You’ve probably heard a lot about Linux in the computer press recently. Often touted as a Microsoft-killer, Linux is a free, open source operating system, and much of the software that runs on it is also free, developed and debugged by thousands of people around the globe. Although renowned for its power and reliability, particularly for Internet server applications, Linux has a reputation for being hard to install. That reputation is largely deserved, although the company RedHat has made considerable progress in putting together a compilation of Linux and applications in a single package and charging a modest fee for doing so.
It’s RedHat’s package that forms the core of Skygate’s Linux offering. Skygate has basically taken one of the best known compilations of Linux software and wrapped it up in a user-friendly installation routine. Instead of having to create boot disks, re-partition your hard drive and install a boot manager in order to use Linux alongside other operating systems, Skygate has managed to tweak things so that you can install the operating system and all its associated applications and data files in a DOS or Windows 9x directory. Once installed, the entire Linux installation resides in a LINUX directory on your hard drive, and contains just five files, one of which is a batch file to launch the operating system while another is the virtual partition. You could even have an icon on your Windows 95 desktop that will launch Linux (although only in MS-DOS mode). Skygate Linux can be installed on a DOS or Windows 9x partition, but not on NTFS, and if you currently use only NT then hard drive repartitioning will necessary.
You might have thought that running one operating system from within another would cause serious problems, but we saw none. A warning is given during installation that this method will result in slightly worse performance than the standard Linux installation, but on our test system all devices worked properly (apart from a SCSI controller for which we had no driver) and so did the applications and games supplied on CD. Helpfully, the Skygate CDs are accompanied by a book; ‘Using Linux’ by Bill Ball, which is rather more useful than the cheap ‘n’ cheerful documentation that is usually supplied with Linux packages.
Linux is a command line interface (CLI) operating system, but if you prefer a graphical interface (and most do), there’s plenty of choice. The standard RedHat-branded X-Windows GUI supplied with the Skygate package looks a lot like Windows 95, but there are various others around, with loads of customisation utilities too. You can also, through the use of emulators, run DOS, Windows and Macintosh software from within Linux. Life’s too short to go into all the good and bad points of Linux here, and if you want more information you should probably start at www.linux.org. RedHat recently released version 6.0 of its Linux package, while Skygate Linux is currently based on the kernel of RedHat 5.1 with most of the important features from 5.2. It’s likely that the future will see the Skygate package updated to include features from RedHat 6.0.
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