Why I use open source
I started using Linux almost two years ago. At the time I was experimenting
with a number of operating systems including FreeBSD, BeOS and Linux.
FreeBSD appeared to be the most stable of the group and was obviously
better suited to a server environment. BeOS, on the other hand, was clearly
built for a multimedia environment but lacked the power and configuration
options of both Linux and FreeBSD and also suffered from a relatively small
application base. Of the group, Linux was the only one with a highly
configurable yet stable kernel, a broad range of both console-based and
graphical applications as well as a very strong support community.
From its early origins as a university project in the early 1990s and its
subsequent release as an open source operating system in the mid-1990s,
Linux has benefited from the collaborative efforts of thousands – even
millions – of largely Internet-based programmers. Being an open source
project, programmers and users have access to the source code and are free
to alter, re-distribute and extend the operating system or any part of it.
Likewise, the many applications that run on Linux systems are developed
using an open source model.
Unlike proprietary software which usually remains a closely guarded secret
throughout much of its development phase, open source software is generally
released early, making it possible for interested programmers to contribute
their skills and talents to improving the code base. While some may see
this as a potentially chaotic state of affairs the advantages of such a
development process can best be described by the phrase “peer review”. With
a ever-expanding group of users assessing and fixing application code, the
speed at which open source projects can react to bugs and code errors is
unprecedented. Contrary to the fear of such a system creating inferior
software, the process actually fosters the development of more advanced
software with new tools being built on previous generations of code. Code
can be “re-cycled” by a broad range of developers making for a quicker time
to market and better products. The best example of this is the Apache
webserver which serves almost 60 percent of the Internet. Despite its
status as a commercial strength application, Apache is still freely
available on the Internet and anyone can contribute to its development.
Choosing to use Linux over any other operating system is not difficult for
users eager to expand the range of their work environment. While Linux was
initially seen as an operating system suitable for server environments,
recent developments have seen the OS establish itself as a desktop OS as
well. Distributions such as SuSE, RedHat and Mandrake have simplified the
installation of Linux and have put Linux well within the reach of the
For users who require a powerful yet highly configurable operating system,
Linux is a natural choice. Linux is not a monolithic offering and can
easily be tailored to meet both user requirements as well as hardware
constraints. A Linux distribution can just as well be built to run on
pre-Pentium grade computers as it can on high-end server machines.
It’s pedigree as a hacker’s system has ensured that Linux users have access
to an almost endless supply of development applications. Tools such as gcc,
vi and emacs have become standards within the open source programmer’s
toolset and offer programmers a range of development options from C
programming through to Python and Java. Likewise, for Internet developers
Linux offers a production environment second to none. Having access to
commercial strength webservers such as Apache, open source database
applications like MySQL and PostgreSQL and the very powerful PHP scripting
language makes for a comprehensive development environment – all at little
or no cost.
Despite the strength of console-based applications, most users are
accustomed to using graphical interfaces and in this sphere Linux is well
up to the task. In fact, the range of desktop options for Linux is far
greater than on most other operating systems. Most Linux users make use of
the X window system together with a Window Manager such as KDE, Gnome or
Black Box to offer a graphical interface. KDE and Gnome, for example, offer
users a more “traditional” desktop view. In turn, Black Box and AfterStep
offer a less conventional, but more configurable, interface for experienced
users. Recent developments have also seen support for most hardware being
built into the kernel.
But while the brute strength of the Linux operating system is enough to
suit most individuals and companies, it is the community of users that
brings out the true finesse of Linux. Using Linux is an ongoing process of
learning and experimentation. Unlike the products of companies such as
Microsoft, open source development hands software control back to users.
Users are free to experiment, develop and expand their software world
without constraints and use applications best suited to their needs.
Likewise companies can benefit from reduced software costs while still
benefiting from the convenience of tailor made software.
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