Linux Offers Easy Conversion
Plenty of Features, too
By Jim Bray
Tired of the crashing and burning of Microsoft Windows?
Maybe it's time to try Linux.
Linux is available in many versions, but I've just been trying SuSE Linux
7.2 Professional, a nice, stable version of the open source operating
system some people say will kill off Microsoft. I doubt that it'll seriously
erode the Windows marketplace soon, but regardless of that Linux does
offer a lot of power and flexibility.
SuSE comes on 7 CD's or one DVD and includes a bundle of five manuals.
This can be quite intimidating, but SuSE has split the books up into various
topics so you may not need to pore over each one of them individually.
There's an overall reference manual (for those who wear overalls, I presume),
a quick install manual, "Networking with SuSE Linux," Applications (because
a pile of applications comes with the product), and a Configuration manual.
The Linux OS is evolving well, and each new version of the "Kernel" (SuSE
7.2 uses 2.4.4) ups the features and compatibility ante over previous
A kernel is to an OS what an engine is to a car, in that it's the core
element that makes the system work. The kernel provides functions such
as memory management, device access (i.e. keyboard, mouse, USB, printer,
video, etc), and a bunch of other services that computer programs need.
The current Kernel adds USB support for most mice, keyboards and printers
and up to 64 gigabytes of RAM (now that's a pile of RAM!). It's also Pentium
4 compatible (SuSE says the system's also tweaked for AMD-powered PC's)
and features a more optimized network interface, fewer bugs (hooray!),
a more powerful firewall system, and better hardware support.
One thing I don't want to lose when moving to any operating system is
the type of customizable GUI ("Graphical User Interface") that Microsoft
does so well with Windows. Fortunately, SuSE 7.2 includes GNOME (v 1.4),
a very customizable and friendly interface, as well as KDE 2.1.2 (including
Konqueror Web Browser, which now supports Netscape plug-ins like Flash,
RealAudio and RealVideo). In short, you get a choice of desktop environments.
The nice thing about such interfaces is that, rather than having to learn
a bunch of commands that hearken back to the olden days of DOS (when computers
were young and the world was wide-eyed and innocent), you can point and
click on icons to move around and operate programs. I did DOS - and the
old Apple OS and another system called CP/M - back in those days and I
don't miss any of them.
The GUI's help make the transition to Linux for Windows/Mac people -
which is most of us - much easier, but don't get too cocky: you're in
for a learning curve anyway.
But there's more to an operating system than the OS itself: you need
software to run on it. Most Windows and Mac software hasn't been converted
to Linux yet, so if you're going to make any use of the Linux system,
you need stuff like Office suites, Web development software, and the like.
Fortunately SuSE throws in some 2000 applications and utilities that,
were you to buy them separately for the Windows or Macintosh environment,
would cost you plenty of after tax bucks. You'll probably never use a
lot of them, but they're there if you want or need them.
You get productivity applications like GIMP and ImageMagick, which are
image manipulation programs similar in purpose to Adobe Photoshop and
Corel PhotoPaint, and Star Office 5.2 - a complete "Microsoft Office-type"
suite that handles word processing, spreadsheets, and the like.
There's even HTML editing software, databases, audio and video editing
software, and a selection of "mini-apps" like CD, MP3, and MPEG movie
players, as well as a bunch of demo software.
When installing SuSE it complained there wasn't room for a Linux partition
on my hard drives, so I had to resize my Windows 2000 partition to make
room for it. Products like PartitionMagic make this easy, but unfortunately
it isn't included with SuSE. Fortunately, I had a version of PartitionMagic
Perhaps one of the nicest features of SuSE Linux Professional 7.2 is
its price: it's a comparatively paltry $70, which makes it a pretty cheap
way to decide if Linux really is for you.
If it isn't, Windows XP will be out soon
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think