Say Windows and most people will know that you mean the operating system owned by Microsoft. Say Linux and youll probably get a blank stare either that or theyll think youre trying to sell them a new brand of washing powder.

Linux, nevertheless, is quickly becoming the darling of the computing world. Why? Because its source code is freely available, or open. Open source is a rapidly growing phenomenon, and all Linux users are connected by their interest in creating a good, reliable operating system on the net. And thats going to be tough for Microsoft. To learn more about it, Karolyn Andrews spoke with Linux lover Zac Corbet, an 18-year-old high-school senior in Virginia, U.S.A.

WOE: How did you first come across Linux?

ZC: In my sophomore year in high school, I signed up for Computer Science. When I got there on the first day, not one of the computers had Windows, which caught me by surprise. They all were using Redhat Linux. I didnt know what it was, or how to use it, but my teacher was a big supporter of open source and Linux. He spent the next three years telling me that Linux and open source were the way of the future. I quickly became addicted to Linux and work with it far more often than with Windows.

What is so great about Linux?

First of all, Linux is an open source operating system. This means that anyone can get a copy of the source code for Linux and change things around to make them better. This is very cool for Linux because now it comes in many styles. You can almost always find one that you like, and if you cant, someone can make it for you. These different styles of Linux are called distributions, and the most popular now is Redhat Linux ( Another distribution is Debian Linux, which is very easy to install and comes with tons of options. Its similar to Redhat but has its own little perks. Then you get into the more complicated versions of Linux, like Slackware. Slackware is harder to use but its far more flexible and secure than the other distributions.

What are the advantages of open source?

If you have problems with something, like you cant get your printer to work with Linux, then you can almost always find someone who can figure out how to fix it for you. For example, one of my friends was having problems getting his sound card to work with his new computer. He couldnt find the right drivers (i.e. the code to make the computer see the sound card), and didnt know what to do. So he went online and asked around for some help and then went to bed. When he woke up the next morning, he found that someone had remotely connected to his computer and written the drivers that he needed to get his sound card to work. Isnt that just the coolest thing you have ever heard?

One of the most important things, of course, is that no one can claim they own Linux. You always get new ideas and programs written for Linux by different people, so you dont have to deal with the same junk programs from one company, just because they own the operating system.

What makes Linux different from the other operating systems on the market, like Windows or Mac?

Linux is unique because of the community behind it. No other operating system can claim to have as strong a community supporting it as Linux does. The people who use Linux are all free thinkers who like to share ideas and problems, and help who each other out all the time. People like Microsoft charge you money if you have problems with their system or programs, but everything in Linux is free.

With Linux you can get a distribution for practically anything. They have user-friendly distributions, more complicated versions for people who like to be down in the core of the operating system, distributions based on security, and ones made to become web servers. There are even distributions that run off of a single floppy. With these you can have what we call dumb terminals, or computers without hard drives. Theres no other operating system that works like this.

I think Linux is a perfect example of the ideas behind the net. People who work on Linux do so because its their passion. They arent regulated by the government or the major corporations, who try to control what the public sees.

As governments get scared of the Internet, they try to put more laws and restrictions on what you can do with your computer. But Linux is not owned by some big corporation that is looking to control everything you do and see on the net, so its going to be the last resort of people who dont want to be restricted.

Linux, and the open source movement in general, is going to become far more popular really soon because of this. But theres another reason for its popularity. People are getting sick of all the control Microsoft has over what they can do on their computers. Open source is the way out. It allows people to do what they want.

What do you think of the founder of Linux, Linus Torvalds?

I dont know much about Linus, but I do know hes a very smart man, and he had to be a genius to come up with something like Linux. I know hes happy with how far his little project of Linux has progressed!

Linus Torvalds chose a penguin as the image of Linux. What do you think about that?

I think the Penguin is a great mascot. The best idea of what it means is summed up in this quotation by Linus:

Some people have told me they don't think a fat penguin really embodies the grace of Linux, which just tells me they have never seen an angry penguin charging at them in excess of 100mph. They'd be a lot more careful about what they say if they had.

by Karolyn Andrews