Since the core of the Linux operating system -- called the kernel -- is free, it doesn't come as a complete interface like Windows, but in what are termed "distributions."
Ian Smith, Vancouver Sun / LOTS OF LINUX: Casey Milligan of Multimedia Technologies totes products.|
A distribution comprises a set of CDs containing the Linux kernel (the equivalent to DOS), a graphic interface (equivalent to Windows), Netscape Communicator, utilities, games, and a few free applications such as the Gimp graphics application.
The Red Hat, SuSE, and Slackware distributions also include demo versions of commercial Linux programs. The individual Linux distributions include installation software, and sell at a street price of $30 to $60.
While a desktop user would never need it, all versions come with enough software to run a mainframe computer or Net server. Commercial quality applications such as word processors, spreadsheets, or database managers are somewhat more expensive than the distributions themselves (though noticeably below Windows or Mac application prices).
Distributions, roughly listed by ease of installation:
Red Hat -- has the most understandable installation sequence, and is the easiest if you need to install to a limited disk space coexisting with DOS/Windows. Free technical support is by e-mail only; they took three days to respond. Full manual.
SuSE -- is reportedly the easiest to install if you have a large, completely empty hard drive. Free installation support by telephone. Though I'm using Red Hat right now, it was SuSE techies who walked me through the rough spots. Full manual.
Slackware -- is popular with hobbyists, system administrators, and programmers. Slim manual, but the company is the only one other than SuSE to offer free installation support over the telephone.
Caldera Open Linux and Linux Pro -- Caldera is mainly in use at the server level. Both these distributions come with small manuals well-written, but too lean, even though Linux Pro's manual is a good primer for newbies. Limited e-mail support only.
Debian -- the only one I didn't try to install is a 100-per-cent open-source version, meant for users who intend serious configuration work on anything up to servers and networks. It comes with a small manual. Support seems to be the process of hurling yourself into usenet groups and tech documents.
These local software dealers carry most of the distributions above:
Multimedia Technologies, 365 W. Broadway, Vancouver, http://www.softwarebc.com (604) 872-0300
Discovery Multimedia, 7966 Granville St., Vancouver. (604)263-2377
U.S. online Linux stores:
Walnut Creek CD-ROM: A HREF="http://www.cdrom.com">http://www.cdrom.co.
The B.C. Linux Users group periodically conducts Installfests, where enthusiasts will install Linux on a newbies computer for free. Fair warning, though; you never really understand an operating system unless you install it yourself. See http://www.linux.bc.ca.