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Saturday, 20 November, 1999, 12:54 GMT
Free software taking on Microsoft
Bill Gates: Playing down threat from Linux

By Toby Murcott of BBC Science

The software giant Microsoft is waiting to see what sanctions it will face following the ruling that the company had abused its monopoly position.

But Microsoft is also facing another challenge in the battle for control of the internet. It comes from a rival software program called Linux.

Linux facts
Kernel-based, multitasking operating system
Developed by Linus Torvalds, University of Helsinki in 1991
Distributed as open source
8m users (Red Hat estimates, March 1998)
The majority of people logging on to the internet do so with a personal computer, and most of those will be running a Microsoft operating system.

But the picture is very different when you examine the hidden part of the internet, the server computers. These store the information and connect together to form the global network that is the internet.

Increasingly popular

The increasingly popular software used to run the servers is a system called Linux and it is free.

Originally created by programmer Linus Torvalds, Linux is now running millions of computers and is gaining a reputation as the powerhouse of the internet.

The secret of its success, claim Linux enthusiasts, is the fact it is "open source software". This means that its computer code is freely available to anyone, and anyone can add to it, in complete contrast to Microsoft which keeps its software code secret.

The result of this open source approach is that there are thousands of Linux programmers, both amateur and professional, who have ironed out the bugs in the software making it very reliable.

What's more, the Linux community is forever improving it and the results are, like the original product, free.

Linux is unlikely to be a serious challenge to Microsoft yet, but more and more commercial companies are choosing it in preference to the Microsoft alternative.

Bill Gates, Microsoft's' chairman, has played down the threat from Linux but a number of analysts believe this is a sign that he is worried and feels threatened by a free system created by a student as a hobby.


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See also:
29 Jan 99 |  Sci/Tech
The odyssey of Open Source software
28 Oct 98 |  Sci/Tech
Hats off to Linux!
21 May 99 |  Sci/Tech
Rewriting the Web
20 May 99 |  Sci/Tech
Gnome is no Windows dwarf

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