The Linux Alternative To Windows: It's Free, And It's Not Microsoft
John J. Moran
June 18, 1998Lou Rinaldi Jr. isn't interested in the upcoming release of Windows 98.
Neither does he care for Windows 95, or earlier versions of Microsoft's popular operating system software.
Instead, Rinaldi is hooked on a program known as Linux - a free operating system that, like Windows, manages files, runs software and connects computers to the Internet.
``Pretty much any task that you would buy a computer for, Linux has the ability to do the job,'' said Rinaldi, 20, a college student and systems administrator from Cheshire.
Never heard of Linux? You're not alone.
But Rinaldi hopes to help change all that.
He's co-founder of the Connecticut Free Unix Group, a nonprofit organization that aims to spread the word about Linux and other free Unix-like operating systems.
``The Connecticut Free Unix Group is the only organization in the entire state that is doing this kind of thing,'' said Rinaldi, who started the organization with friend Nate Smith in December 1996.
``I feel that CFUG fills a much-needed gap in this area,'' he said. ``Without CFUG, there would be a lot of people who would be on the outside looking in.''
Now it's pretty hard to get excited about an operating system. After all, a good OS is distinguished largely by its ability to remain in the background - quietly acting as a traffic cop for the data flowing through the computer.
So the dedication of users like Rinaldi and other CFUG members to the Linux software is something to behold. And it's that very dedication to the ideal of a free, robust and ever-improving operating system that has been a hallmark of Linux since the beginning.
Linux is the creation of Linus Torvalds, 28, a programmer from Finland. Torvalds decided in 1991 that he was going to try to top MS-DOS, then Microsoft's flagship operating system.
Torvalds started by modeling his software after another operating system called Unix. (Merge Linus and Unix together and, voila, ``Linux.'') Next, he began circulating copies of his work and inviting others to contribute.
It was one of the earliest examples of the ``open-source movement,'' a trend toward programmers sharing not just their software but also the underlying programming code. This sharing of the source code allows other programmers to see how the software works and even add their own enhancements.
In the years since Linux made its debut, scores of programmers have chipped in with improvements to make it an ever- evolving operating system. A host of ``window managers'' give Linux the kind of graphical interface that Windows and Macintosh users are familiar with.
By now, the growing capabilities of Linux are prompting a lot of people to take notice. An estimated 4 million to 10 million computers are running Linux, according to research by Red Hat Software, a commercial firm that distributes a version of the program.
That number is said to be growing rapidly, although it is still dwarfed by the number of PCs running Microsoft Windows. Still, Rinaldi believes Linux's future is bright.
``I don't know if it will ever overtake Windows, but it's growing at an exponential rate now and I think it's only going to continue to grow,'' Rinaldi said.
``It's a free product that not only outperforms Microsoft products in every documented area, but also has that core stability where you don't have to reboot every time you make a slight change to the system.
``It's definitely full steam ahead for Linux.''
For information on how to obtain Linux, go to www.linux.org.
The Connecticut Free Unix Group meets on the second Monday of the month in the Cheshire Public Library. The group's next meeting is at 7 p.m. on July 13. CFUG also maintains a Web site at www.cfug.org.
John J. Moran is The Courant's technology reporter, covering computers, the Internet, on-line services and related topics. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org