Another blow for Microsoft: On the heels of a free alternative to Office, a no-charge alternative operating system to Windows is now flooding the country. Knoppix, a Hebrew operating system requiring no installation, is the first real threat to the Microsoft monopoly in Israel.
Three months after the appearance of a Hebrew version of the Open Office package, distributed free of charge as an alternative to Office, Microsoft has been dealt yet another blow in Israel. For the first time, Hebrew Windows is faced with an alternative operating system for home users. It's called Knoppix, and its price - you guessed it - is zero.
Based on Linux, Knoppix is an open-code system, meaning that all users have access to the program's code and can change the code as desired. The Microsoft source code, which is not intended to be shared with the public, was partially leaked last week on the Web.
Knoppix has a clear advantage over Windows: it operates directly from a CD, with no need to install it on the hard disk. After a brief minute's wait, you will discover a new and amazing world - an operating system very similar to Windows with a hoard of available programs that include Open Office (a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, and more), a graphics and multimedia program, an e-mail program, and an Internet browser. The operating system even identifies Web connections and allows you to surf Hebrew sites quickly and with no need for definitions. Knoppix contains everything home users need, saving them installation work as well as hundreds of shekels, since the program can be downloaded free of charge. That is what will make Knoppix a hit, as well as a threat to Microsoft's total control of the market for home computer operating systems. The impact on this market is likely to be significant. Despite our request, Microsoft Israel refused to comment.
Knoppix, originally developed by German engineer Klaus Knopper, is an operating system containing a wealth of free Linux programs. Like Windows, Knoppix has an automatic system for finding and identifying computer hardware - graphics, sound and Web cards, modems, USB connections, and more. It is no fluke that Knoppix is based on Linux. In Israel, Linnux has the reputation of being an operating system for experts only. However, its special characteristics as an open-code system and the hordes of fans it has attracted worldwide have given it an highly user-friendly image.
Take a deep breath
So what, exactly, is installed on the CD? Take a deep breath: a Linux operating system, a writing program called KDE, an Internet browser called Konqueror, multimedia programs that include a range of video and music players, Internet connections via all common methods (modem, ADSL, cable, local networks), a GIMP program for advanced photo processing (with capabilities like those of Photoshop), a number of programs for working on disks and repairing operating systems (even those different from Linux), many tools for program development, and, of course, the Open Office package featuring office programs. Knoppix is also able to run Microsoft EXE files.
In order operate Knoppix instead of Windows, insert the CD and boot your computer through the CD drive. That is, after turning on your computer, make sure it starts by "reading" the CD drive and not the hard drive. If your computer doesn't do this, you can change its definitions through the BIOS program (usually by hitting F1 immediately after starting your computer).
To counter the skepticism you undoubtedly feel, we'll let you know exactly what happens when you slide the CD into the drive and click on "Restart." After the famous Linux penguin appears on the screen, a few lines of text will appear telling you that loading is in progress and the appropriate hardware is being identified. Then, Desktop appears, in all its glory. The main program icons appear on a bar at the bottom of the screen and are magnified when you run the mouse over them (as in Macintosh).
Our attempts to surf the Web and send e-mail went off without a hitch. Hebrew attachments to messages opened easily in Open Office's word processor, its spreadsheet (Excel's counterpart), and its presentation program (Power Point's counterpart).
We went on to chat with friends using the English/Hebrew instant messenger program, and, for dessert, we listened a bit to MP3 and watched a video. We exited the program, the computer ejecting the CD and directing us to remove it and click on Enter. We did, and the computer shut down. It performed as usual, from the hard disk, when we restarted it, with no hide or hair of our experimentation with Knoppix.
Which version to download
At least three Hebrew versions of Knoppix can be downloaded. The Kannery project, managed by Nakhshon Tsouk and Naomi Shor offers a number of interesting installation options, among them quick installation to the hard disk and the ability to work without the hard disk and with Grid. This system permits the hookup of a number of networked computers, forming a cluster - a sort of super computer that costs nothing.
Kinneret, another successful Knoppix project in Israel, is designed for students. It includes office applications (including a computerized spell-checker), Hebrew Web surfing, graphics and multimedia programs, and - coming soon - three-dimensions. Kinneret's Knoppix is multilingual, with available support in English, Hebrew, Russian, and even Amharic. Another local version of Knoppix is Kazit, developed Shlomi Loubaton, a 25-year-old student at the Technion in Haifa.
Let there be no misunderstanding: there is no comparison between the number of programs available to Windows users and the number available to Linux (including Knoppix) users. But the latter has spread like wildfire, and there is hardly a need today not met by the Linux operating system. For the first time, Knoppix has shown there is an alternative for computer users that have a daily need for office programs, e-mail, Web browsers, file transfers, and other standard operations. And it all comes entirely in Hebrew and with no need to shell out a single penny. To install Knoppix, download the appropriate version (about 600 mega) and burn it onto a disk.
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