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14 Oct

Linux: Read this first

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Linux - Tux the Penguin Linux - Tux the Penguin lewing@isc.tamu.edu and The GIMP if someone asks.

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With Lightworks for Linux in development, Phil Rhodes answers the tricky questions about Linux that everyone assumes you knew the answers to anyway.

I write this article with a degree of trepidation, because if anything is universally accepted about Linux, it's that almost nothing about it is universally accepted, and no matter what I say, someone will argue with me. We'll start by defining what we're talking about which, with any luck, shouldn't be too controversial.

In the very strictest sense, Linux is a kernel, the core part of an operating system that is responsible for  fundamental tasks such as the management of memory, low-level control of peripherals such as hard disks and USB ports, and the sharing of processing time between programs that allows modern computers to appear to do several things at once.

It's all about the Kernel

Given this purpose, it's clear that the behaviour and performance of the kernel is critical to the sort of modern computing experience that most people are used to. Even so, the kernel is only part of the story – the parts of an operating system with which we're most familiar, the windows, icons, menus and pointers, are quite separate. Some cellphones for instance, also use a Linux kernel, and the experience of using any of them is wildly different to that provided by what most people call Linux on a desktop computer – so different that we don't even call it Linux, we call it Android.

In any computer system, the most basic, fundamental levels of usable software include things like the software compiler, a text editor, and associated tools, with which other things can be created.  In most Linux installations, these things are generally provided by, or at least closely based on the work of, the GNU project. Founded in the early 80s, GNU was intended to create a free equivalent to the then-popular Unix. By 1991, when Linus Torvalds released the first version of the Linux kernel, GNU still lacked one of its own, and the two have since been closely associated. GNU is the reason so many Linux commands begin with a G.


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  • I have only just discovered this article via the new "Popular" category.

    There is in general a paucity of media software, with an honourable mention to the excellent Audacity digital audio workstation as almost the only exception.


    Audacity is very good but compared to the open source DAW Ardour, and the Jack Audio Connection Kit low latency daemon on which it runs, it is quite basic. Then there is the open source bitmap editor GNU Image Manipulation Tool (GIMP) and the vector drawing programme Inkscape. Considering that they were developed on a shoe string budget, these are impressive achievements. They are not yet as good as their closed source rivals but it is still early days and they could become so if open source developers spent less of their time and money on developing the already bewildering array of GNU/Linux distributions and put it instead into perfecting these promising media tools.

    Unless you are a competent software engineer yourself, the much-vaunted ability to modify source code and alter the behaviour of the software is irrelevant.


    I have to disagree with this statement. There is the small matter of software transparency and privacy which for me are very important. I may not be a software engineer myself but for me the ability of any other software engineer around the globe to inspect the source code--especially of computer and mobile phone operating systems--is absolutely vital. Think of it as a form of peer review prorecting privacy. We live at a time when whole societies are digitising their personal data and are moving it online--sharing their most intimate thoughts and posting highly personal media about themselves. Movies shot on mobile phones comes with metadata including location, date and time. This makes privacy abuse more likely not less.

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  • Some fair points made in this article, but a couple of omissions as well:

    There is a much broader range of serious media software available on Linux than this article would lead us to believe. Examples include Maya, Blender, CinePaint, GIMP, Ardour.

    Secondly, no discussion of the community support model. Even for commercial enterprises, the "real time" support (as opposed to static documentation) available in online forums is often vastly superior to the paid support provided by closed source software companies.

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Phil Rhodes

Phil Rhodes is a Cinematographer, Technologist, Writer and above all Communicator. Never afraid to speak his mind, and always worth listening to, he's a frequent contributor to RedShark.

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