Starting to look at Linux

Tux the Linux penguinA few years ago I had an abortive dabble with the Macintosh world when I bought myself an iMac for digital video work (back in the days when FireWire cards for PCs were expensive and the associated Windows support was patchy). The iMac was great in that I had it working within 10 minutes of unpacking it and it looked good, but I couldn’t adjust to MacOS 9 (I hadn’t used a Mac since Uni’) so it gathered dust for a couple of years before I sold it to one of my Mac-obsessed friends.

Now I’m thinking of having a play with another operating system that I haven’t touched since Uni’ – Linux. But this time the reasons are different. When I started out at ICL in 1992 I worked in a mainframe support centre and saw Unix as the “next big thing”. Over the next couple of years I had some exposure to various Unix operating systems, but my work took me towards PCs running MS-DOS and Windows, connecting to NetWare and LAN Manager servers. I started to learn NetWare but found myself turning towards Microsoft and now I find myself in the situation where I’ve known MS-DOS for 16 years, Windows for 14 years, and worked with LAN Manager (together with its NT-based derivatives) for the last 10 years.

So why the change of focus? Basically I figure that the popularity of Linux in the back office seems to be on the increase, and the delay to (and stripping of functionality from) the next version of Windows (codenamed Longhorn) might just lead to an increase in the number of organisations running a version of Linux on the desktop.

I’m not deserting Microsoft technologies – they’ve helped me build a successful career so far and I hope that continues to be the case for many years to come, but I think Linux may be stepping out of the shadows and will be a significant competitor over the coming years. Even Microsoft are waking up to the fact:

“Linux isn’t going to go away. Our job is to provide a better product.”

[Steve Ballmer, Chief Executive, Microsoft]

I bought myself a copy of the Complete Linux Handbook (the editorial content of which is a little biased against Windows, but no surprises there!) and the first issue I’ve come across with Linux is knowing which version to use. One thing I’ve found is that the major distributions are anything but free! I’ll probably switch my primary home PC to SUSE 9.1 (now owned by Novell) and keep Windows XP on the others (including my work laptop).

On a related note, this week’s IT Week contained an interesting pull-out section entitled “The open debate – Linux or Windows? Expert advice for decision-makers”. The version at the VNU website is not exactly the same, but it looks like a good information source for this hot topic.

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