial-grade offerings."Fear. So. code used in Linux is scrutinized.-) ). it is a toy.

Another interesting aspect of Linux is that. These services include TACACS (dial-in modem user) authentication.html 3. This distribution includes all the necessary software for a full-blown unix system -. no matter how hard I pound on it.3. check out the "Linux Myth Dispeller" at http://www. Normally I can receive an answer to any of the support issues I ask about within three to twelve hours of my posting. networking support. commercial support. At my place of employment. as well as SMTP and POP services. where's the commercial support!? There are countless others that I would like to debunk. key-support issues such as security. or CPU bugs (such as Intel's F00F fatal exception) are tracked down and solved very quickly -. In addition. I use Linux for my personal needs. So. and also for providing and mounting SMB-protocol (WfW/Win95/WinNT) file & print and FAX services using the Samba package.dejanews.First of all. This is easily accomplished on USENET or on any of the many mailing lists available! I've never had a problem I couldn't find a solution to. denial of service. many offering to come right to your door to deal with the problem! However. we are using Linux to provide Internet services for hundreds of users. web page hosting and proxy caching.com/SiliconValley/Hills/9267/fud2. you will be able to accomplish what you wish if you can simply get the answer to a question or two. compilers & interpreters. software development.redhat. or by asking in one of the comp. but that is beyond the scope of this document. .KenAndTed. However.html as well as "The Linux FUDfactor FAQ" at http://www. we are using Linux to provide NFS services. because the source code for the entire kernel and most of the other operating system components is freely available. such as Internet services.1 distribution of Linux (see http://www. offering telephone and e-mail support. and of course game playing (seeing Quake II running on a Linux box is a thing of beauty)! One of the things I love about Linux is.com/KensBookmark/linux/index. One User's Perspective I use Linux both at work and at home.com/. for further myth debunking.geocities. the X Window System. and maintain my Unix skills. At home.linux. I am using the Red Hat 6. There are some companies that can provide as much support as you are willing to pay for. there is support for Linux. develop. in 99% of the situations you will run into with Linux.usually an order of magnitude faster than solutions offered for similar or identical problems on the commercial offerings. Yes.com/ for more information).shells. it does not crash! It's also a great way to learn. by either searching on http://www.os.* newsgroups.

the Linux-based system we use as our primary Internet server has the following configuration: • • • • • • • • Kernel: 2. Intel EtherExpress Pro 10/100 Ethernet card We have a second system -. etc. local web caching via Squid. This document will attempt to remain as hardware independent as possible but it may be helpful to you if you know where I am coming from as far as hardware is concerned.2.4 Gb Quantum Fireball SCSI hard drives (/dev/rd/c0d0. and therefore it's left pretty much on its own -.) We have four other Linux systems in place. Mail. .2.2. At my place of employment.12.2.also running Red Hat 5. HP SCSI DAT tape drive (/dev/st0 and /dev/nst0).and all Internet services (eg. see Section 11. telnet.2 for details. 36x speed SCSI CD-ROM (/dev/scd0). and I would not hesitate to recommend it to others seeking a hardware RAID solution! (If you are interested in configuring your Linux system with a RAID array. The Mylex RAID controller works great. running in another office location. web server. a Sparc. 256 Mb RAM one 3 Gb Fujitsu IDE hard drive (/dev/hda) four 4. this box is over 50 km away from where I usually work. The distribution comes standard with Linux kernel 2. an Alpha. /dev/rd/c0d1) as hardware RAID level 5 array. and then there is my own personal system at home.80) with PCI-bus.83) with PCI-bus.yet this baby is really my pride and joy! Here are some specs: • • • • • • • • • Kernel: 2. but I won't bore you with the details. two of which are being used in production.12 Machine: Pentium II @ 350 MHz (bogo-mips 349.12 Machine: Pentium II @ 300 MHz (bogo-mips 299. news. Adaptec AHA-131 SCSI controller HP SCSI DAT tape drive (/dev/st0 and /dev/nst0).).1 Gb Quantum Fireball SCSI hard drive (/dev/sda) four 9. BusLogic BT-948 SCSI controller Mylex AcceleRAID 250 (DAC960) RAID controller. and secondary DNS services. with redundant storage configured as a hardware RAID5 array is a humbling feeling.4 Gb Quantum Fireball SCSI hard drives (/dev/sd0 through /dev/sd3). It provides networked file & print services via Samba. and two Intel boxes. Unfortunately. 256 Mb RAM one 4. 24x speed SCSI CD-ROM (/dev/scd0). Intel EtherExpress Pro 10/100 Ethernetcard Having an incredible 24+ Gb of available storage space.an even nicer Intel box -.

we discuss some of the pros and cons of each system.Linux vs Windows This article will discuss the differences between the Linux and Windows operating softwares. or mail server. which runs on a wide variety of hardware and for a variety of purposes. . Some Linux distro’s can only run one processor. or more commonly for a server application . such as use as a web server. for example Intel. but it can also run on a home computer using. used to communicate with hardware. and its even capable of running on high end servers using Sun Sparc CPU’s or IBM power PC processors. while others can run many at once. Linux is capable of running on devices as simple as a wrist watch. Linux at its most basic form is a computer kernel. Common uses for Linux include that of a home desktop computing system. You can even use Linux as a dedicated firewall to help protect other machines that are on the same network. The Linux Kernel is an operating system. it also runs all of the basic functions of the computer. The Kernel is the underlying computer code. or a cell phone. and other system software. or AMD processors. Let us first start out with a general overview of the Linux operating system .

Other distributions such as Suse try to find a common ground between ease of use and configurability. Over the years Linux has gone from a simple text based clone of Unix. to make the OS better and better. by offering fullfeatured graphical environments that help eliminate the need for a command prompt. or Linspire make Linux far easier to use. instead there are many different versions or distributions of Linux. they include the Kernel mentioned previously. Some Distributions of Linux include Gentoo. so other programmers could download the source code free of charge and alter it any way they see fit. with fullfeatured desktop environments. which runs atop the Kernel”. and in most circumstances it will also include a graphical user interface. In most cases the user will communicate with the computer via the graphical user interface. Linus Torvalds made Linux open source with the GNU (GPL) (General Public License). and other users that know their way around a command prompt . suited for Linux experts. . Distributions such as Ubuntu. Most of the original Unix code has also been gradually written out of Linux over the years. there is no one version of Linux. where it is desirable to have all of the system resources focused on the task at hand. rather than wasting resources by processing graphics. that are suited for a variety of different users and task. to a powerful operating software.A programmer student named Linus Torvalds first made Linux as a variant of the Unix operating system in 1991. and unprecedented portability. programmers. As a result of Linux being open source software. which due to the lack of a complete graphical environment is best. and Slackware. applying patches. and wasted system resources on graphics processing. or for computers performing processor intensive task. Other Linux distributions aim at making the computing experience as easy as possible. Distributions that lack a graphical environment are best suited for older computers lacking the processing power necessary to process graphics. “Linux has two parts. and a variety of uses. Of course the downside of ease of use is less configurability. and other improvements. Thousands of coders throughout the world began downloading and altering the source code of Linux. and bug fixes .

file-editing. You're committing yourself to a couple hours. or Linux to be part of your future. 1994 By Bernie Thompson in • Software We continue to see media blurbs and ads for both Microsoft's Windows NT and IBM's OS/2. and hassles. But. The wonderful features of a new system won't be compelling if your system doesn't work. development and use of Linux. Windows NT and OS/2 From Issue #1 March 1994 Mar 01. certainly. too. Windows NT. maybe it would have been simpler to stay with Windows 3. If your real goal was just to get some work done.Linux vs. another system that takes advantage of these capabilities. Here's what lies ahead for you if you want OS/2.1 and never embark on an adventure in computing. Before you take the plunge. what you stand to lose. Some are even daring enough to wipe out DOS in favor of an anti-establishment system like Linux. In this article. Some are moving to OS/2. Hardware is the First Issue Don't even think about switching systems until you know what your hardware supports. In the mean time. . More importantly. lumbers along. there seems to be a substantial body of computer users who are dissatisfied with DOS and Windows. or some other Comdex wonder. Both promise to be the operating system that we need and to take advantages of the capabilities of the Intel 386 and beyond. then again. Bernie Thompson explores these as three alternat Picking an operating system is a dangerous business. Windows NT. you should know up front what you stand to gain. or maybe a couple days of manual-reading.

and PowerPoint). if you want to run Microsoft's application suite (Word. For example. and NT needs 12 MB. With OS/2.1 and Windows NT are the only safe choices for using Microsoft applications. you're out of luck with Linux.1. Linux doesn't support you. The PC hardware market has few solid standards. OS/2 needs 4MB. Incompatibilities constantly recede as better hardware support is added. And these are just samples of some possible compatibility problems. and how they will work together. Why are computer users put through this ringer? Well. And you need disk space. The full list changes often. . Access. users can't do much damage by moving icons around and changing settings. 32MB for OS/2. If you have a network card with a 3Com 3c501 chip. Table 1. They won't work. NT can't talk to it. too. but you'll save trouble by seeking one out. be prepared to find out more than you ever wanted to know about the pieces of your system. Why Operating Systems Matter Operating systems determine which applications will work. If you have trouble. Let them find the best hardware to fit the operating system you want. OS/2 or NT pre-installed. But a constant stream of new. incompatible hardware is always hitting the market. they work for now. You need to set aside at least 15MB for Linux. and 70MB for NT for a good trial run. If these requirements are satisfied. OS/2. Just start installing. IBM-compatible hasn't really meant anything since IBM stopped leading the industry. If buying a whole new system isn't an option. what those applications will look like. If your machine uses the Microchannel bus (all IBM PS/2s). How applications look and how they work together are determined by the operating system. Excel. Companies which do this are rare. A full working system will require even more resources. This interface is not elegant. you still have to determine if all the pieces of your machine are compatible. and NT users have taken. These nightmares can be avoided by getting your 32-bit operating system the same way you got DOS and Windows—buy a complete computer system with Linux. Disk Space Required Windows NT uses the same program manager—file manager—print manager interface as Windows 3. you'll have to take the path most Linux. In the end. but it has one very significant advantage—it is simple. Linux needs 2MB RAM to try out. Windows 3.You must have a Intel 386 or better to have any 32-bit choices. OS/2 won't use it. but the burden is on IBM to keep up since Microsoft abandoned OS/2 in 1991. If you have a Compaq QVision video board. Then you need memory. And because it's not very configurable.

The advantage is flexibility and choice. Clicking on a data object starts the associated application. which means it can be inspected and improved upon by any corporate or individual user. Many different interfaces are available. Although Linux is a free system. The detail. and regularity of the interface become persuasive. Linux is primarily a command-line system where programs are typed in by name. Linux uses the X/Windows system. So finding assistance on the use of these systems should not be difficult. most novice users will be comfortable starting and running applications. every detail can be re-configured. Dragging data to the printer object prints it. Data and programs are objects which can be arranged in any manner. Linux has many positive characteristics that are not shared by OS/2 and NT. although program managers and file managers are available to ease the transition of a novice user. It is too easy to get lost. Windows NT and OS/2 . X/Windows is a graphical chameleon. Linux vs. If one knowledgeable user configures the Linux system. With dozens of windows open.OS/2 takes the more radical route of a completely object oriented interface. The same tasks done with Windows and OS/2 are possible under Linux. Although OS/2 has a notoriously bland color scheme and layout when first installed. no technology owned by a single company. able to look and act many ways. However. With OS/2's flexibility comes a daunting depth of detail for first-time users. Table 2. Linux enjoys the advantage of having no guarded secrets. IBM and Microsoft would actually have much to learn from Linux if they cared to look. Features Required All three systems have a wide variety of books and tutorials available which can help novice users. surprisingly. it still has a library of books written about it—any book about Unix will apply to Linux. This makes user instruction and support more difficult. Applications may not look and act alike. And. these disadvantages fade when the system is used for a while. but they generally require more knowledge and skills. it's a pain to locate and manipulate things. power. The source code is freely available. The disadvantage is complexity. If the issues of interface are surmountable. this common knowledge was used to build a system which is more miserly with memory and disk space than either OS/2 or NT.

and Intel 386. storage. Both promise to be the operating system that we need and to take advantages of the capabilities of the Intel 386 and beyond. and edit in a word processor. Again. NT and Linux both support dynamic caching. so it is readily available if needed again. Choose the foundation that supports the features you need and will need in the future. like OS/2. In this article. All three systems support multitasking. it is possible to format a disk. and performance that these features exact. development and use of Linux. But be aware of the high price in memory. 1994 By Bernie Thompson in • Software We continue to see media blurbs and ads for both Microsoft's Windows NT and IBM's OS/2. For example. NT supports multiprocessing. You can't do this using a system like MS DOS. An NT PC could have 2 or more processors. is designed and optimized to run on Intel 386 and compatible CPUs.From Issue #1 March 1994 Mar 01. another system that takes advantage of these capabilities. In the mean time. all simultaneously. which means using more than one CPU in a single machine. all working together. whereas Linux and NT will . DEC Alpha. an operating system is just a foundation. which is the ability to have many programs running simultaneously. which doesn't support multitasking. Linux. Windows NT is designed to be ported to many different CPUs. because users have more hardware choices. this means more hardware possibilities for the NT user. Bernie Thompson explores these as three alternat The Foundations When it comes down to it. This independence from Intel is an important advantage for NT. OS/2 sets aside a pre-determined chunk of memory to do this (typically 512K to 2MB). lumbers along. download a file from a BBS. Caching stores recently used information in memory. By contrast. NT is currently available for MIPS.

Table 4. Windows. So Linux can make good use of a low- . modem users. A user need only upgrade to 8MB of RAM to use an object-oriented interface and have a good platform for multitasking DOS. and OS/2 programs. and many other features is the cause of its large size. it has security checks for the individual using the machine. It is safe to have a Linux or NT machine available for use by many people. NT offers a set of features that is very compelling. unlike OS/2 and NT. For most the graphical interface will be worth the cost in resources. The result is much faster disk access for Linux and NT. Table 3. OS/2 is smallest of the three when using a graphical interface. multiprocessing. because the information is often already in the cache. Larger systems are also slower than smaller systems when memory is scarce. 4MB RAM. This is a powerful feature for business environments that is unmatched by OS/2 or NT.” it supports these same powerful features. has full multiuser support. NT is the largest of the three systems. and memory to be used poorly when it is scarce. but X/Windows puts a burden on the system. So the size of a system is an important issue. Local users. NT's support for portability. This is the attraction of OS/2. OS/2 has sold several million copies in the last two years. Memory Required Linux has security systems to prevent normal users from misconfiguring the system.dynamically use as much spare memory as possible. This is a great sacrifice for many. is plenty for most tasks. running without graphical windows. and network users can all simultaneously run text and graphics programs. Since Linux is “Unix-compatible. the standard configuration for a DOS/Windows PC. Linux with X/Windows is the next smaller system. Given a powerful enough machine. Linux. But by jettisoning expensive graphics. OS/2 is the strongest of the three for backward compatability with DOS and Windows. consuming more memory and storage. Applications Supported The Costs Every feature supported will tend to make an operating system larger. primarily because of these strengths. Although Windows NT isn't multiuser. Linux's security and multiuser features are so well developed because they are traditional features for Unix. OS/2's inflexibility causes memory to be wasted when not used. whereas an OS/2 user could (mis)configure the system software. Linux without X/Windows is the smallest of the three. the system is smaller and faster than OS/2 or NT will ever be. Linux itself is very miserly.

development and use of Linux. With 16MB RAM. Linux vs. lumbers along. In the mean time. And because a company or individual has access to the Linux code. The result is Linux is the most efficient of the three. Both promise to be the operating system that we need and to take advantages of the capabilities of the Intel 386 and beyond. Windows NT and OS/2 From Issue #1 March 1994 Mar 01. Linux was designed to be as small and efficient as possible. where OS/2 or NT either would not run. In this article. almost 12MB remains to be used for caching and running applications. or not run well. OS/2 is compelling because it offers the best system for running 16-bit DOS and Windows applications while moving into the more flexible and powerful 32-bit world. another system that takes advantage of these capabilities. In general. . OS/2 and NT do not have this flexibility. Systems with lots of memory will be able to use Linux's dynamic caching to achieve unusually high performance. it can be optimized and scaled to suit the hardware and needs of the user. and OS/2's was backward compatibility. 1994 By Bernie Thompson in • Software We continue to see media blurbs and ads for both Microsoft's Windows NT and IBM's OS/2.end 386 PC with little memory. NT's most important criterion was portability. the issue of size is a great strength for Linux. Bernie Thompson explores these as three alternat The Practical Results Windows NT is compelling because it is a solid system that offers freedom from the single CPU Intel world.

games. Linux is small and fast. All of the system's source code is available. Linux does not pose this danger. Applications written for Linux can be ported to any of the dozens of other Unix systems available. Ray tracers. there is no one organization to blame as with OS/2 or NT. One. For example. Linux has an interface to run commercial applications designed for other Intel Unix systems like SCO Unix. you can be confident that support for additional platforms would also be possible. Linux works better than many commercial Unix systems on common Intel hardware. and more are all available. But the safest and most likely choice for the novice user is to . Which System to Use For the corporate user. but Microsoft and IBM are constantly developing new technologies that may leave Linux behind. a wealth of applications are available to suit these tastes. morphing programs. Three. there are few commercial applications. you have to choose applications with support for multiple platforms.Table 5. Linux has the features to make it a better choice than NT or OS/2 in some situations. Betting on an “open” technology from IBM or Microsoft is still a risky game. Phone support and documentation for Linux are available. Linux can be completely inspected and customized by anyone. Linux does lack full-motion video. Unix. OS/2's object-oriented interface and free technical support are compelling factors. In general. These features. It is a great learning tool and motivator. But there are three disadvantages. But the quality of applications is still a problem. OS/2. compilers. The greatest difficulty in realizing this freedom is finding high quality applications. Linux offers freedom from this kind of entrapment. there is no commercial word processor for Linux which matches the quality of ones for Windows and OS/2. If your spreadsheet supports Windows. may be compelling enough to draw the technical user towards OS/2 or NT. graphics viewers. Cost But both systems still end up locking users into proprietary technology—applications that will only work on either OS/2 or NT. Linux will fit in well with a TCP/IP based client-server strategy. The trade-off is fewer features and higher prices. and some other cutting-edge technologies. Two. and Mac. For the novice user. speech recognition. This kind of glaring inadequacy alone can preclude the use of Linux. As Linux gains exposure. Linux's foundations are strong. To keep from getting locked into a proprietary system. NT's power to sway commercial developers is reassuring. Linux offers the exciting chance to tinker with an operating system. And since most current Linux users are technical hobbyists. For the technical user. along with OS/2 and NT application development. Linux can turn low-end hardware into a solid fileserver or PostScript print server. more businesses are likely to take advantage of this potential. Linux has built-in mail and internet tools. if something goes wrong. OS/2 or NT is the best 32-bit option.

Linux is likely to gain an expanding base of users. The quantity and quality of many free applications are stunning. While many computer users now know only OS/2 and NT. typically DOS and Windows 3. .1. Overall. thousands of others have discovered Linux. Tackling installation. It's foundations are solid. and new applications is still not trivial for these three 32-bit systems. Free software has a powerful new platform to build on. configuration. If Windows-class applications and an OS/2-class interface are developed for Linux. it will have the compelling features to tackle commercial systems. As all three of these systems quickly improve and evolve. Linux stacks up surprisingly well for a free system developed by a horde of volunteer programmers.stick with the operating system that came with their computer.