"But there's no software," you say while your hands clutch a shrink-wrapped copy of Windows NT. "I need software to work, and although Linux may be faster and less crash-prone, I need to get things done." Put down that copy of Windows, my friend. Ever since Linux has entered the mainstream, Linux software has been flowing like a mighty river, with more inlets forming every day. The current Linux Software Map lists over 4,100 Linux applications that do everything from sort e-mail to synthesize speech. But what about tools you can use?
Corel's not the only game in town, however. Both Applix and Star Division have struck out on the Linux platform with Applixware and StarOffice, respectively. StarOffice 5.1 is currently available for Linux; Applixware 4.4.2 is in QA and due out any second now.
Of course, it wouldn't be Linux without a free software approach: the Gnome Workshop project is building its own suite of open source productivity applications as well. There are a lot of reasons why productivity tools are sprouting up like digital kudzu. The most convincing argument is that companies can release great software without fear of the operating system manufacturer releasing their own competitive titles, a practice that makes it extremely difficult to compete on the Windows platform.
And if you need to communicate, check out CuseeMe Networks. Best known for CU-SeeMe, the company has decided to support the open source cause by releasing a Linux version of MeetingPoint, a multipoint IP conferencing solution. This was a logical step for White Pine, whose products rely far more on carriers and bandwidth than operating systems. Linux was the obvious choice because of its rampant adoption in the ISP market.
Meanwhile, in the move-quickly-or-perish world of e-commerce, Magic Software is taking an active interest in the unfolding Linux saga. The newly minted member on the board of directors of Linux International, Magic has begun work on porting the popular business-to-business eMerchant application to Linux. And in the database creation and management category, IBM is further proving its support of open source software by releasing its DB2 Universal Database for Linux. Although currently in beta, DB2 provides JDK 1.1.7 compatibility. The speed, scalability, and security of Linux make it the operating system a prime target for database-intensive applications.
Meanwhile, Macmillan Computer Publishing is distributing Lokisoft's Civilization as well as id Software's shoot-em-up Quake and Quake II. id Software has proven to be a friend of the Linux cause by being the first major game studio to release its popular games for Linux as well as releasing source code for older titles.
Games are more important than they seem. More than just entertainment, they're responsible for a large percentage of hardware purchases in the home user market, from 3D accelerator cards to joysticks to faster processors. Porting popular game software to Linux will also make a strong case for Linux driver support from hardware manufacturers.
Millions of users are chained to a platform because of a single application -- whether it's a high-end rendering engine such as Maya or the pedestrian AOL 4.0. Fortunately, if the past year has been any indication of the progress in development, we're getting there faster than anyone thought possible.ø
E. Charles Plant is employed at Andover.net as a columnist for Slashdot, and is founder of the Time City Project, an Open Source game development group. He's an avid fan of Due South, and while a U.S. citizen wants to one day serve with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.