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6/2/2006
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Six Things You Didn't Know About Linux: A Beginners' Guide

Should you give the open-source operating system a whirl? Here are some answers, along with advice on how to get started.

Love it, hate it, heard lots about it, but still don't have enough of a handle to form a firm opinion? Then we must be talking about Linux, the open-source operating system that's alluring because it's heavy duty and it's free. Simultaneously, it's intimidating to newbies because it's typically more difficult to install and configure than Windows.

However, now is an opportune time to get past those concerns. Interest in Linux is expected to spike throughout the year, thanks to Microsoft's delay of its consumer version of Windows Vista. The hang-up could cast a pall on the year-end PC sales season. Perhaps that's one reason the mainstream media is discovering this "revolution" in software that's nearly 15 years old.

So if you've ever planned on giving the open-source operating system a whirl, but, like the Georgia bride-to-be, got cold feet at the last minute, we've ferreted out six useful facts that'll ease your path when you decide to take the plunge.

1) How many versions of Linux are there?

Lots. At least 350, according to the list maintained by the enthusiast site DistroWatch.com. The site skews toward smaller distributions, with current flavor of the month Ubuntu listed as the most popular among the site's readers. Ubuntu has gained traction recently, garnering an endorsement from Sun Microsystems chief executive Jonathan Schwartz.

Ubuntu also appears to be gaining legitimacy via heavy grass-roots support. User-spawned Web resources include a blog devoted to the distro, a quick-start guide for dummies and a more advanced (how to install anything!) manual. (However, as What PC? points out, despite its funky name, Ubuntu is not noticeably simpler to get going than any other implementation of the OS.)

Ubuntu has a great back story: Its development was funded by South African Internet entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth as an outgrowth of his efforts to offer improved educational opportunities to his nation's young people.

Another distribution much in demand is SUSE, available for free under the OpenSUSE.org program sponsored by Novell or in a for-pay version that comes with end-user support from Novell.

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