FOSS - an unrecognized social phenomenon
Most people are not aware that Free and Open Source Software has been evolving steadily over the past thirty years, nor of the multi-million dollar legal battles that its developers and enthusiasts have fought, mostly against Microsoft, to protect their freedom to create their own operating systems and software. Microsoft tried to destroy all open source software and have it declared illegal in order to monopolize the consumer software market. It was eventually defeated in this criminal effort, and has paid BILLIONS of dollars in fines for its aggressive, anti-competitive actions.
Whether viewed as a technological achievement, an art-form, a social movement or a community service, FOSS and Linux (known generically as Linux) are undoubtedly the greatest achievements of the worldwide computer community. That they get no recognition whatever from the corporate-controlled media is because they are viewed as a threat to the philosophy and business models of large corporations.
Linux is not anti-business, but supports a very different business model. Instead of making money by selling software to consumers, Linux vendors earn income by training Users, maintaining and modifying standard software, and writing new applications. It is therefore vastly more creative, community friendly and commercially productive when compared to the anti-competitive monopolist preferences of Big Business.
Most countries have their own national distros, often Government sponsored and supported, such as Red Flag Linux in China, not only because of its advantages in education and training, but because of its importance as a national defence asset. About 70% of the world's Internet servers use Linux. It's also found in supercomputers, used by NASA, and by many of the world's largest - and smallest - companies.
Linux is community-written and supported software for the international community. Use and support it if you believe in these ideals, and want a much superior alternative to the expensive, insecure, buggy offerings of Microsoft.
Why this site?
This site is based on the author's own experience as a professional electronics hardware engineer moving from DOS/Win 3.1 a dozen years ago to RedHat Linux 6.1, then on through many different distros to PCLinuxOS and Slackware today (2010). As one who has received advice and assistance from other Linux users, this site is the author's way of repaying something to the Linux community.
This page gives a general overview of Linux as a computer operating system (OS) and social phenomenon. For information on obtaining and installing Linux, go to the Installation page.
THE ORIGINS OF LINUX
During the 1970's, many computer professionals realized that computer Operating Systems (OS's) were of such critical social importance that they should be made available at minimal cost to all computer users, and ideally should be free, in spite of the uncounted thousands of man-hours needed for their creation. The applications (or programs) that run under the OS could still be paid for, at least for commercial use, but eventually these, too, should be cheap enough for all computer users to afford.
Today this dream has become a reality. In 1991, a Finnish university student named Linus Torvalds began a rewrite of the Unix kernel, the core of the world's most popular mainframe OS. His effort soon attracted worldwide support, and within a few years the new OS was stable and improving. By 1998 it had spread to enthusiasts across the globe, was in widespread use on Internet servers, and had given birth to new software companies dedicated to the Open Source ideal. In 2001 it began to compete with Microsoft Windows on the desktop, and is now superior in all but sales volume.
OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE
Community is more important than economy.
Globalism may be inevitable - corporate globalization is not.
Linux conforms to the philosophy and social ideals of what is known as Open Source Software. As simple as it sounds, Open Source Software is based on a comprehensive set of ideas and legally-enforcable principles defining a world-view that is profoundly important to individuals, communities, and nations. Linux is not only a powerful, modern computer operating system, but is also one of the few major Intellectual Properties owned by the World Community.
In this respect it can be compared to Traditional Music, a major social inheritance which is currently enjoying a renaissence in many parts of the world. It can also be compared to the common body of scientific knowledge, once freely taught in schools and universities, but increasingly being commandeered as private Intellectual Property by trans-national corporations or TNC's. If society in general is deprived of its rightful historical inheritance, individual freedoms will eventually disappear into militaristic totalitarian states along the lines of those being sought by promoters of the New World Order.
Who owns the roads?
Public roads are freely available to all, whereas bicycles, cars and trucks must be purchased from manufacturers. Similarly, computer operating systems are so fundamental to the use of computer hardware that they should be freely available, as indeed they were in the early days of mainframe computers. Individuals and companies can then manufacture and sell application software from which they derive a profit. If fees had to be paid every time we used the roads, society would be strangled. The socially beneficial use of computers has been strangled in the past two decades by the commercial monopoly of greedy and dishonest individuals and companies. The FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) movement is now breaking that stranglehold and making computers available to the whole of society.
The One Laptop Per Child Project that is currently distributing free laptop computers to Aboriginal children in Australia was originally based solely on Linux, but was forced to include Microsoft as an option under pressure from powerful corporate interests such as Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
Linux is available in many different versions called distributions or distros. Each caters to a particular market segment and has advantages and disadvantages for users. This site recommends the PCLinuxOS distro because it is easy for newcomers with moderate technical skills to install and configure and has a friendly, informative online forum where new Users can get quick, expert assistance and advice. Ubuntu is more popular and has a simpler desktop. Those with moderate technical skills may prefer Fedora. This began as the RedHat distro which became so popular with large corporations that RedHat was forced to 'go commercial' to meet the demand for paid technical support and customization of their products. They forked off the open source version as Fedora, and now market RedHat Enterprise Linux to some of the largest corporations in the world. Once familiarity is gained with any of these, users may like to experiment with other distros. Specialist distros support innovation and new applications development more reliably than general-purpose ones, and are opening up a wave of new advances.
Linux is particularly suitable for creating personal websites, since it comes with a large selection of free high-quality software such as The GIMP image editor (comparable to Photoshop), several text editors, Firefox and other browsers, and standard office applications from the Open Office Project that are stable, reliable better than Microsoft's Word and Office, and able to read and write all Microsoft file formats. This website was created entirely in Linux.
Perhaps the most valuable feature of FOSS/Linux is the vast amount of documentation – both introductory and technical – that is freely available from many sources; books, magazines, the Internet and LUGs (Linux User Groups) scattered across the world. Every single aspect of Linux is documented in detail; nothing is or can be hidden by the very nature of FOSS, and there is thus no barrier to knowledge, learning, and the ongoing development of one's skills and understanding. The following are available on this site:
- A list of documentation. This cannot possibly be comprehensive, but serves as a starting point.
- The Linux FAQ Frequently Asked Questions are now a well-accepted way of introducing topics.
- A list of common commands. The commandline seems daunting at first, but soon becomes familiar and invaluable.
- A list of HOW-TO's A HOW-TO is an explanatory document on a single topic for Newcomers to it.
- A list of Linux Guides The Guides cover large topics and usually require some background knowledge.
- An overview of the RUTE. The Root User's Tutorial and Exposition covers all of the major topics needed to use Linux with confidence. It can be browsed casually to understand the scope of Linux knowledge, or read in more detail where specific information is required.