Is Linux right for you?

Of course. But getting it to work properly might take some work - or even require that you replace hardware. As noted earlier, one long-time problem with Linux has been its hardware support. For instance, you might have trouble making graphics hardware work under Linux, because vendors only recently began working with the open-source community to provide drivers for Linux's graphical user interface, XFree86. This situation is steadily improving: the latest release of XFree86 provides support for NVIDIA's entire line of graphics accelerators - including the GeForce 256 - plus new adapters from S3, ATI, 3dfx and others.

Modems are another source of trouble, although any external modem and many internal ones will work with Linux. Problems arise with devices called Winmodems. They work like regular modems (and are sold as full-fledged units), but Winmodems rely on your computer's CPU to handle much of the processing that standard modems do themselves. This makes them cheaper but also leads to conflicts with Linux, since the software that makes the magic happen runs exclusively under Windows. Modem manufacturers, fearing support troubles and being reluctant to give away their secrets, have not provided open-source developers with enough technical information to create third-party Winmodem drivers. These widely distributed devices are, for the moment, useless under Linux.

Previously, built-in printer support for Linux was minimal. Most current Linux applications produce output in PostScript - a page layout that only expensive, high-end printers tend to support. A utility called Ghostscript lets these apps talk to non-PostScript printers, but Ghost-script drivers can't support the entire range of printers. (In addition, some apps provide their own set of printer drivers.) The bottom line: if your printer is a few years old or a high-end model, you have a better chance of being able to make it work. The printing situation should improve significantly over the next year because Corel has open-sourced the printer routines developed for its office suite and Hewlett-Packard says it is developing Linux printers.

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Matthew Newton

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