[Edu-sig] linux essay

Jaime E. Villate villate at gnu.org
Tue Nov 4 07:01:49 EST 2003

On Mon, Nov 03, 2003 at 04:08:58PM -0800, Conrad Koziol wrote:
> Hey here is the rough draft for my essay. I was hoping you could read it
> over and give me advice.

Congratulations on your efforts to change things in your School. I'll
give you some advice.

> 	Linux should be used as the primary software by everyone. Formaly known
> as GNU/Linux it was started by Linus Torvalds in 1991.

The history of GNU/Linux dates back to 1983 when Richard Stallman
wrote the "GNU Manifesto" and started a worldwide effort to create a
complete free operating system. One important piece in the system,
called "the kernel", was contributed by a finish student in 1991. The
name Linux comes from the name of that student: Linus Torvalds.

> It began when his
Linus' contribution started when his
> professor created an O.S. Called Minnix to teach his students the unner
> workings of an O.S. Dissapointed by the lack of a free O.S. and the
> weakness of Minix, Torvalds created Linux with a losse net of about
> hackers. Today it is used by approxatimely 7.5-11 million people.

> Being released under the GPL((?)(GNU public licsence) ahh can someone
> help me here), Linux has the advanteges of being an Open Source
> product.
> This means that anyone can look at the code and so anything with it.
> This is different from what Microsoft labels as 'open source' which is
> properly called free since you dont have acces to the code, an example
> would be Internet Explorer. Windows itself is proprietary software, or
> software you must pay for. There are many open-source licsences such as
> BSD, and Lesser GPL, each with different constraints or freedoms of what
> you can do to the software. Such as the terms of the GPL which states
> that you must report the changes of the code you made back to the author
> and if you choose to distribute it or any program using it you must
> provide the source code for free. These licsences ensure the author is
> given due credit and that the authors wishes are carried out. This also
> ensures that no one tries to sell the product without providing the
> source code for free. This makes it possible for authors who wish to
> distribute the program for free ensure it stays free. Most programs for
> Linux are licsenced this way.(people commented they dont understand why
> it matters that linux is released under a free licsence, any help??)

The GNU/Linux system is released under several various licenses which
are all Free Software licenses; free here does not have to do with
price (even though you might be able to get the software for free) but
rather with your freedom to examine the code of the programs you
depend on, change it when you need to, and distribute your changes to
others so they can benefit from it. Even if you do not know how to
program, you can hire someone to do it for you or even learn by
yourself. To guarantee that freedom, it is necessary to have access to
the source code; that's why Free Software is sometimes called Open Source
software. However, access to the source code is not enough.
For instance, some software companies claim their products are also
"open source" because they let you look at the source code; but they
do not allow you to make changes as you wish, since they claim
"intellectual property" on it and anything similar that you may come
up with after looking are their code. The principle behind Free/Open
Source Software is that the abstract concepts behind software
algorithms should not belong to anyone in particular. Everyone should
have free access to knowledge.

Free software does not exclude business; you can base a commercial
activity around it in the same way that there are private schools
without any need to claim property of the knowledge they pass to their
students. There are various different free software licenses. Some of
them, dubbed as copyleft, require you to distribute the source code to
anyone who receives your programs and who asks for. You can charge a
reasonable amount to repay you for the expense of distributing the
source code, but you cannot forbid those who receive the code to pass
it to others. Again, very much as in the educational system; I may
refuse to teach you algebra unless you pay me, but once you pay me I
cannot forbid you to teach others what you learned from me; for free
if you want to.

> Linux can be run on any computer from a lowly 300 MGH pentuim 1 to a 11
> teraflop 1000 + node supercomputer. On any system Linux easily
> outmatches Windows in everything and can go toe to toe with a higher end
> system Windows machine. This is due to the contributions of hundreds of
> thousands people's code, which is constantly being reviewed and
> improved. Linux can also be customized for you exact system by building
> from source. It's philosophy of one computer, multiple users, makes it
> ideal for networking. It's windowing system is run at the user level so
> you can have hundreds of users remotely log in to a computer and access
> all the drives on it without overly taxing it since all the windowing
> and GUI(graphical user interface) is handled on the computer you are on.
> This also allows for text-only mode if you only need to use that.
> Linux is more powerful and flexible than Windows because of it's build.
> In linux you have complete control of everything due to
> it's licsencing.
its license.
> You can control what applications start when you log in or when the
> computer starts, you can make your own firewall or modify the current
> one, decide what the screen shows when you turn on the computer, or make
> it sing a song when you log in. It's up to you. Though there is a GUI
> for a lot of things, it is restricted by it's lack of useability and
> total control, so the optimal way to do things is the command
> prompt(called shell, DOS in windows). There is a learning curve for all
> of this, but it is not overwhelming. To help you there are several
> websites and books, as well as tons of friendly users on IRC or mailing
> lists.
> In using Open-Source software, you have an abundance of choices to
> choose from. There are several distros(versions, distrubutions) of
> Linux. Each distro uses the exactly same kernal(core or backbone of the
> linux O.S.), what seperates them is the services and goals behind them.
> For example, Redhat Linux specializes in stability, Mandrake promotes
> ease of use, and Gentoo offers supreme customizibility and performance.

There are some "live" distributions that allow you to run a complete
GNU/Linux system, out of a CD and without installation; the most
popular one is Knoppix. If you decide to, you can transfer the CD to
the hard disk with a simple command. 

> Usually there are several products for Linux which do the same thing but
> add there own bells and whistles, such as web browsers. Currently there
> are 4-5 different browsers offered for Linux (all with Windows ports),
> each of them is compliant with the standards, the thing that seperates
> them is the principles they hold when the develop them such as speed or
> ease of use. Each product is also compatible with each other since they
> use open formats to save everything. It is up to you too decide which
> one is best for you, though any will do unless your looking for
> something specialized. You can find anything you need for linux on the
> web through sites like SourceForge, Freshmeat, and through individual
> developers. SourceForge and Freshmeat are sites that provide a place for
> developers to meet and organize projects, and then gives them hostingand
> a place to offer there programs. Having lots of options develops
> diversity and forces programmers to think of more ways to seperate there
> program from the rest of the crowd. This results in better code and
> programs. Installing programs is a breeze by using you distro's version
> of rpms. If you want complete customibilty right from the start you can
> use Source Code which can is compatible with all distros of linux.
> Linux is the perfect operating system that prometes user control. Though
> there is a learning cureve it easily makes itself up it the money you
> save, and the thought that you can do anything with your computer. Linux
> brings bac k the fun in computing.

Another thing: I think you should mention that even for those who still
refuse to substitute Windows for a GNU/Linux system, most free
programs can also run on top of Windows. For instance, they can use
free browsers such as Mozilla and Phoenix instead of Explorer, free
Office suits such as OpenOffice, instead of MSOffice, Gimp instead of
Photoshop, etc.
(see http://gnuwin.epfl.ch/). Replacing proprietary programs by free
ones, in a Windows system, can be a first step to make a transition to
free software. Once people get used to those free programs, they will
not notice much difference when Windows is replaced by GNU/Linux. 


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