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e-clips technology news: Change the way you use your PC.

THIS week's e-clips is devoted entirely to the alternative operating system known as Linux, a subject which might once have been too geeky for most home PC users.

But major manufacturers have begun producing consumer hardware running the Linux OS (see Sharp Zaurus PDA review below), bringing the OS out of the shadows and into the full glare of the marketplace.

A brief history of Linux.... Linux is a computer operating system (OS) - like the many variants of Windows - that was created as a hobby by student, Linus Torvalds, at the University of Helsinki in Finland.

But first things first - let's resolve the pronounciation issue: It is most often pronounced with a short ``i'' and with the first syllable stressed, as in LIH-nucks. What distinguishes Linux from Windows is that its source code is freely available to anyone who wishes to modify it for their own needs, or improve it for the greater good.

It is an OS with a character-based interface like DOS in early versions of Windows but Linux also has several graphical user-interfaces (GUIs - ie, what you see on your screen).

The OS is widely used for networking and software development, and to a lesser extent as an end-user platform. It's considered an excellent, stable and low-cost alternative to more expensive operating systems.

This however, doesn't mean Linux and its assorted distributions are free - companies and developers may charge for it as long as the source code remains available to everyone.

Many companies add their own bells and whistles to the operating system (like a graphical install routine) but they all have the same Linux ``kernel'' (the guts of the OS).

Linux releases from different companies are called ``distributions'' (distros), of which Red Hat is the most popular commercial one; others are Caldera, Mandrake, Debian and Suse. Unless you have a very fast internet connection, the easiest way to obtain a distro is to purchase a CDROM/DVD containing the software.

There are many commercial applications that have been ported over to Linux, such as the excellent graphics package Corel DRAW, wordprocessors such as WordPerfect, and office bundles like OpenOffice.

Additionally there are thousands of free applications available for download, plus some that allow you to run Windows programs on your Linux machine. Hardware review Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 pounds 449.99 (www.sharp.co.uk, 0800-138-8879) Sharp has launched the first commercially-available Linux-based personal digital assistant (PDA).

The Zaurus SL-5500 is built around a StrongARM 206MHz processor with 64Mb of SDRam, 16Mb of Flash Rom and expansion slots for Compact Flash and Secure Digital memory cards. An unusual addition is support for both stylus input and a thumboperated keyboard which is revealed by sliding the bottom of the unit down and which, while quite small, is surprisingly user-friendly.

Swedish developer Trolltech's Qtopia Palmtop Environment provides the graphical user interface, which works through discreet tabs. The software bundle includes the Opera web browser and Hancom's Mobile Office productivity suite, which will work with Microsoft Office documents. The fact that the PDA runs on Linux means the Zaurus provides a handy platform for future developments by the Open Source software community. Sharp has also launched its MyZaurus.com portal as a focal point for new applications.

Bluetooth support will soon be added to the Zaurus and Wi-Fi cards are already available.

So what is it like to use? In one word, it's brilliant. Unless you start to root around in the system information, you will never know that it's running on Linux, which is exactly how an OS should be.

It just works, all the time. The Strongarm processor is quick enough for anything you can throw at it; the colour screen is crisp and bright; the media player kicks out some greatsounding MP3 tunes (headphones not included); there's all the usual personal management functions like calendar, to do list, contacts etc; and a decent selection of games, including a good word puzzle. Synchronising with your desktop and the Qtopia software is a doddle (via a USB connection) and the unit's rechargeable batteries (about 10 hours normal usage at a time) are topped up while the Zaurus sits in the docking cradle. The one bugbear with the Zaurus is its price. pounds 450 is a lot to pay for any PDA, but particularly one which runs on a free OS. But that's a minor gripe and shouldn't deter anyone, even Linux first-timers, from investing in one of the best PDAs on the market.

Rating: 9/10Lindows PC launches in UK The Linux OS is now available in Britain on a pounds 250 desktop PC from award-winning Evesham Technology (www.evesham.com, 0870-160-9530).

Evesham's PC comes loaded with the Lindows 2 operating system; the Evesham E-scape Li is an entry-level PC aimed at the back-to-school market and small office/home office users. It has a 40GB hard disk, 256MB DRAM, a CD-ROM drive, modem and mouse but a monitor costs extra.

OpenOffice - the open-source version of Sun's excellent StarOffice - is bundled on the PC, together with a choice of 10 free applications from the Lindows Click-N-Run warehouse (there are almost 2,000 listed, so that should allay fears of users having nothing to run on their Linux machines). Lindows.com is hoping that the ease of downloading and installation of software - it is a one-click process - will attract users to the platform.

The Lindows PC will not readily run applications written for Windows. This version of Lindows includes enhanced networking features for connecting with Windows-based PCs, support for more than 800 printer models and a streamlined interface similar to the Windows desktop.

The new version also has enhanced support for laptop PCs, including power management features and tools for configuring wireless net-working cards. Some useful Linux links: www.lindows.com; www.linux.com; www.linux.org and www.linuxlinks.com
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 30, 2002
Words:970
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