Why Give Linux
Linux has come a long way over the past few years. Some Linux packages (distributions) now are easier to install and to use than ever. There is lots of software for Linux and it's likely that you can do everything you want to do computer-wise with Linux. All in all, Linux now is a decent alternative, or perhaps more importantly an excellent supplement, to Microsoft (MS) Windows.
In part, that is because the Linux and MS Windows operating systems (OSs) no longer are a one or the other choice. Linux and MS Windows can be installed on the very same computer. You also can run Linux and MS Windows machines on the same network, easily. And you can use a dual-boot or multi-boot scenario to let you choose which OS, Linux or MS Windows, you want to use for that computer session. Please see Triple-Boot Caldera OpenLinux, Red Hat Linux, & MS Windows for Best of Three Worlds for more about multi-booting Linux and MS Windows.
Incidentally, since those multi-boot articles were written Mandrake Linux and SuSE Linux boots have been added to the triple-boot systems in those articles. For ease of installation and ease of use, we find Mandrake 9.0 to be the best bet for gift-giving at this time. SuSE 8.1 is good too. Please see our article, Mandrake Linux 9.0, Desktop Magic You Can Use: A First Look to see why we pick Mandrake 9.0 over other Linux distributions.
Another reason we like Mandrake 9.0 and SuSE 8.1 for gift-giving is because the K Desktop Environment (KDE) and the associated KDE applications are well-implemented in Mandrake 9.0 and SuSE 8.1. Unfortunately, Red Hat pretty much emasculated KDE in its latest distribution, Red Hat Linux 8.0.
The K Desktop Environment is very comparable to the Microsoft Windows desktop environment -- and perhaps better than the MS Windows desktop environment. That makes Mandrake 9.0 and SuSE 8.1 particularly good gift choices, if the person getting the gift is accustomed to the MS Windows desktop.
You can purchase a boxed Linux distribution from about $30 (Mandrake Standard edition) for a basic package to about $200 for the works (Mandrake ProSuite edition). Generally, the main differences in prices reflect the amount or level of included technical support and how much additional (free) software comes with a Linux distribution. The amount of darn good, free, software you get with the major Linux distributions is almost unbelievable. All that free software makes buying a major Linux distribution one heck of a great value.
Generally, basic Linux distributions are available for free downloading on the Internet. However, the boxed sets make nicer gifts. Not only are they professionally packaged, but also they come with manuals. A particularly good bang for the buck is the seven-CD Mandrake 9.0 PowerPack edition ($69).
If you prefer SuSE, SuSE Linux 8.1 Professional (7 CDs, 1 DVD, User Guide and Administration Guide, 90 days of installation support) at $80 also is a nice value.
Here's the deal. The basic Linux operating system, called the kernel, is free. However, commercial Linux distribution developers such as Mandrake, Red Hat, and SuSE add features to the basic Linux kernel and charge for the value added features they include in their commercial Linux distributions. Hold that thought, please.
Lots of Free Software Included
There is a tremendous amount of open source software (OSS) and otherwise free software for the Linux operating system (OS). Some of that software is not so good. However, lots of the free software for the Linux OS is very good. So in addition to the Linux kernel and the value added features, Linux distribution developers also include a nice collection of free software with their Linux distribution packages.
In addition to the Linux kernel, Linux distributions generally include:
Of course, if you already are into Linux you know about all the goodies that are packed into commercial Linux distributions. If not, there are some links in the Resources section of this article that have more information about all the stuff that is included with the major Linux distributions we recommend for gift-giving. If you are a MS Windows user interested in trying Linux, please check our Linux for Microsoft Windows Users series and our Mandrake 9.0 review.
Most Linux distributions come with a complement of software development tools -- compilers such as C, C++, and Java plus interpreters such as, Perl, PHP, and Python. Typically most Linux distributions also come with FTP, Mail, Web, and other servers. That makes Linux a great gift for youngsters who are interested in learning computer programming and system management.
If you are a Linux fan, there is an interesting ulterior motive for giving Linux as a gift. It's a darn good way to introduce people to Linux.
Below is a list of Mandrake's popular, gift-appropriate, Linux products. They have other products too, including enterprise level products and system management tools, which are not gift-appropriate and therefore not listed below. All in all, this list presents a nice set of gift choices from $30 to $200. Take your pick.
Mandrake Linux Boxed Sets
Unfortunately, there are not nearly so many current, novice to intermediate level, books for Linux as there are for Microsoft Windows. However, many of the few novice to intermediate level books for Linux come with a basic Linux distribution on the CDs included with the book.
In the novice category, for example, Linux for Dummies, 4th Edition by LeBlanc, Hoag, and Blomquist (Wiley, 2002, ISBN 0-7645-1660-4, $30) includes a two-CD Red Hat 8.0 Publisher's Edition. So does Red Hat 8 for Dummies by Jon "maddog" Hall and Paul G. Sery (Wiley, 2002, ISBN 0-7645-1681-7, $30).
Ret Hat Press' Official Red Hat Linux User's Guide by Sandra Moore, et al., (Wiley, 2002, ISBN 0-7645-4967-7, $40) is written for the beginning to intermediate reader. It also comes with the two-CD Red Hat 8.0 Publisher's Edition.
At the intermediate to advanced level, Red Hat Linux 8 Bible by Christopher Negus (Wiley, 2002, ISBN 0-7645-4986-5, $50) comes with the three-CD basic Red Hat Linux distribution.
Any one of these books and accompanying Linux distribution CDs would make a nice gift. So, if you are a Red Hat fan, you might prefer to give one of these Linux books as a gift.
Unfortunately, we were not able to locate any books (currently in print) about Mandrake Linux 9.0 that also include Mandrake 9.0 CDs. Our recommendation here is that if you are not committed to Red Hat Linux, you consider giving one of the Mandrake 9.0 boxed sets -- primarily because Mandrake 9.0's implementation of the K Desktop Environment is so much better than Red Hat 8.0's emasculated KDE implementation. Also, we have found some technical problems with Red Hat Linux 8.0, which so far our Red Hat contacts have not been able to resolve and/or explain -- more about that in an upcoming article about Red Hat 8.0.
A gift of the Linux operating system (OS) could just be the best gift of all -- computer-wise. With all the free software that comes with many Linux distributions, plus all the additional free Linux software and free Linux upgrades that are so easily downloadable, Linux is the gift that keeps on giving, and giving, and giving.
Our ongoing evaluations of Linux distributions so far find that Mandrake Linux 9.0 is the easiest Linux to install and to use. Mandrake 9.0 appears to be the best of the bunch technically. Chances are that if you are giving Linux as a gift, the person to whom you are giving the Linux gift is new to Linux. That makes ease of use and installation, plus technical quality, particularly important in selecting a Linux distribution to give as a gift. All that adds up to Mandrake Linux 9.0 being our first choice for a gift.
One nice thing about Linux is there are lots of choices. The important message here is to give Linux as a gift. Which Linux distribution you choose to give is secondary to that.
Best wishes for a most happy and merry holiday season
Mike Angelo and the MozillaQuest Magazine Staff