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After a Decade: Linux Today

Proving all the warning and prophecies of the skeptics wrong, Linux has completed a decade of development. Today, Linux is one of the fastest growing operating systems in the history. From a few dedicated fanatics in 1991-92 to millions of general users at present, it is certainly a remarkable journey. The big businesses have 'discovered' Linux, and have poured millions of dollars into the development effort, denouncing the anti-business myth of the open-source movement. IBM corp. once considered the archenemy of open-source hacker community, has come forward with a huge fund for development of open source Linux based solutions. But what's really amazing is the continuously increasing band of developers spread throughout the world who work with a fervent zeal to improve upon the features of Linux. The development effort is not, as many closed-sourced advocates accuse, totally engulfed with chaos. A well designed development model supervised by some maintainers is adopted. Along with this, there are thousands of developers working to port various applications to Linux.

Commercial enterprises are no longer wary of Linux. With a large number of vendors providing support for Linux based products, it is no longer a 'do-at-your-own-risk' thing to use Linux at the office. As for reliability, Linux certainly proved it during the nasty attacks of the CIH virus in 1999 and the love bug a year later, during which Linux based machines proved to be immune to the damages caused by these otherwise quite simple computer viruses. Linux startups like Red Hat received a cordial response as they went public. And even after the dot-com bust of the recent years, these companies continue to thrive and grow. With this added confidence, many large and small businesses have adopted Linux based servers and workstations as an integral part of their offices.

 

What is the biggest complain against Linux? Perhaps in the past, it was the text based interface which scared off many people from using it. 'Text mode gives total control', some dedicated hackers and heavy users may explain. But for the millions of ordinary people, it also means a lot of effort towards learning the system. The existing X-Window system and the window managers were not up to the general computer users' expectation. Exactly this argument had always been put forward by dedicated followers of the Windows(TM) camp. But things began to change in the last couple of years. The advent of professional looking desktop environments like KDE( K Desktop Environment) and GNOME completed the picture. The recent versions of these desktop environment have changed the general perception about the 'user friendliness' of Linux to a great extent. Though hard-core users grumble about the loss of purity of the hacker-culture, this great change in the mindset of the common users has increased the popularity of Linux.

Today, almost distributions of Linux include user-friendly GUIs. Installation has also become easier. Gone are the days when users would need detailed expertise in computer hardware to install Linux ... distributions like Ubuntu, Debian, Suse, Knoppix, and Red Hat's Fedora Core can be installed by even novice users. Most distributions are also available in Live CD format, which the users can just put in their CD drives and boot without installing it to the hard drive, making Linux available to the newbies.

 

Perhaps the greatest change is the spread of Linux to the developing world. In the days before Linux, developing countries were way behind in the field of computing. The cost of hardware fell down, but the cost of software was a huge burden to the cash-strapped computer enthusiasts of the Third World countries. In desperation, people resorted to piracy of almost all sorts of software products. This resulted in widespread piracy, amounting to billions of dollars. But then again, the pricetag of most of the commercial products were far beyond the reaches of the people in developing countries. For example, a typical operating system product costs at least US $100 or more. But in countries with per capita incomes of about US$200-300, is a huge amount.

The rise of Linux and other related open source product has changed it all. Since Linux can be scaled to run in almost computer with very few resources, it has become a suitable alternative for low budget computer users. Old, ancient 486/Pentium 1 computers that has become a part of history in the developed world are still used in developing countries. And Linux has enabled to unleash the full potential of these computers. The use of open source software has also proliferated, since the price of software is a big question. In countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, Linux has appeared as a way out for the masses of computer enthusiasts. And a testament to the true global nature of Linux, local customizations were made in obscure parts of the world. The Linux documentation now includes documents written in almost all the major languages ... and also many minor ones, for example, Vietnamese.

 

When Linux was first envisaged by Linus Torvalds, it was just another hackers hobby. But from the humble Intel 386 machine of Linus that ran the first kernel, Linux has come a long way. Its most notable use now is in the field of massively parallel supercomputing clusters.

In August 2001, BBC reported that the US Government was planning to build what would be a mega computer, capable of performing over 13 trillion calculations per second (13.6 TeraFLOPS). The project, called Teragrid would consist of a connected network of 4 US supercomputing centers. The four labs that are collaborating to create the Teragrid are: National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois(NCSA), San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago; California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. At each of these centers, there would be a supercomputer. In total, there would be more than 3000 processors running in parallel to create the Tetragrid.

By 2005, the use of Linux became more prevalent in Supercomputing. The 2005 Top500 list of Supercomputers shows that 4 of the top 5 fastest supercomputers use Linux as their operating system.

 

The journey of Linux from a hacking project to globalization has been more like an evolutionary experience. The GNU Project, started in the early 1980's by Richard Stallman, laid the foundation for the development of open source software. Prof. Andrew Tanenbaum's Personal Computer operating system Minix brought the study of operating systems from a theoretical basis to a practical one. And finally, Linus Torvald's endless enthusiasm for perfection gave birth to Linux. Throughout the last couple of years, hundreds of thousands of people forming global community nurtured it and brought it to its glorious place in the annals of the computer revolution. Today Linux is not just another student's hacking project, it is a worldwide phenomenon bringing together huge companies like IBM and the countless millions of people throughout the world in the spirit of the open source software movement. In the history of computing, it will forever remain as one of the most amazing endeavors of human achievement.

The Journey Continues

From Desktop to SuperComputing

Linux in the Developing World

Rise of the Desktop Linux

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