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Linux is widely acknowledged as a powerful, stable platform that offers an alternative to Windows in many contexts. Given its Unix roots, Linux has typically appealed to system developers, system administrators, and power users. Corel Linux is among those versions of Linux that are currently reversing this trend by demonstrating Linux's viability for end users.
This book will teach you how to use Corel Linux for your day-to-day work. From word processing to browsing the World Wide Web, Corel Linux allows you to accomplish the same daily tasks that you may already perform on a Windows or Macintosh system.
This chapter sets the stage for your tour of Corel Linux. It begins with some background on Linux and then describes the key features of Linux in general and Corel Linux in particular. Then you will learn how to prepare for installing Corel Linux. Finally, you will be guided through the installation process.
What Is Linux?
Linux is a term that can refer to two things: the core of the system known as the kernel or, more broadly, to a complete collection of applications, known as a distribution that runs on the kernel. The kernel provides an environment in which applications can run, including hardware interfaces or drivers and mechanisms for managing files and sharing the system among multiple active applications.
Linux is a multitasking, multiuser, memory-efficient operating system. It offers many features that are lacking or incompletely implemented in Windows 98 or Windows 2000.
A Brief History of Linux
The history of Linux starts with Unix, which came into existence in an era before desktop computers were available. It was used in the mid-1970s to power minicomputers and mainframe computers in corporate and academic applications.
Unix, in its many forms, has continued to be used in large and small networks worldwide. However, Unix has always been a high-cost commercial platform, inaccessible to students and developers outside the context of corporate and academic networks. Traditional Unix systems are too expensive to buy to run on small home computers and usually require more powerful hardware than the average home user can afford.
Linux was developed to create a freely available Unix-like environment that could also run on typical home computer systems. The Linux effort was initiated in 1991 by Linus Torvalds, a student at the University of Helsinki in Finland. Since then, the number of programmers working on different aspects of the Linux environment has grown into the thousands, but Torvalds retains control of the Linux core, called the kernel.
There is little doubt that Linux has emerged as the leading Unix clone. It runs not only on Intel-based personal computer hardware, but also on a wide range of other platforms, including Compaq Alpha systems, Sun SPARC systems, and many others.
Linux as a Multitasking Operating System
Multitasking is a feature of most modern operating systems, including Windows 98 and Windows 2000. The basic concept behind multitasking is that the system can appear to be running more than one application at the same time. This is done by sharing system resources and rapidly switching between applications so that they all have the opportunity to use the computer's resources as needed. Theoretically, it is possible for a user to print a document, search for a file, and browse the World Wide Web all at the same time, without the foreground tasks (such as browsing the Web) being noticeably affected by the background tasks (such as printing the document).
Of course, this sharing of system resources-memory, disk space, the processor, and other resources-has its limits. One system can only do so much, so there is a threshold at which attempts to run more applications begin to noticeably reduce the performance of all running applications.
Historically, Windows operating systems have had poor implementations of multitasking. Windows 3.1 could not handle running multiple applications well. Windows 95 and 98 have improved, but still do not offer the seamless, efficient multitasking available traditionally in Unix and Unix-like systems. Windows NT and 2000 do offer robust, well-designed multitasking. In this respect, Linux and Windows 2000 are comparable.
Linux as a Multiuser Operating System
Perhaps more important than its multitasking capability is Linux's multiuser capabilities. Until recently, Windows has not offered any real multiuser features. Windows 98 does provide personal user profiles to customize the Desktop's appearance and other cosmetic settings, and Windows NT and 2000 offer robust security for different users. However, these systems are not designed to allow multiple users to log in and work on the system at the same time. Rather, a single user can log in and run multiple applications with multitasking, but multiple users cannot log in and run multiple applications. This seriously limits one's ability to take advantage of the multitasking capabilities of the operating system.
Current versions of Windows 2000 have added multiuser capabilities in the form of Terminal Services. However, Unix systems have offered multiuser capabilities for far longer and have far better-developed multiuser features. These capabilities are one of the factors that have made Unix systems popular in multiuser environments, such as universities where a handful of powerful servers can provide computing to the entire school.
Linux offers the same multiuser capabilities as traditional Unix systems. Linux can be used on servers in similar multiple-user environments, as well as to allow small office and home networks to share computing resources.
Linux as a Memory-Efficient Operating System
Microsoft has attempted to position Windows NT, and its successor, Windows 2000, as the ideal alternative to Unix for deploying servers in large and small organizations alike. However, the Windows server platform suffers from a problem: It has a barrier to entry in terms of minimum hardware requirements. In particular, Windows NT and 2000 require considerable memory in order to achieve acceptable performance, A requirement of 64MB is generally considered the minimum needed to just run Windows 2000 alone, without any additional applications or services running.
In contrast, Linux can be deployed on relatively low-powered systems with small memory footprints. A Linux system can successfully be deployed on an 8MB system to fulfill specific server tasks. This benefit translates to the end-user environment as well, where a usable Linux workstation can often be created with lower-end, older hardware than is necessary to run a Windows system.
Linux as Open-Source Software
A crucial aspect of the success of Linux is that all of its core components-including the kernel, key utilities, and other applications-are produced under open-source software licenses. Open-source software licenses allow anyone to redistribute software, even for a fee, as long as the redistributed version is subject to the same license. In other words, someone can sell open-source software, but the person who buys it can, in turn, sell copies of it commercially or redistribute it for free. An example of an opensource software license is the GNU General Public License, which is used for numerous Linux software packages.
The most important aspect of the open-source software phenomenon is that the source code (the programming code that builds the software) is made freely available so that anyone can read it, understand it, or alter it. This has led to the formation of a vibrant community of developers working on open-source products such as Linux. These developers contribute their own ideas and changes to the code, and then redistribute this code under an open-source license. The result is rapid development of software and wide creativity because of the diversity of the developer community. In fact, many significant packages used to power the Internet today are developed using the open-source software model, including Apache, a widely used Web server; Perl, a programming language used to create many interactive Web sites; and Sendmail, a common e-mail server.
Of course, the question here is how these endeavors can support themselves financially. The developers have used several approaches, including the following:
At the core, all Linux distributions are built as open-source software and can be downloaded for free from the Internet or purchased on CD-ROM for a nominal sum. However, in many cases, distribution producers offer commercial versions of their distributions in addition to a basic one containing strictly open-source software. These commercial versions add software that is not open-source, such as office productivity software, enterprise database servers, or secure Web servers. In addition, commercial distributions generally come with support from the distribution vendor...