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Lost in Cyberspace

Finding online support for Linux

This article was originally published on June 30, 1998 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

Maybe you adhere to the Bill Gates as anti-Christ theory. Perhaps you simply don't like Windows – 95, 98 or any other flavor. It could be you love the Macintosh hardware but hate OS 8. Or maybe you have an older computer platform – a NeXT, Amiga or Atari – that you still want to use but have trouble finding software for.

Whatever the reason, more and more people are switching to Linux, the open-platform Unix-style operating system created in 1991 by a young Finnish student, Linus Torvalds. (Quick definition: Open platform means that the source code to Linux, the actual program behind the operating system, is in the public domain and available to anyone. In other words, it doesn't belong to anyone – Microsoft can't buy it.)

From all reports, Linux isn't ready for novice computer users – yet. It's still too arcane and hard to install and in need of occasional tinkering (kind of like Windows 3.1 was a few years back). But work continues on improving the two main graphical desktops for Linux, GNOME and KDE, that give it a Windows/Mac look and feel. As those continue to improve and become more transparent, Linux will start moving into the mainstream – although with anywhere from 5 million to 12 million users already (depending on whose figures you accept), Linux is already rivaling the Mac and Unix in terms of pure numbers.

If you got excited when the digital soothsayers were predicting that Java would lead to a universal operating system that would have versions for every type of hardware, you'll love Linux. There are versions of Linux for PowerPC and Intel boxes, for Sun and Silicon Graphics, the DEC Alpha to Vax mainframes to palmtops. The latest two Linux ports are a combined version for the Atari and Amiga computers (or at least those with a Motorola 68030 chip) and Extreme Linux, which allows you to take multiple Pentium II-based PCs on a network and create a parallel-processing supercomputer.

One of the neat things about Linux (besides its hardcore geek factor) is the amount of support available online. There are Web sites and FTP sites (for downloading files) and newsgroups by the hundreds if not thousands, all devoted to Linux. As with the Mac, the Linux community is noted for its followers' zeal.

The best starting place for learning more about Linux (or finding help if you already have it) is at Linux Online. This seems to be the unofficial headquarters of the Linux community, with news updates, lists of vendors, links to software archives, a list of user groups, a history of Linux and even more info. The site is well designed and easy to navigate.

The single largest distributor of Linux is Red Hat, and this Web site is also a good resource. Each version they sell includes a clear explanation of what's included, and they offer both secure online and telephone ordering. This is also a good site to get info on the latest updates to Linux, and find out what improvements are planned. Most valuable is the list of links to software companies that sell applications for Linux.

Yahoo's Linux page includes links to the growing number of Usenet newsgroups dedicated to Linux (14 and counting), as well as private e-mail lists and user groups.

Other good Linux sites include:

Linux Web Watcher has probably the most comprehensive set of links to major Linux resources on the Internet.

Linux Center has an extensive collection of links to other Linux sites.

LinuxNow has question-answer areas and a files area.