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Linux & astronomy

Linux and astronomy

All the while Apple has been fighting a David & Goliath battle with Microsoft, Linus Thorvald's Linux operating system has been quietly maturing. At the threshold of the C21st Linux is coming of age. What was once a Unix clone running on a command line interface [remember MS-DOS?],  suitable only for hackers and geeks, is now available in a variety of both PC & MAC distributions.

During the past couple of years two very user friendly graphical front ends have been developed for Linux; Gnome & KDE. Gnome uses a separate Window Manager called Enlightenment and has a look and feel akin to Windoze. KDE has an Apple look and feel, except all that double clicking is verboten! If you are at home with either Windoze or MAC desktops, you will be equally at home with Gnome or KDE. And for all those PC users who often wondered what a MAC working environment was really like, but were afraid to stray from the apron strings of Bill Gates, you can even switch between Gnome & KDE.

Linux used to be difficult to install because you had to compile the operating system files beforehand, and put them in specific directories and build a directory tree. This awkward task has been simplified. The files have been grouped in packages, and bundled into a distribution. There are several different distributions intended for a variety of computer platforms, including PC's & Apple Macs. The most popular are Red-Hat, Debian and Suse. They may be used to install and build a Linux system in a matter of hours.

So why consider running Linux?  What about all the applications you already run. Well you may install Linux as a bootable option alongside your existing operating system. So it is not a matter of either, or, but both. All you need is about 2Gb disk space, ready to be partitioned.

There are also some very powerful softwares of use to amateur astronomers which come bundled with many distributions. Amongst these are a photoshop equivalent called Gimp, a professional astronomical image analysis package called IRAF and an ephemeris and planetarium package written by Elwood Downey at the Clear Sky Institute called Xephem.

The undoubted advantages of Linux for amateur astronomy is that it is ostensibly open source freeware. So are most of the applications. When you buy software on a CD-ROM, rather than download it directly, all you pay for is the CD-ROM and postage &c.

Linux is rapidly becoming thee most powerful operating system capable of being run on a PC or MAC. Yet the code is so well written it runs almost equally well on low end spec'd machines. No more expensive upgrades and software bloat. Linux also has the capabilities of handling Apple, DOS & Windoze file formats.

Linux offers a user friendly, low cost, access to astronomy software which a few years ago was only accessible to professionals on Unix mainframe networks. If you are becoming frustrated with endless Microsoft or Apple upgrades, give it a try, you will be fascinated.

This page was created by SimpleText2Html 1.0.2 on 2-Feb-102.

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