Pick a Free OS

The penguin inside

tries. You can even watch the odd VCD and record your own CDs (with a CD

Writer installed, of course). The capability is there, but it needs to be

coaxed along.

Web development? Sure. Start by installing Apache. Most distributions

already install this as part of the default installation. To check, just

surf to http://localhost/. If you see the Apache test page, then you know

it's up and running. Install an ftp daemon and upload your CGI scripts; or

simply copy them over. Perl is available on most distributions though you

should check out CPAN for additional useful modules.

PHP, the open source server side scripting language, makes an excellent

front-end for MySQL, a popular and open source database. Java is available

for use and development. In the end, to test all this out, a variety of

browsers are available including Netscape, Opera, Mozilla and Lynx.

The strong point of Linux, as with any other Unix-like OS, is networking.

This thing is *built* for multi-user networked use. Jumping through hoops

is rarely required for connecting to a network. A full set of networking

tools is available -- traceroute and ping are just the tip of the iceberg.

Many services can be hosted off a home Linux box. A mini-server is sitting

on your desktop in the guise of a PC running Linux. With a working web

server and a good Internet connection, you can host your own web site

right off your desktop!

Security is always an issue. One becomes more aware of security because

there are so many possible users on this single machine, let alone all

those who can access the box when you're online. There is no such thing as

a perfectly secure box, but Linux will let you set up certain things so it

will be quite secure.

Another weak point is the second extended file system, ext2fs. That's how

the files are stored on disk. The FS needs to be kept consistent, which

means a proper shutdown is imperative -- you can't just hit the power

switch. Power failures are every Linux user's nightmare (literally, for

those who leave their boxes on at night). A hard reset is almost never

required, however, as Linux is very stable.

Users who wish to try out Linux are encouraged to get hold of Red Hat and

install it. Modern distributions automate installation almost to the level

to which users of the popular Windows software are accustomed. Contact