E-Clips Technology News: Change the Way You Use Your PC

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), October 30, 2002 | Go to article overview

E-Clips Technology News: Change the Way You Use Your PC


THIS week's e-clips is devoted entirely to the alternative operating system known as Linux, a subject which might once have been too geeky for most home PC users.

But major manufacturers have begun producing consumer hardware running the Linux OS (see Sharp Zaurus PDA review below), bringing the OS out of the shadows and into the full glare of the marketplace.

A brief history of Linux.... Linux is a computer operating system (OS) - like the many variants of Windows - that was created as a hobby by student, Linus Torvalds, at the University of Helsinki in Finland.

But first things first - let's resolve the pronounciation issue: It is most often pronounced with a short ``i'' and with the first syllable stressed, as in LIH-nucks. What distinguishes Linux from Windows is that its source code is freely available to anyone who wishes to modify it for their own needs, or improve it for the greater good.

It is an OS with a character-based interface like DOS in early versions of Windows but Linux also has several graphical user-interfaces (GUIs - ie, what you see on your screen).

The OS is widely used for networking and software development, and to a lesser extent as an end-user platform. It's considered an excellent, stable and low-cost alternative to more expensive operating systems.

This however, doesn't mean Linux and its assorted distributions are free - companies and developers may charge for it as long as the source code remains available to everyone.

Many companies add their own bells and whistles to the operating system (like a graphical install routine) but they all have the same Linux ``kernel'' (the guts of the OS).

Linux releases from different companies are called ``distributions'' (distros), of which Red Hat is the most popular commercial one; others are Caldera, Mandrake, Debian and Suse. Unless you have a very fast internet connection, the easiest way to obtain a distro is to purchase a CDROM/DVD containing the software.

There are many commercial applications that have been ported over to Linux, such as the excellent graphics package Corel DRAW, wordprocessors such as WordPerfect, and office bundles like OpenOffice.

Additionally there are thousands of free applications available for download, plus some that allow you to run Windows programs on your Linux machine. Hardware review Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 pounds 449.99 (www.sharp.co.uk, 0800-138-8879) Sharp has launched the first commercially-available Linux-based personal digital assistant (PDA).

The Zaurus SL-5500 is built around a StrongARM 206MHz processor with 64Mb of SDRam, 16Mb of Flash Rom and expansion slots for Compact Flash and Secure Digital memory cards. An unusual addition is support for both stylus input and a thumboperated keyboard which is revealed by sliding the bottom of the unit down and which, while quite small, is surprisingly user-friendly.

Swedish developer Trolltech's Qtopia Palmtop Environment provides the graphical user interface, which works through discreet tabs. …

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E-Clips Technology News: Change the Way You Use Your PC
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