The Excitement of Linux

Linux is, first of all, free software: anyone can download the source from the Internet or buy it on a low-cost CD-ROM. But Linux is becoming well known because it’s more than just free software—it’s unusually good software. You can get more from your hardware with Linux and be assured of fewer crashes; even its security is better than many commercial alternatives.

Linux first appeared in organizations as ad hoc installations by hackers running modest web servers or development systems at universities and research institutions, but it now extends deeply into corporations around the world. People deploying Linux for mission-critical systems tend to talk about its ample practical advantages, such as the ability to deliver a lot of bang for the buck and the ease of deploying other powerful tools on Linux, such as Apache, Samba, and Java environments. They also cite Linux’s ability to grow and sprout new features of interest to large numbers of users. But these advantages can be traced back to the concept of software freedom, which is the root of the broad wave of innovation driving Linux.

As free software, Linux revives the grand creativity and the community of sharing that Unix was long known for. The unprecedented flexibility and openness of Unix—which newcomers usually found confusing and frustrating, but eventually found they couldn’t live without—continually inspired extensions, new tools, and experiments in computer science that sometimes ended up in mainstream commercial computer systems.

Many programmers fondly remember the days when AT&T provided universities with Unix source code at no charge and the University of Berkeley started distributing its version in any manner that allowed people to get it. For these older hackers, Linux brings back the spirit of working together—all the more so because the Internet is now so widespread. And for the many who are too young to remember the first round of open systems or whose prior experience has been constricted by trying to explore and adapt proprietary operating systems, now is the time to discover the wonders of freely distributable source code and infinitely adaptable interfaces.

The economic power behind Linux’s popularity is its support for an enormous range of hardware. People who are accustomed to Microsoft Windows are often amazed at how much faster their hardware appears to work with Linux—it makes efficient use of its resources.

For the first several years after its appearance, users were attracted to Linux for a variety of financial and political reasons, but soon they discovered an unexpected benefit: Linux works better than many commercial systems. With the Samba file and print server, for instance, Linux provides stable Windows-based networking to a large number of end-user PCs. With the Apache web server, it provides more of the useful features web administrators want than competing products do. Embedded versions of the Linux kernel are growing in use because, although they are larger than the most stripped-down operating systems, they deliver a range of powerful features within a remarkably small footprint.

Opinions still differ on how suitable Linux is as a general-purpose desktop system. But the tremendous advances in usability and stability of the desktop software and its applications are undisputed. Soon (if not today), one will find Linux in many offices and other end-user environments. Meanwhile, the strides made by Linux in everyday computing tasks are reflected in the many new commands found in this edition.

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