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Wednesday, 16 August, 2000, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Linux goes Gnome
IBM wristwatch running Linux
This is what Linux looks like on a wristwatch
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

Microsoft's dominance over desktop computers is getting a fresh challenge.

Industry heavyweights Sun, IBM, Compaq and Hewlett Packard are all backing a new organisation that will drive the development of an alternative to Windows.

Called the Gnome Foundation, the organisation will put a common, friendlier face on all the varieties of the Linux and Unix operating systems.

The Gnome Foundation is hoping to boost the use of the operating systems on desktop machines and help them move into handhelds and other devices by unifying the look and feel of the operating systems and the way software works with them.

Loads of Linux

Although the core of the Linux operating system was developed by one man, Linus Torvalds, many individuals and companies have made their own contributions and developed customised versions of the software.

Often these distributions have their own feature sets, so programs written for one version will not work well with others.

Microsoft's Windows is also available in many different, and often incompatible, versions but there are far fewer editions of Windows than there are of Linux and Unix.

The Gnome Foundation is attempting to remove many of the incompatibilities as well as promote a common set of programs, such as word processors and spreadsheets, for the underlying operating system.

The initial set of programs will be modelled on Sun's StarOffice software.

The common programs and interface will be based on the work done by the part-time programmers of the Gnome project who have been working on the user interface for years.

Desktop ambitions

The fact that Linux is free and less prone to crashing has made it very popular with those running web servers. The Netcraft survey of server software claims that nearly 63% of web servers are running Apache which runs on top of Linux and many other Unix variants.

But the many flavours of Linux, and its big brother Unix, and the perception that it is something of a programmers' plaything have limited its use on desktop machines.

Gnome Foundation Members
Sun Microsystems
Red Hat
Free Software Foundation
Helix Code
Object Management Group
VA Linux
But the Gnome Foundation hopes its work will drive the software's acceptance. They want to make Linux easier to use on PCs and a whole variety of new devices such as handheld computers, smart phones and webpads.

AOL is known to be working with PC maker Gateway on an internet appliance that uses Linux and this week information leaked on to the internet of a version of the AOL browser built for Linux.

The browser is likely to be used in webpads or set top boxes that let people surf via the television.

Last week IBM even showed off a prototype of a wristwatch running Linux.

Interest in Linux is growing fast. Technology research firm IDC estimates that during the past year 24% of the sales for server software were for Linux. By contrast 38% of the sales were for Microsoft products.

But despite the gains that Linux is making it still has a long way to go to catch up with Microsoft on the desktop.

During 1999 only 4% of desktop machines ran Linux compared to 87% running versions of Microsoft Windows.

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