Quick, name the Operating System (OS) that's been attracting unprecedented attention in the past few months from Fortune 500 corporations, technical and general journals, independent software vendors, and the public at large ?

Nope, it's not Windows 98. It's Linux.


So what is Linux, anyway ? It is an open-source OS (see the Infotech column on Open Source dated July 6, 1998 ) that aims to comply with POSIX, a set of standards defining a Unix-like OS. Unix, of course, is the OS that the Internet is built around, and is widely acknowledged as the most stable and tested OS platform around.

In tune with the whole Open Source effort, all development on Linux is done by a world-wide team of programmers who share their efforts with each other, and with the world at large. This effort is co-ordinated by Linus Torvalds, a Finnish hacker who originated the Linux kernel (and from whom the name "Linux" comes).

So what's all the fuss about ?

This is just a small list of things that Linux does, and does amazingly well:

  • It is excellent at networking (people have successfully run networks ranging from tiny LANs to full-fledged Internet Service Providers with it)

  • It natively supports Mac, DOS, Windows 3.1/95/98/NT, Novell, and OS/2 clients and supports all major Internet protocols, including TCP/IP, POP, telnet, http and ftp.

  • It runs on all kinds of hardware, from palmtops (there's a version that runs on the PalmPilot) to the insanely fast Alpha machines. You can even hook up an entire network together to make your own Linux supercomputer. Another point to keep in mind is that it can even run on old hardware such as a 386 or a 486. (but plan on giving Linux at least 8 MB of RAM if you want to run a Graphical User Interface like X-Windows)

  • It does all the above stably, and FAST.

  • It is FREE! The old adage of "pay or pirate" no longer applies here.

    Yes, but I use Windows at the Office / home....

    What is even more interesting is that there exist office suites for Linux as well, such as Applixware or StarOffice. The latter can even handle files generated by popular Windows productivity suites such as MS-Office. So, you could bring work home with files from your Windows machine in the office, continue working on it with your Linux box at home, take it back in the morning and continue working on it on the Windows machine. This kind of interoperability gives you added flexibility.

    Linux is now the only non-Microsoft OS to be increasing its market share. Developer resource Linux Online estimates about 7 million users, but because it is freely available (and freely distributable, by the terms of the Open Source licence), no one is sure. Value-added distributors, such as Red Hat and Caldera, shipped around 1.8 million licenses in 1997.

    The corporate world is increasingly taking to Linux as they discover its stability and reliability. It is run at sites as diverse as the online technology magazine, hotwired to Wells Fargo to the U.S. Postal Service. Several big names in the IT world, including Sun, Digital and Adaptec Inc., have signed on with the Linux vendor group Linux International over the past three months. The organization now boasts 27 members. Intel Corp., Oracle Corp. and Informix Corp. are expected to join within the next few months as well.

    In India, too, Linux is making strong inroads. The Educational and Research network, ERNET, has a significant number of nodes running Linux. So also do various institutions such as the IITs, the Indian Institute of Science, and the various Regional Engineering Colleges. The Times of India runs its nationwide space-marketing service, RespNet, on Linux. It runs the mail servers and intranets of numerous other corporates.

    There are a variety of Linux User Groups (LUGs) throughout the world that act as localised fora for users to share experiences and solutions. This is the case in India as well. The Indian Linux Users Group has recently become active, with its last meeting held a week ago at Bangalore.

    Sitting in the midst of this meeting was an interesting experience, as people who had mostly never seen each other before quickly used the matrix of shared interest to gel with each other. What was even more interesting was the palpable feeling of expectation in the air - it was as though everybody realised they were at the frontlines of a genuine example of that much overused term: a paradigm shift. A whole new way of looking at computing. A genuine grassroots revolution (another overworked phrase)

    It looks like stirring times ahead in the near future. Watch this space.

    [for more information on Linux, including download information on the various applications described here, visit these sites : ]

    History of Linux User Groups in India
    We focus on two prominent user groups - BLUG and Linux-India. There are several others as well.

    The idea of starting Bharat Linux Users Group (BLUG) came when linuxers from REC Surat along with some linuxers in India who used to frequent IRC #linux (undernet) decided to start a linux mailing list in India. Therefore the BLUG was started in March 97 as a venture to keep all linux users in India in regular touch with the latest happenings and developments in the linux community around the globe, to grow awareness for Linux and to provide solutions to the problems faced by users. It was initially started with some 40 members, which included some 15 enthusiastic linuxers from REC Surat. The list has now grown to some 100 odd members all over India and is maintained at REC Surat by students.

    Note: URL of BLUG is or one can subscribe to the mailing list too.

    Linux India was started by 3 linux enthusiasts during the beginning of 1998. The force behind the decision is a message in GLUE from Arun Sharma, who is since maintaining the mailing list for Linux India. Linux India membership has since grown fairly fast. The mailing-list serves the twin purposes of helping newcomers to Linux and as a discussion forum for Linux enthusiasts. Currently there are around 100 people on the list and the number is growing.

    The objectives of Linux India are
    1. Foster the growth of Linux in India
    2. Share the joy of using Linux - whether at home or office
    3. Help current and future Linux users in solving their problems

    Linux India maintains a website for disseminating information on Linux and to help Indian users get more information on Linux. Meetings take place regularly (once a month) currently at Bangalore - the last meeting was attended by more than 20 people.

    Udhay Shankar N <> is a Random Networking Enthusiast who collects interesting people.