Power User: Linux: a comer or a goner?

John McCormick

PC prices are still falling, and Microsoft Windows might not remain the dominant operating system forever. Did you know a PC running low-end Lindows, SuSE, Mandrake or some other Linux OS sells at several sources online for as little as $200, without monitor?

How about a 1.2-GHz AMD Duron Microtel system with Lycoris Linux for $200? Or one with SuSE Linux 8.2, Kernel 2.4.20, for $300?

And those aren't just frames. They come with 128M of RAM, 20G hard drives and 10/100-Mbps network cards. The SuSE machine has speakers, a 56-Kbps modem, keyboard, mouse, two Universal Serial Bus ports'everything but a monitor.

I've been following developments in the new Linux kernel, version 2.6, even though I still run systems with every generation of Windows and MS-DOS dating back to 3.11, plus FreeBSD Unix.

The Linux 2.6 kernel likely won't be available until this fall, but the feature set was locked down in July when serious beta testing began. Visit www.kernel.org for details.

The biggest changes in 2.6 will be support for up to 64 processors along with a hyperthreading-aware scheduler and improved virtual memory. Linux 2.6 could be highly attractive to developers because of its ability to run software without an expensive memory management unit.

The ongoing lawsuits between SCO Group and virtually every Linux vendor, including IBM Corp., have had a chilling effect, however. They revolve around the possible inclusion of some proprietary Unix code in Linux, but I can't believe they will seriously hurt Linux in the long run. After all, the FreeBSD group had to deal with lawsuits from Unix copyright holders more than a decade ago, and it's still going strong.

I can't mention Linux without a word of warning to those who have bought into the hype about Windows OSes being unsecure and Linux highly secure.

Yes, Microsoft products have a lot of security holes and more are being discovered every day, but there are security flaws in Linux and in proprietary Unix, too. They just don't make the mainstream news as often.

Last month's Common Criteria international certification of Linux applied only to one specific platform: SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 on IBM eServer xSeries servers and configured to IBM standards.

The certification is important to government buyers, especially those who must follow security policies set by the Defense Information Systems Agency. But don't forget that the Windows 2000 platform earned its own Common Criteria certification last year.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@yahoo.com.

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