Originally Published: Monday, 4 December 2000 Author: Chris Ball and Emmett Plant
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

International Bright Young Thing

Linux isn't just a local phenomenon! Expand your horizons as Chris Ball and Emmett Plant team up to bring you stories of people using Linux all over the world.

You might think that Linux is something that the office geek keeps talking about at dinner parties. Give him half-a-chance, and the guy is off and running on a diatribe about Open Source, proprietary software, and the absolute wonders that he performs with Linux on a daily basis.

You might not run Linux. You might think about giving it a try, but the only point of contact you have with this other-worldly operating system is the Alpha Geek in your office. He might be the only person that you know that runs Linux. All of your friends may run a variant of Microsoft Windows, or perhaps the MacOS on an Apple Macintosh.

Why should you try Linux? Your local geek will tell you at length. Reliability. Security. Freedom. Cost. There are a lot of different reasons to try Linux, especially if you're a wirehead, but there are plenty of reasons to try it, even if you're Joe User. If you live in a small community, you might only find one or two other people that run it, and you might be missing the Big Picture.

Not only is Linux developed by a vast team of volunteers, but these volunteers live in almost every corner of the globe. Linux was actually created by a college student in Finland. More importantly, it's not just wireheads that use Linux on an international scale. We'd like to introduce you to a few Linux users outside the United States.

Mukund lives in India. He first heard of Linux when an Indian computer magazine published a review of Linux way back in 1993. After he saw the kernel source in '94, he bought a copy of Linux in 1995 and was hooked.

"Since I installed Linux at home first, I could experiment and discover it at my own pace. I read a bazillion HOWTOs and more docs, read through programming libraries and basically fooled around. I had all the software I wanted. I wasn't just new to Linux, though, I was new to the community. I was used to commercial software with huge price tags and a general lack of proper documentation and tutorials. A quote that comes to my mind is - "Give the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you." This is exactly what I enjoy in the linux community. These days, I concentrate on network and web programming. I still enjoy the community feeling, and some of the open-source projects I'm working on are Conic Planet (a planet rendering application), Flash Forth (a vector based web graphics development environment) and GNUChips (a 3d hardware core project).

Gina Lanik lives and works in Vienna, Austria. She's been using Linux at home and work for a while now, and loves being able to writing her own solutions, mainly by using and combining shell scripts. Furthermore, her attraction has been turned into a full-time job - Gina works as a junior Database Administrator and Sysadmin for a large I.T. company, and uses her Linux workstation at work to control a couple of the company's UNIX servers.

"One of the main things that attracted me to Linux was the ability to poke around at it and make any changes I know how to do. I'm not a pointy-clicky user, and for me this is what made Linux really fascinating. Being free had a big appeal, too, but not just free to install - free to change, free to get help with. I enjoy being part of Linux, and I'm regularly chatting on IRC and helping people new to Linux to understand more about it, and trying to further my own knowledge of Linux."

Chris Gabriel lives in Italy, and has been involved with GNU/Linux since 1995, when a friend introduced him to GNU/Linux and the Free Software movement. While he develops over the Internet as a member of the GNOME project, he still finds that he likes to meet up with fellow community members, and discovered the biggest Italian user group for GNU/Linux, PLUTO, in 1998. The group actively promotes Free Software in Italy, and Chris started translating software and documents through the group; a task he still continues with today. Like Gina, Chris's devotion has resulted in a job, and Chris now works full-time as a consultant in a company specialising in Free Software solutions, after being spotted while working on Free Software projects. He still remains a volunteer, though, and coordinates the GNOME Italian Localisation Project and other PLUTO projects. He's also a sysadmin for the Florence Linux Users' Group, and has started a non-profit organisation with other Italian GNU/Linux users with a goal of raising funds for Italian free software projects.

"With GNU/Linux I've much more freedom to do things than I have with UNIX or other proprietary systems. I can modify programs, redistribute them, sell them, and learn from them. I can't do these things with other systems. Freedom is most important; above all else, I use GNU/Linux because it gives me freedom to do these beautiful things. If I can learn from software, I can be a better programmer. Programming is my main interest - I don't like translating so much, but Italian users certainly need translated software and documentation. At the moment, most of my work in the community is to do with GNOME programming and data visualisation with 2d/3d graphics, including the development of a library to handle and display scientific data based on GNOME and the GNU Scientific Library, which are both projects I've contributed to previously."

So far you could be thinking that only the programmers are doing great things with Linux. Well, not so. In England, Ceri is a first-year computer science student at University. He's only 19, yet he's been using Linux for a good two years and now runs it solely at home. He's most drawn to Linux because of the opportunities it gives him to learn more about computing at every level through being able to have free and unrestricted access to real-world source code.

"The first time I used Linux, I thought it was very cool that you're able to see beyond the abstractions that proprietary systems impose upon you, if you want to, and this is great for learning about computing systems. There's such a wide code base available to learn from, and most of it's good code. You get some good examples of how not to program, but that just helps out again with learning to be an effective coder. When I finish my course here, I'm hoping that my experience with Linux will be a good starting point for getting involved with some really exciting work; I'd like to write my own microkernel-based operating system at some point, and I don't think it's something I'd be able to do if I hadn't got the experience of being able to look at real kernel code and find out what it's doing."

Playing with software isn't the only thing that Linux users meet on. This article, for example, is being written as a collaboration between Emmett Plant, a professional writer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Chris Ball, a computation and maths major hailing from Brighton in the United Kingdom.

When you use Linux, the world gets a little smaller. There are hundreds of Open Source projects that survive based on the volunteerism of programmers from all over the world. There are Linux-based websites that are created and maintained by people working all over the world. Right now, there are end users and programmers communicating on international chat networks devoted to Linux and Open Source. The Linux community is probably a lot larger than you could possibly imagine. While the members of the Kansas Unix and Linux Users Association are snug in their beds, people in Padua, Italy are maintaining mail servers and viewing websites with the power of Linux.


Chris Ball is a university student from Brighton. Emmett Plant is the Editor-in-Chief of Linux.com.