Anyone for Linux?   …. the OS of the future is here!

Imagine your PC equipped with an operating system, fully-functional office software, a powerful browser, music and video applications, image editing software – and all for free (or at any rate for a trivial sum compared to Microsoft’s charges). Fanciful? Not at all – you can get all that if you instal Linux.

The main Linux distributions can be downloaded free from the Internet, or can be purchased on CD for a fraction of the price you’ll have to pay for Windows XP. And with them you’ll get a massive catalogue of software utilities – ranging from games through graphics programmes, media applications etc. to some fairly esoteric utilities that are strictly for the geeks – or perhaps network administrators. The stability of Linux (no “blue screens of death”) is such that it has made enormous inroads into the server market and is now poised to do the same in the desk top market.

Red Hat, SuSe, Debian and Mandrake are currently the most popular distros for the average user, and if you choose them you should have no problems with installation on a new PC. Two recent newcomers are Fedora and Ubuntu. Fedora is a non-commercial spin-off from Red Hat and in its current incarnation (Fedora Core 4) it is well worth trying. The installation CD images can be downloaded from the Internet and the installation itself is a breeze. Get Fedora at http://fedora.redhat.com/download/. Ubuntu is a similar non-commercial distribution, but rather than being spun-off from a commercial distro its origins are in the well respected Debian distribution. Ubuntu can be downloaded from http://www.ubuntulinux.org/ Both Ubuntu and Fedora offer a real competitive alternative to Windows.

OpenOffice (latest version 2.0) is an impressive, free, and fully integrated office application. In this case ‘free’ does mean as in ‘free beer’. It includes powerful wordprocessing, spreadsheet, presentation and drawing applications – all intuitively written, user-friendly, and without some of the maddeningly intrusive bells and whistles that one finds in a certain alternative package. The file format is interesting too – zipped XML archives which are considerably smaller in size than equivalent .doc or .xls files. OK – so hard drives are so huge nowadays it hardly matters what size your documents are. True – but don’t forget there are a lot of people still without Internet broadband access, and they aren’t going to feel too pleased about receiving a 3Mb document in their e-mail! Oh, and before I forget, Open Office can open MS Word and Excel documents no problem – and can save in these formats too, though with some loss of document formatting. Download OpenOffice at http://www.openoffice.org/

With the release of Firefox 1.0 the Mozilla organisation has without doubt eclipsed Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. The basic browser offers superb functionality – tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking, RSS integration and more. Downloadable (128 of them at the last count) extensions allow even more functionality – mouse gesture control, bandwidth testing, and get this – a calendar and scheduler. If you add to this the Thunderbird e-mail client also avalable from Mozilla you have a complete personal organiser suite – all free! Download now at http://www.mozilla.org/

Tied into a network based on Windows? No problem – your new Linux PC will slot into an existing network courtesy of Samba, an Open Source/Free Software suite that provides seamless file and print services to SMB/CIFS clients. Translation – your Windows PC’s will think another Winbox has joined the network. Samba is packaged with Fedora, Ubuntu and other major distros. If your distro does not provide it you can download Samba at http://www.samba.org/