LinuxWorld Draws Fans, Seekers

This is geek pride week, when members of the open-source community wear shirts and buttons emblazoned with such messages as "The box said 'Requires Windows 95 or better,' so I installed Linux" and "I don't do Windows." Anti-Windows techies have packed past LinuxWorld Expos. They came again, but this year the die-hard Linux fans clad in their usual anti-Windows attire were accompanied by many fresh-faced newbies.

More than 200 exhibitors filled the McEnery Convention Center here, compared to the 185 exhibitors at the New York LinuxWorld Expo in February. What's more, both large and small firms reached out not only to the geeks but to the novices as well, by trying to make Linux more accessible and easier to use, on any device, be it handheld, laptop, desktop, or server.

A Kinder, Gentler Linux

The big news of the week came from a relative unknown. Eazel Inc. has unveiled Nautilus, a file manager for the GNOME desktop environment that's designed to make Linux much more user friendly. On its surface Nautilus looks like a cross between Windows Explorer and the Macintosh Finder. Inside is a cool tool to manage your MP3s (one handy feature: run your mouse over an MP3 file and it starts playing). An alpha version of Nautilus is available now from the GNOME Web site, and the program's release is expected by year end. Compaq and Dell have indicated that they'll use Nautilus in their open-source-based machines.

In other GNOME-related news, HelixCode, founded by the GNOME project, will soon deliver Evolution, an Outlook-compatible e-mail client and contact manager.

KDE, GNOME's main competition in desktop environments, exhibited as well, but remained hush-hush about this year's upcoming release of KDE 2.0. KDE representatives seemed rather nonplussed about the hoopla surrounding Nautilus, and noted that KDE remains the default desktop environment on many Linux distributions.

But KDE's reign may be challenged, as Hewlett-Packard and Sun spoke of plans to use GNOME as their default desktop environment. Sun plans to adopt GNOME for its Solaris Operating Environment, while HP will do the same for HP/UX. Red Hat, IBM, Compaq, Sun, and VA Linux announced plans to form the GNOME Foundation to unify the Linux desktop environment.

Linux Updates Appear

Debian launched version 2.2 of its operating system, based on the 2.2.16 kernel. The release features a graphical installation and improved PCMCIA support. Corel also released its easy-to-use Corel Linux OS Second Edition.

Tuxtops, which markets notebooks preinstalled with Linux, rolled out three new models ranging in price from US$1099 to $3399, depending on configuration. All are preloaded with Red Hat 6.2, or are set up to dual-boot Red Hat and Windows.

Tuxtops plans to offer Linux software on CD-ROM for non-Tuxtop notebooks. You simply tell Tuxtops the make and model of your laptop and specify your choice of distribution. The company will ship a CD-ROM that includes the necessary software and drivers for you to load Linux quickly. The service will be available "soon," according to one company representative.

On the handheld side, Agenda Computing was showing off its Agenda VR3 PDA, which runs on the Linux VR operating system. Units use a 66-MHz, 32-bit MIPS processor, and start at $149 for 8MB of memory and 2MB of Flash storage. They feature handwriting recognition and sync with your Windows or Linux PC.

On the gaming front, graphics card manufacturer 3dfx has opened its hardware specs and is working on Linux drivers for its latest card, the 64MB Voodoo5 5500. At the 3dfx booth, gamers were treated to Quake III Arena running on Red Hat 6.2.

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