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UserLinux: Bringing Order to Chaos Finally a United Linux?

Howard Jones presents a new initiativ by Bruce Perens, director of OSDL, to develop a unified Linux distribution that will eradicate any compatibility problems between distributions.

Linux has always been a curiousity to PC users, a rebellious yell against the monopolising Mr Gates and the mighty Windows operating system.  Linux prides itself on being Open Source; in essence, being completely free to use and alter (although there are restrictions on distributing Linux after alteration and so forth) whereas Windows requires every user to pay a substantial license fee before installation.  Issues are starting to emerge from Linux due to its free nature.  Most notably, the lack of any one standard distribution of Linux and therefore a lack of assured compatibility for software.  One thing Linux does extremely well is networking and network services, typically business-orientated activities.  Without widespread support and assurances of compatibility now and in the projected lifetime of any Linux-based system, the business sector will always opt for Windows over Linux, despite the many advantages to be gained by running Linux.

Heavy Backing. Linux is being backed by some heavyweight companies at the moment.  Sun Microsystems, IBM, and more recently, Novell (buying their way into the market via the aquisition of SuSE), are all part of the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) which develop and test the Linux kernel with business applications in mind.  As a result, all have started to release servers and workstations that are Linux based.  Novell, for instance, has announced the release of their first Linux desktop services package.  In the same vein as traditional Win32 support, this Linux package will include file and print sharing technology together with the usual security and user training tools.

Tux the Linux mascot in some Win32 vs Linux humour

In short, Linux is being taken seriously as a viable business option for workstations rather than just servers.  With support from a well-known and established company, any I.T. reliant company will be more at ease with a Linux setup.  Barriers are being broken down at long last.

Compatibility. There is one large obstacle in the way of Linux's pursuit of a healthy chunk of the operating system market; compatibility.  As Linux started off with little official support (in fact just guidance from its creator Linus Torvalds and other people "in the know", all in the spirit of Open Source), a few talented and far-seeing developers grabbed the Linux kernel and wrapped several options around it to their own designs.  This was helped by several tools being released that did the same job.  For instance, there are a few shells available for the command-line interface such as bash and ssh, and a few variations of the graphical user interface (GUI) such as KDE and Gnome.  Each distributor has its own self-developed tools to perform certain tasks, and different ways of arranging the operating system.  All in all, a complete nightmare for any aspiring Linux supporter that wants to build in fuctions that will run on many machines.  At the moment, any developer needs to test their wares on each distribution of Linux for approval. There is hope to resolve this crisis through a new initiativ.

UserLinux. Bruce Perens, director of OSDL, has announced plans to develop a unified Linux distribution that will eradicate any compatibility problems between distributions, aimed specifically for business use.  The idea is to erase any doubt that Linux is the operating system for business.  Yet this idea has started a mini-war between the developers of KDE and Gnome.  The unified Linux distribution (named UserLinux) will be the Debian distribution using the Gnome interface, yet KDE has submitted their plans to include a working version of their GUI with UserLinux.  In a statement that shows how steadfast Perens is in his vision of this 'one to rule them all' version of Linux, he said "We'll have no problem sharing work with them (KDE), just as they share work through FreeDesktop.org and Debian today, but the decision to base UserLinux on Gnome stands."  Top man.
In this decision, Perens has all but killed KDE.  Armed with just the knowledge that Gnome will be included in an Uber-Linux distribution, people will turn away from KDE and go for Gnome. 

Personally, I am a KDE user as default and think it is a good clean interface with some great tools.  I am more delighted, however, that someone is taking the whole Linux mess by the horns and making decisions to kill off some of the duplicate standards existing at present.  Don't forget that people bring their work home with them in a manner of speaking; if they use Gnome at work, they will not use another GUI at home.

Linux still has problems - general support for hardware will be a point watched by many, bearing in mind Windows supports almost everything (my pet peeve at the moment is KDE/XFree86 not supporting OpenGL with my Radeon card).  Despite not supporting 'soft' modems and some graphics cards in OpenGL, Linux is well on its way to becoming a popular home and business operating system.

by Howard Jones
Published: Dec 23, 2003

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