Magazine article Information Today

Focus on Publishing: Will Linux Challenge Windows?

Magazine article Information Today

Focus on Publishing: Will Linux Challenge Windows?

Article excerpt

Microsoft has been having its share of headaches-1998 was not one of its best years, and so far 1999 doesn't look much better. We are still awaiting the outcome of the Justice Department's ongoing antitrust trial. If the courts find Microsoft liable, the Consumer Federation announced in January that Microsoft could face class-action lawsuits alleging that it used its monopoly to overcharge consumers. And now there are rumblings that former Microsoft general auditor Charlie Pancerzewski has claimed the company falsified its profits.

In January, we also learned that Microsoft is once again going to delay release of its newest flagship product, Windows 2000. If you were expecting this long-awaited network operating system by mid-year, you are going to have to cool your jets-again-until the end of the year. The company is not announcing a new date, only claiming that a 1999 release is still a possibility.

And now, even the mighty Microsoft admitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that it is worried about Linux. Such an admission, not surprisingly, generates a lot of interest in the media. Now, given Microsoft's current predicament with the SEC, we don't know if Microsoft really views Linux as a threat or is dredging up anything that even remotely looks like competition to prove that it has some.

Microsoft does seem to be aware that systems administrators are not universally happy with the Microsoft product line. Microsoft has to consider the growing faction of systems administrators who would like to ditch Windows NT for Linux. Not only is Linux far less expensive to run, it has proven to be a more stable operating system than NT. Major vendors, such as Netscape, Oracle, and IBM, have announced that they will offer Linux the technical support it needs to gain a foothold. In December 1998, Corel even began giving away a version of WordPerfect that runs on Linux.

Linux has its appeal-it is sure-footed, powerful, and cheap. According to International Data Corporation, Linux has captured 2.5 percent of the worldwide desktop market. Of course, this is a small blip compared to Microsoft's 86 percent marketshare. And why, you may ask, should we be interested in the future of this little freeware product? Simply because anything that threatens to turn the computing world upside down could do the same for Web publishing.

What Is Linux?

Unless you are a techie or follow the technology press, you are probably not familiar with Linux, even though it has been around since 1991. Linux is considered open-source software and does not belong to a company the same way that, for example, Windows belongs to Microsoft, and Macintosh to Apple. Linux (pronounced LIH-nuhks with a short "i") is a UNIX-like operating environment that runs on desktop computers. Its original kernel (the core of an operating system) was developed by Linus Torvalds at the University of Helsinki in Finland. On October 5, 1991, Torvalds announced the first "official" version of Linux, version 0.02. Since then, thousands of programmers have contributed to its development. Linux was then given to the GNU Project.

The GNU Project was started in 1983 by Richard Stallman and others, who also formed the Free Software Foundation. The Free Software Foundation developed a stipulation called a copyleft, which is the opposite of a copyright. The Foundation advocates that users should be free to do what they wish with the software they acquire, including modification of the source code, making copies for friends, and repackaging the software with a distribution charge. However, the copyleft stipulates that no one can claim ownership of any future versions, no restrictions can be placed on users, and the freedom to copy and change the program must remain.

As I mentioned, Linux is considered UNIX-like but is not UNIX. Although UNIX became the first open-standard operating system, the official trademarked UNIX is now owned by the industry-standards group, X/Open Company, which certifies and brands UNIX implementations. …

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