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News > Technology
Linux: What is it anyway?
March 2, 1999: 5:28 p.m. ET

Software gaining in server market, but is still little known among consumers
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - For all the high-tech buzz about Linux, most Americans probably don't have a clue about what it is.
     Linux, in case you haven't heard, is computer operating software that Linus Torvalds developed eight years ago while he was a college student in his native Finland. The software has become so popular with some tech-lovers that you only need to say "Linus" and they know exactly who you mean -- the way "Sinatra" meant one thing and one thing only to generations of music lovers around the world.
     But outside of California's Silicon Valley, where he now lives, Linus and Linux are not exactly household names. Torvalds and his dedicated band of followers mean to change all that.
    
Big tech firms embrace Linux

     They seem to be moving in the right direction. Big hardware and software makers are racing to embrace Linux, which is already making it harder for Microsoft (MSFT) to sell its industrial strength NT operating software to big corporate users. Some say that if it lives up to its promise, Linux could end up reshaping the computer software industry.
     But that doesn't mean you should rush to download Linux (pronounced LINN-ux) for your home PC.
     "Linux is taking over the world," joked Seamus McAteer, analyst at Jupiter Communications, the research firm that specializes in technology and online issues. More seriously, he added: "It's not going to dominate the world, but it is now a viable platform and will continue to evolve."
     The big tech firms are backing Linux because it's fast, reliable and, unlike Windows NT, "open," meaning thousands of programmers around the world can add features and improve the software, hoping the changes will be approved by Torvalds. It also happens to be free -- you can download Linux over the Internet.
     While all that appeals to some users, it also underscores an important fact about Linux: You need some heavy technical chops to use it. Linux is fine for tech-savvy corporate users looking to run big projects like Internet sales sites, but it's not well-suited for dad to use to track his favorite Internet stocks.
     Which is not to say Linux wouldn't work doing that, just that it's not easy. The mainstream press has had stories by technology writers looking at Linux recently who needed big-time help getting it to run on their home PCs. These are people who are not techno-illiterate.
    
Linux not consumer-friendly

     "For consumers? Not really," said Andy Butler, research director at Gartner Group, the technology research firm, noting Linux will be popular with professional programmers writing software and big corporate users running e-commerce or other heavy-duty applications.
     Even in the corporate arena where Linux is expected to steal sales from Microsoft's NT, some mainstream companies will hesitate before buying.
     The cascade of industry support will not make Linux "the next NT," Butler said. "What it does mean is that undoubtedly it will take some sales from Microsoft in the next two to three years."
     Meanwhile, much work remains to be done to make Linux as popular on Main Street as it is in Silicon Valley.
     "It doesn't provide any compelling advantage for consumers," said Jupiter's McAteer. "We don't see it playing a role on the consumer PC or other appliances in near future."
     Still, some people are working to make Linux the next Windows for home PCs. That may or may not be a priority for Torvalds, though. For all his reputation as a high-tech guru, judging by his Web page he seems remarkably low-key.
     "Why does this exist at all?" the page starts off asking. "Frankly, I don't know. … If you're looking for Linux information, you'll find more of it somewhere else, because I'm hopeless when it comes to documentation."
     The page then has a picture of his baby daughter, Patricia Miranda, who looks decidedly like a Linux supporter.Back to top
     -- by staff writer Steven Radwell

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.