Is Linux Ready for You?
Geeks have loved it for years, but is the open-source OS alternative finally easy enough for the rest of us?

By John R. Quain

Dept.: Geek Guide
Tech: Linux
Cost: Free-$316
Beta | | | | | Final

It's cheap, it's stable as a rock, and versions of it run your TiVo and much of the Web. What the heck is it? Linux is an open-source operating system. It does essentially the same thing as Windows XP or Mac OSX, but its core code is open to the public and owned by no one. Anybody can modify it. Since Linux's release in the early 1990s, thousands of programmers have tweaked and improved it to make it as powerful and reliable as the commercial systems (if not more so) and have built dozens of versions with hundreds of applications. Best of all, you can still buy it cheap or even download it free.

The three versions I tested-one free, two paid-all look and act as familiar as XP or OSX, and there are free applications for almost any task, including word processing, e-mail and CD-burning. You can even find Linux drivers for most printers, digital cameras and other peripherals. In fact, about the only area in which Linux still lags is PC gaming. If you can live with that, turn the page to see which version is right for you.,00.html