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Linux: The next big thing?


Free operating system poses challenge to Windows

November 10, 1998
Web posted at: 10:45 a.m. EST (1545 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- If your knowledge of computer operating systems is limited to Microsoft's Windows and Apple's Macintosh, expect to hear more about Linux, an OS that's gaining in popularity for several reasons that have at least one competitor on guard. It rarely crashes, it's not owned by anyone -- and it's free.

CNN's Ann Kellan reports on the up and coming popularity of the Linux operating system
Windows Media 28K 56K

Linux (pronounced LINN-ux) also runs on a number of platforms -- the underlying hardware for an OS -- including PCs and Macs.

Created in 1991 by college student Linus Torvalds with the assistance of other developers, Linux has been tried by about 7 million people around the world. Some users even have been able to make improvements because Linux is open-source software.

That means Linux is community property. Its source code -- the nuts and bolts of how the OS works -- is available to anyone. And there lies a potential threat to Windows, the operating system found on most computers sold today.

In an internal memo recently leaked to the media, a Microsoft employee wrote that "Linux poses a significant, near-term revenue threat to Windows NT server," which runs computer networks.

Microsoft still confident

But Microsoft plans to meet the challenge and win back Linux fans.

"It's up to us to once again put an offering out there in the marketplace that makes them hesitate and say, 'I really should consider Windows,'" says Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Bob Herbold.

If that goal is to be met, Microsoft will have to convince people like Linux convert Jim Allen, a University of Georgia graduate student in artificial intelligence.

"I let my computer run for, I think it was about two and a half months, without having to reboot," he told CNN.

But Linux may not be for the plug-and-play crowd, a point acknowledged by Allen, who likes to tinker with computer software.

"It's for people who are interested in learning more about computers, more about what goes on underneath and for people who want more control of their operating system," he says.

For now, Windows is still the champ in terms of commercial available software, but with Linux on the scene, that could change.

With backing from computer companies including Sun, Intel, Corel, Oracle and Netscape, programs for spreadsheets, word processing and graphics editing are becoming available, making Linux more appealing to a wider audience.

Correspondent Ann Kellan contributed to this report.

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