Linux made the Wall Street Journal - the Article

GCFL Staff gcfl at
Fri Apr 10 08:56:56 GMT 1998

Linux Plays a Role in 'Titanic,' Photos By NASA, but Can It Take On

Dow Jones Newswires

[From The Wall Street Journal, April 3, 1998, page B7B]

NEW YORK-The makers of "Titanic" used it to render the hit film's
special effects. NASA uses it to stitch together pictures of Earth. It
is free to anyone who wants it, but at least two companies are selling

The question: What is Linux?

Linux is an operating system, like Microsoft Corp.'s Windows. But
unlike Windows, no one owns Linux, and its source code - the
instructions its developers use to create it-is freely available.

Proponents of Linux say because of this, the software stands a good
chance of taking business away from Windows NT, the enterprise version
of Microsoft's market-leading operating system for workstations. One
commercial vendor of Linux, closely held Red Hat Software Inc.,
expects to sell 400,000 copies of the software at $50 each this year.

The operating system generally referred to as Linux got its start in
1983. Richard Stallman, then a programmer at the
artificial-intelligence lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
set out to create a free alternative to Unix, the operating system
developed at AT&T Corp.'s Bell Labs.

Mr. Stallman dubbed his operating system GNU, which stands for Gnu's
Not Unix. (The recursive acronym is a time-honored tradition in
software development, says Mr. Stallman, calling it "hacker humor.")
With Mr. Stallman and others building GNU piece by piece, it lacked
one vital piece by 1991: the kernel, which makes the operating system

That is when Linux's namesake came along. Linus Torvalds, then a
student at the University of Helsinki, wrote the kernel, named it
after himself and made it publicly available under the GNU general
public license. (Mr. Torvalds now works for software company
Transmeta, a Santa Clara, Calif., start-up whose investors include
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.)

The GNU general public license s another Stallman brainchild. Written
in 1985 and revised twice, most recently in 1991, it permits anyone to
use Linux, or GNU/Linux, as the operating system also is known.
Licensees must agree to provide the source code to subsequent users,
even when they sell the software, as they are permitted to do. And
users also must agree to make any additions and improvements to the
operating system available to the public in the form of source code.

This means that a community of hackers and software developers,
linked by the Internet, is constantly adding to and improving Linux.
The operating system as it exists today is a loosely defined accretion
of repairs and new features. The general public license made that

But free software doesn't mean free of charge, and that is where
closely held companies like Red Hat and its rival, Caldera Inc., come

Red Hat, of Research Triangle Park, N.C., takes the latest version of
Linux off the Internet and packages it for sale in CD-ROM format.

Red Hat's president and co-founder, Robert Young, says the company's
customers are paying for three things: the convenience of a CD,
technical support and a reliable version of the operating system.  He
says Red Hat, named for co-founder Marc Ewing's Cornell University
lacrosse cap, has shipped about 600,000 CDs since its inception in
January 1995.

Caldera, of Orem, Utah, has a slightly different business model. It
adds proprietary elements to Linux, including a user-friendly desktop,
and sells the package on CD-ROM. Caldera doesn't publish the source
code for the proprietary elements, some of which it licenses from
other vendors.

Standing behind Caldera is Ray Noorda, who retired as chairman of
Novell Inc. in 1994. Canopy Group, a venture capital firm Mr. Noorda
founded in 1995, is Caldera's sole investor, and Caldera was started
by former Novell employees who worked under Mr. Noorda.

Indeed, Mr. Noorda's embrace of Linux is an extension of his
well-documented challenge to Microsoft. Earlier this decade, while
under Mr. Noorda's leadership, Novell went on a costly acquisition
spree to compete with the Redmond, Wash., software giant, a strategy
it has since abandoned.

Whether Linux can challenge Windows is an open question. The
operating system has an estimated five million to 10.5 million users,
according to Red Hat. By contrast, Microsoft will ship an estimated 95
million copies of Windows in 1998.

But Linux has had some notable successes. For example, the
special-effects shop Digital Domain Inc. used powerful computers
running Red Hat's version of Linux to render many of the stunning
images from "Titanic," including the icy waters that swallowed the

Another user is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
When NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland built a
supercomputer out of off-the-shelf PC components, it chose Linux to
run the number-crunching machine, partly because of the operating
system's culture.

"There really is a culture in the Linux community of contributing
components," said Donald Becker, a staff scientist at Goddard.
"Working with a culture like that makes everyone's job easier."

Collective development and troubleshooting make Linux both a nimble
and uncommonly stable operating system, proponents say. The drawback,
Mr. Becker said, is that Linux is always changing, requiring users to
update frequently.

"But the alternative, is a stagnant system," he said, "so it's a
necessary evil."

The free software model, for a long time anathema to most commercial
software makers, is gaining currency. Netscape Communications Corp.
recently said it will start giving away its Navigator Web browser, as
well as the source code that makes it run. And Apache, the free Web
server software developed by far-flung hackers, is estimated to run
about 45% of the Web pages world-wide, more than any other server
software product.

[From The Wall Street Journal, April 3, 1998, page B7B]


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