Sunday, January 18, 2009

Linux is what Linux is

I had a friend who worked for DEC equipment years ago. DEC was a mainframe computer manufacturer. My friend was often given a list of specifications and a stack of photos from a sales manager. He was asked to make a literal pile of parts look like the photos and work like the specs. I never heard how successful he was, just that he kept his job. The customers never seen the mess of parts or the tremendous skill and effort required to put them all together. They just saw the finished product and asked where is the boot button.

I have read so many people who want Linux to be like MS Windows in every way. One look and feel, one way of doing things, even one brand name or one company to blame for screwups. This is too much like asking a horse to be a goose. For Linux to become static in would not be Linux any more. Linux was not conceived as a single product and will never be a single product. The kernel considered to be the real "Linux" in Linux was started by one person Linus Torvalds, put on the net to be developed and extended. Many coders who already knew something about writing software for Unix added utilities and functions for Linux. Then applications were either written from scratch or ported to Linux from other Unix based platforms.

So, in reality the Linux project became a kit of Linux parts all under the umbrella name Linux. This kit contains many duplicated functions, you might say extra parts, redundant parts, because one group of developers used this library set and another a different one or one group worked this out one way and another a different way. Now comes along persons or groups who like my DEC friend wants to build a Linux system. They select from all the parts, put then together, test them and name the built system. We call this built system a distribution. Today there are 400+ Linux distributions, each unique for its features or flavor or function. It is amazing the creativity that goes into building a Linux system let alone into the parts themselves.

Should 400+ distributions cause those new to Linux to have a reason to complain and be confused? I say no. The Linux community recommends certain distributions as good starting points, popular choices and solid stable and well supported. It should be noted that you can't regard Linux the same as the off the shelf commercial software you are used to using. If you want what you have now only different and free, Linux is not what you want. If you want to keep and run all your other platform software, you might be out of luck. If you are determined to compare every inch of Linux against Microsoft because there must be a clear winner and a loser, why waste your time. Linux can replace Microsoft or work along side of it, if you can use it, use it. If you don't use it that is your choice.

So I state the facts, Linux is a kit of parts. Combinations of collections of these parts are put into tested systems called distributions. These distros are documented so that you can choose among them and not build from scratch unless you want to. Distributions like Ubuntu and Fedora are easy for new users to understand and use. Once you have some experience you might move on to Mepis or another. I will also say that Linux is Linux and you will find the same applications for any Linux OS for desktop use.

If you have the curiosity or necessity or adventurous spirit, come to a virtual Linuxville tour via Live-CD. You can see if Linux works on your hardware, if you like the tools and applications and decide if installation is in your future. Linux is what Linux is.

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