Understanding Computers
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  The X Factor
The phrase X factor usually refers to the effect of unknowable circumstances on any given situation. Sports fans will be familiar with an ad that urges them to buy lottery tickets "because anything can happen". The X factor in the ads is the accidental poisoning of an entire football team. One fan celebrates wildly because he alone has bet against the favourites. The X factor in computing is the Unix (X) family of Operating Systems (O/S). No one is quite sure if they will catch on with the public because they are competing against the heavily favoured Microsoft.
The Unix family began as the philosophical opposite of the lottery ads. Dennis Ritchie, one of the co-authors of the O/S, said, "What we wanted to preserve was just not a good environment in which to do programming, but a system around which a fellowship could form." Unix evolved as a collaborative effort between Bell Labs, academia and the just plain nerds. Following a protracted legal battle in 1988, two of the hundreds of versions of Unix became open source, free to anyone who wanted to use them.
And use them they did, to create O/S that are compact, stable and powerful. The best known of the innovations, written by Linus Torvalds, bears a variation of his name, Linux. There are many other members of the X family, including Knoppix, QNX, FreeBSD and NetBSD. All these members of the X family are available as free downloads from the web. Lindows, another member of the X family, is rapidly gaining popularity because of the familiar feel of its Graphic User Interface (GUI) and ease of use. Lindows is available for a fraction of the cost of Microsoft Windows.
So why don't we all use the X family? It comes down some X factors of human nature. One big reason is that Windows is "the devil we know," while Linux is still "the devil we don't". Computers are complicated enough without learning new icons, applications, names and ways of accomplishing routine tasks. Another reason is that many products, hardware and software, are designed specifically for the Windows platform. Persuading them to run on the Linux platform is sometimes difficult or impossible.
You can take Linux for a test drive on your home computer with little effort and no risk. Knoppix is an entire free O/S that runs from a CD. You don't have to install on it your computer and when you're done your computer will be just the way you left it. You will need a copy of the Knoppix CD which you can download from www.knoppix.org. Lindows also allows a test drive with a product called LindowsLive! that allows "Microsoft Windows users to experience Linux without installing anything." You can check out Lindows at www.lindows.com
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Will the X family catch on? It all depends the biggest X factor of all, the users.
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