A brief reminder
Open Source software, also known by the generic name Free Software, was born with the advent of Unix in the 1970s. This operating system was delivered with its source code so user mostly in universities and research laboratories could handle maintenance themselves. Since technical assistance was lacking, communities of computer specialists were organized in order to maintain, improve and distribute the operating system. In 1983, Richard Stallman of MIT founded the Free Software Foundation, an organization campaigning for the use of free software. This project, called GNU (Gnu is Not Unix) quickly took shape, and the GPL, General Public License, providing a legal framework for the usage and distribution of free software, was written.
While the term "free" implies that source code is distributed with the program, it in no way means that the application itself is necessary free (has no cost). The GPL license simply prevents a distributor from taking over the work carried out by a community of developers and including usage restrictions. Today, the GPL license governs the large majority of programs running under Linux, including the operating system itself.
1991, the beginnings of Linux: the GPL meets the Internet
The Linux operating system, which is now in the spotlight, and presented as an alternative to Microsoft Windows, is the end product of a Unix kernel designed in 1991 by a Finnish student named Linus Torvalds. Since 1994, when version 1.0 of Linux was first distributed over the Internet, the kernel has been enriched and optimized through a system of collaborative development. It is now recognized as being one of the most stable and powerful operating systems on the market.
The Strengths of the Linux Operating System
The development process of open source software relies on the traditional software publisher's internal teams as well as on virtual independent communities associated with the project, including computer experts and users. Internet growth has boosted the mass of contributors from external communities and dramatically improved the efficiency of the open source development process. On the other hand, many low - cost open source software programs have been designed for the web and consequently intensify Internet growth. The access to its source code enables experienced users to customize and optimize the system based on their own specificities. It provides the necessary flexibility so as to be adaptable in a great number of technical environments.
In addition, it is compatible with all sorts of hardware, even that considered to be obsolete. It helps ensure that investments made both by companies and individuals will have longer lives: these users no longer have to throw away old computers. Naturally, Linux performance can best be seen with the latest hardware, where standard applications such as Oracle, ported to Linux, run 20 to 30% faster. Another advantage is the availability of Linux for most currently available platforms: Apple's PowerPC, i386, Intel's Pentium I, II and III and compatible, Sun's Ultra Sparc, Digital?s Alpha. In other words, Linux is designed to help the heterogeneous platforms of a diversified computer park communicate with each other. As Linux enables developers to customize the program's source code according to their needs, it is a highly attractive option for corporations that typically invest heavily in proprietary operating systems and software. In the past year, Linux has gained industry-wide support, and formed partnerships with companies such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, Dell, Oracle, Sun, SGI, Netscape and Apple.
Who uses Linux?
Linux is the only Unix operating system whose market share increases every year. Its users can be broken down into several categories:
The first category is made up of computer buffs, who generally know a great deal about their computers, and are fully able to appreciate the stability and performance of the system. Increasing numbers of new users are discovering Linux because it provides a complete solution (operating system and applications) which ensures performance, stability, simplicity and user-friendliness at a very low cost. The development and multiplication of the Linux press is a sign of the interest that the general public has for this system.
The second category covers small businesses. In addition to the important economic issue of open source software (lower licensing cost), Linux runs on any platform, even those considered to be technologically out-of-date. In addition, the reliability of this system ensures that there is no need for the full-time presence for a system administrator, whereas this is indispensable when running Netware, SCO Unix or Windows NT.
Key accounts, such as telecom operators and Internet access providers (the Apache Web server represents 50% of the Web server market (source:Netcraft)). The reliability and efficiency of this operating system have convinced these demanding customers.
Universities and research centers benefit from platforms not only for development but also for teaching and training. Furthermore Linux provides them with scientific arithmetic clusters and scientific office automation. Finally, industrials recognize the quality of Linux and are integrating it into their product offer. Free access to source code, ensured by the GPL license, makes Linux the leading choice for embedded applications in all kinds of products (PABX, monitors, set-top boxes, mobile phones, PDAs, etc.)