Editorial: The return of the penguin

The Apple Mac has always been the cool alternative to Microsoft's operating system, providing a slick and reliable operating system for creative types who care about the design aesthetics but don't want to be endlessly tinkering with their computers.

The attraction of the other main alternative, Linux, is quite different. I've always suspected that if they were honest with themselves, it's a way for computer geeks with a lot of time on their hands to stick two fingers up at Microsoft. I tried installing a Linux distribution a few years ago, but quickly ran into problems with things like display drivers, which I've never done with Windows. At first I didn't want to admit defeat and started exchanging emails with the distribution's technical support, looking around user groups for answers and so on. But in the end I decided that it wasn't worth the time and stress and went back to Windows XP. Sure, I wouldn't get the Linux 'penguin' badge, but I would have more time with the family.

Linux enthusiasts may well blame my own stupidity for this failure, but I do know my way around the inside of my PC reasonably well and I figure that if I couldn't make it work then what hope does your average Windows user have? For that reason, I concluded Linux would stay as a minority interest until it comes preinstalled on home PCs.

That was several years ago, so I thought for this 'open-source' issue I'd have another go to see if it had got any easier. I downloaded one of today's most popular distributions, Ubuntu, burnt it onto a CD, readied an empty hard-disk and booted up from the CD. I have to say it was a breeze. Not only did it install faster than Windows, but it installed a whole bunch of applications that you'd normally have to painstakingly install one by one after Windows.

I've not tried everything yet, but what I have explored seems to work just fine. So far so good. Perhaps I can get that penguin badge after all.

In this issue we look at much more ambitious implementations than my own machine in the cupboard under the stairs. In 'My Way' on p57, we meet two men who have made open-source systems work on tens of thousands of machines, where it's used to mark exams. We look at the pros and cons of open-source software for professionals on p54, and discover how the recession is one of the factors leading to a growing interest in open-source software around the world.

We find too that open-source goes way beyond IT. On p66, we track the development of the open-source mobile phone. Brazil, for example, is keen on the idea because it doesn't want to rely on US technology.

On p34, Chris Edwards explains why open-source is becoming the biggest issue in biotech. Its adoption will decide the future of the biotech industry, making it literally a life-or-death issue.

Would you drive an open-source car? On p40 we look at the front-runners to be the first vehicle to be designed using open-source principles.

Also in this issue, we have a tribute to the guitar hero's guitar hero, Les Paul, who died last month. We look back at a remarkable life with a string of inventions that changed the way music was recorded as well as played.

Finally, if you're over about 40 years old, you probably remember the Six Million Dollar Man, who ran in slow motion onto UK television screens in 1974. Thirty-five years later, can we rebuild him? Do we have the technology? We investigate for a fun feature that starts on p20.

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