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The "IX" factorIn many ways, the history of the PC is reminiscent of the history of the railroads. Previous to the railroads, expeditions out west were done either at great expense by ship, or at great expense, great risk, and with a great expenditure of time over land. The railroads changed this; but had a cost of their own. The need to run rails, and to have right of way, made the railroads a monopoly. The outfits that owned the tracks could, if you will pardon the phrase, write their own ticket. These giants decided what the costs would be, what the gauge of the track would be, when routes would be scheduled, where they would stop, and what towns they would pass through. Needless to say, there were abuses.
Previous to the PC, computers were expensive, with access granted only to those with money, or expertise. Though they greatly affected the lives of us all, they were the province of a chosen few. The PC changed all of this. Computers are now everywhere, as common as television sets. Like the television set, computers are common because they are in conformity to a set of standards. As with the laying of the tracks, the setting up of the standards, particularly of the driver standards were set by what was to become an industry giant --- Microsoft. As with the early railroads, there is a price to pay. Microsoft dictates standards, prices, expectations, and limitations to the entire industry. Needless to say, there were abuses.
While many technophiles and a large number of anti Microsoft computer enthusiasts are loudly proclaiming the Linux revolution, the real revolution is quietly progressing in the offices and server rooms of business and industry, as it has been for decades. This revolution was a long time in coming, and it is not a revolt against Microsoft, though this will undoubtedly be the way in which it will be perceived. This is the Unix revolution. This is at the center of the real computer revolution which began over thirty years ago, and of which Microsoft, and Windows are only a sideshow.
For most of its existence, Unix, and the computer revolution, have been limited to the technophiles, which had at one time been known as hackers. Today, the term Hacker, has taken on an entirely different meaning, and the present Unix revolution is entering a different phase. At present, it is the user, who leads the computer revolution. The Real excitement here is the open sourcing, and free distribution of high level operating systems, and programming languages. This began with Linux; but has been greatly accelerated with the open sourcing, and free distribution of Sun's Solaris Operating system.
While there are different variants of Unix, designed according to the needs of the vendor, there is essentially one version of Linux. This is the Linux Kernel and is maintained by Linus Torvald himself. The Kernel is Linux. This is free, open software. To the new user, there seem to be a number of different types of Linux; but they are all based on the same kernel. Where they differ is in the added features, interfaces, and install programs bundled. These various different packages are called distributions, or distros for short. The most popular, since Linux emerged as a mainstream OS, has been Redhat.
The many distros of Linux make for a seeming tower of Babel, for the prospective Linux user. By comparison, the many variants of Unix all seem to be proprietary to the hardware of their various vendors. This is true in every case, except that of Solaris. While Solaris still runs on Sun's Sparc machines, it has also been ported over to run on the standard X86 platform of the common PC. So while the Linux world seems to grow more complex, the prospective Unix user has one simple choice.