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Is Linux poised to topple Microsoft?

Is Linux poised to topple Microsoft?

By Renay San Miguel
CNN Headline News

(CNN) -- During the Cold War, the initials ABM used to mean Anti-Ballistic Missile. In the late '90s, they stood for Anybody But Microsoft, a reaction to the fact that Bill Gates' Windows operating system was in 90 percent of the world's computers and critics didn't like the restrictions Microsoft Corp. placed on computer companies that licensed its software.

But now Microsoft is a convicted monopolist, forced to ease up on those restrictions. The biggest beneficiaries of the New Millennium ABM Club may be proponents of Linux, the open-source operating system, long considered to be as potentially disruptive to Microsoft's dominance as a missile strike on Communist-era Moscow.

Open source essentially means "no secrets." Unlike Windows, the guts of Linux are available on the Internet for any software programmer in the world to tinker with and improve upon. Those guts (the source codes) are basically free.

Its supporters say Linux is a much more robust, stable and secure operating system than anything else out there. In fact, universities and other large institutions have been using Linux in their big server computers for crunching large amounts of technical data, and the software powers many Web sites.

2002 could be shaping up as the Year of the Penguin, Linux's official mascot.

For starters, IBM, long a supporter of Linux, is using the software in the computers and information systems that help to run the U.S. Open tennis championships. Game officials are working on Linux-powered laptop computers to keep track of game scores and highlight video and quickly send them out to various destinations.

Also, Dell Computer Corp. recently unveiled what it's calling the biggest cluster of Linux server computers in the United States. They are at the State University of New York in Buffalo, where biomedical researchers and pharmaceutical companies will use them to look for cures for diseases. It's an effort akin to the decoding of the human genome.

Finally, a new documentary film slowly making its way to art theaters and festivals around the country chronicles the rise of the Linux movement. "Revolution OS" may sound like it will appeal only to computer geeks, but its makers claim to spell out the meaning of the open-source movement in terms that will appeal to all moviegoers.

The movie includes an interview with Linus Torvalds, the Finnish software engineer who developed the kernel, or guts, of the Linux operating system. Whenever Torvalds speaks at LinuxWorld conventions, he's treated like the Bruce Springsteen of software; fans applaud and whistle in their best rock-star-worship manner.

Since Linux waddled onto the tech scene, Microsoft has done its best to shout it down, saying that open source methods threaten software security. The company and other critics say there is still no easy-to-install and user-friendly version of Linux for consumers to load onto their computers.

Nevertheless, Linux is starting to gain momentum with computer companies as an alternative to Microsoft.

Unlike the penguin, Linux seems to be taking flight.




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