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Believe it or not, one of the fastest, most robust, and powerful multitasking OSes is available for free. Linux can be downloaded for free or be purchased on CD-ROM for a small service charge. A handful of companies distribute Linux including Red Hat, Debian, Caldera, and many others. Linux is also possibly available for more hardware combinations than any other OS (with the possible exception of NetBSD. Supported processors include: Alpha, PowerPC, SPARC, x86, and 68xx. Most processors currently not supported are currently works-in-progress or even available in beta. For example, work is currently underway to provide support for PA-RISC, 65xx, StrongARM, and Z80. People have even successfully gotten Linux working on PDAs. As you may have guessed, Linux can be made quite lightweight. Linux is a variant of UNIX and as such, most of the traditional UNIX software will run on Linux. This especially includes the GNU software, most of which comes with the majority of Linux distributions. Fast, reliable, stable, and inexpensive, Linux is popular with ISPs, software developers, and home hobbyists alike.
A free variant of Berkeley's UNIX, FreeBSD is similar to Linux in many respects and typical users would have trouble spotting the differences. Its advocates would argue that it has a better design than Linux, however; Linux advocates would argue that it is not as well supported. Regardless, FreeBSD currently only supports x86 and Alpha platforms (although rumor is a SPARC port is underway).
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A free variant of Berkeley UNIX available for Alpha and x86 based machines. It is not as popular as Linux.
Network space combat for Mac OS (both X and classic), Windows '95 / '98, and x86 Linux.
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Java Runtime Environment
The Java Runtime Environment (JRE) for MS-Windows, Solaris, and Linux. It'll allow the running of Java programs.
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The Java Developer's Kit features everything required to develop Java programs under Solaris, Linux, or various flavors of MS-Windows.
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The RealPlayer Basic will run on Windows 95 / 98, Windows 2000, Windows NT, Mac OS, Linux, Solaris, IRIX, and AIX.
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Possibly the world's most popular free OS, Linux is another UNIX work-alike designed to work along with the GNU Project. It supports many different hardware platforms, including x86, PowerPC, SPARC, Alpha, 68xx, and many more. Also, in spite of the fact that Linux is a free OS, numerous commercial software packages are now available for it in addition to the typical free packages.
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The operating system is the program that manages a computer's resources. Common OSes include Windows '95, MacOS, Linux, Solaris, AmigaOS, AIX, Windows NT, etc.
This simply means to be supplied by only one vendor. It is commonly misused. Currently, most processors are non-proprietary, some systems are non-proprietary, and every OS (except for arguably Linux) is proprietary.
Amaya runs on Windows '95 / '98 / NT / 2K / XP / Vista, Solaris, Linux, Mac OS X, HP-UX, IRIX, Digital UNIX, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, and more. It offers the most advanced HTML support of all the browsers.
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The PA-RISC is a RISC processor developed by Hewlett-Packard. It is currently produced only by HP. At the moment only one OS runs on PA-RISC based machines: HP-UX. There is an effort underway to port Linux to them, though.
Macromedia offers a free Flash Player application with relatively current versions for Linux, Mac OS, Windows '95 / '98, and Windows NT. It also offers Flash Player and Flash Generator source code to facilitate free porting to other platforms.
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Another free variant of Berkeley's UNIX, NetBSD supports a far broader selection of hardware than FreeBSD. It supports x86, PowerPC, SPARC, Alpha, 6800, MIPS, and more. It is similar enough to Linux and FreeBSD that typical users would have trouble telling them apart.
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Tucows Downloads
A large collection of software for Mac OS, all flavors of MS-Windows, OS/2, BeOS, Linux, Newton, Palm, EPOC, and more. The downloader must be a little careful though as not all software on Tucows is freeware; shareware, crippleware, nagware, and commercial software demos also live on this site.
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CNET Downloads
A large collection of software for Mac OS, Windows '95/'98, Linux, Palm, Windows CE, and EPOC. This site is much like a less extensive version of Tucows -- the downloader must be a little careful as not all software on the site is freeware; shareware, crippleware, nagware, and commercial software demos also abound.
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Yet another free variant of Berkeley's UNIX, OpenBSD supports more hardware platforms than FreeBSD but fewer than NetBSD. It supports x86, PowerPC, SPARC, Alpha, 6800, and more. It is similar enough to Linux, FreeBSD, and NetBSD that typical users would find it hard to tell which is which.
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OpenOffice (originally StarDivision's StarOffice but acquired and modified by Sun Microsystems) is completely free, offers 100% binary compatibility with MS-Office data files, and works on far more machines than MS-Office does. It currently runs on Windows '95 / '98, Windows NT / 2K, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Solaris, Mac OS X, Linux, JavaOS, OS/2, etc.
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Stuffit Expander
Stuffit Expander is a program that is capable of undoing most of the encoding / packaging done for downloading / e-mailing. It will work on most flavors of MS-Windows, Mac OS (both X and classic), Linux, and Solaris. It has the ability to unzip, unstuff, ungzip, unbzip, uncompress, uncompact, unarc, unlharc, unrar, uudecode, untar, and disentangle several other processed formats besides.
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Want to try your hand at some complex 3D modeling or do you just want to make some simple 3D pictures? Either way, the "Persistence of Vision Raytracer" is the tool to get the job done. It is available for Windows '95 / '98, Windows NT / 2K / XP, Windows Vista, Mac OS, MS-DOS, Linux, Solaris, AmigaOS, and more.
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Arguably the most feature-rich and standards-compliant of all the browsers, Mozilla is essentially a more advanced version of Netscape. Mozilla will run on most OSes, including Windows '95 / '98, Windows NT, Windows XP, Windows 3.1, Mac OS (both classic and X), Linux, Solaris, HP-UX, IRIX, Digital UNIX, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, OS/2, and more.
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The SPARC is a RISC processor developed by Sun. The design was more or less released to the world, and it is currently produced by around a dozen different companies too numerous to even bother mentioning. It is worth noting that even computers made by Sun typically sport SPARCs made by other companies. A couple different OSes run on SPARC based machines, including Solaris, SunOS, and Linux. Some of the newer SPARC models are called UltraSPARCs.
The PowerPC is a RISC processor developed in a collaborative effort between IBM, Apple, and Motorola. It is currently produced by a few different companies, of course including its original developers. A few different OSes run on PowerPC based machines, including Mac OS, AIX, Solaris, Windows NT, Linux, Mac OS X, BeOS, and AmigaOS. At any given time, the fastest processor in the world is usually either a PowerPC or an Alpha, but sometimes SPARCs and PA-RISCs make the list, too.
An Alpha is a RISC processor invented by Digital and currently produced by Digital/Compaq and Samsung. A few different OSes run on Alpha based machines including Digital UNIX, Windows NT, Linux, NetBSD, and AmigaOS. Historically, at any given time, the fastest processor in the world has usually been either an Alpha or a PowerPC (with sometimes SPARCs and PA-RISCs making the list), but Compaq has recently announced that there will be no further development of this superb processor instead banking on the release of the somewhat suspect Merced.
One of the most popular browsers in use today, Netscape is also one of the most feature-rich and offers the most advanced JavaScript support of all the browsers. Be sure to also take a peek at Mozilla to learn about future Netscape directions and try out upcoming betas. Netscape will run on most OSes, including Windows '95 / '98, Windows NT, Windows 3.1, Mac OS (both classic and X), Linux, Solaris, HP-UX, IRIX, Digital UNIX, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, OS/2, and more. It can be used for both browsing the web and gopherspace.
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An ARM is a RISC processor invented by Advanced RISC Machines, currently owned by Intel, and currently produced by both the above and Digital/Compaq. ARMs are different from most other processors in that they were not designed to maximize speed but rather to maximize speed per power consumed. Thus ARMs find most of their use on hand-held machines and PDAs. A few different OSes run on ARM based machines including Newton OS, JavaOS, and (soon) Windows CE and Linux. The StrongARM is a more recent design of the original ARM, and it is both faster and more power efficient than the original.
The Merced is a RISC processor developed by Intel with help from Hewlett-Packard and possibly Sun. It is just starting to be released, but is intended to eventually replace both the x86 and PA-RISC processors. Curiously, HP is recommending that everyone hold off using the first release and instead wait for the second one. It is expected some day to be roughly as fast as an Alpha or PowerPC. It is expected to be supported by future versions of Solaris, Windows-NT, HP-UX, Mac OS X, and Linux. The current semi-available Merced processor is called the Itanium. Its overall schedule is way behind, and some analysts predict that it never will really be released in significant quanitities.
A virus is a program that will seek to duplicate itself in memory and on disks, but in a subtle way that will not immediately be noticed. A computer on the same network as an infected computer or that uses an infected disk (even a floppy) or that downloads and runs an infected program can itself become infected. A virus can only spread to computers of the same platform. For example, on a network consisting of a WinTel box, a Mac, and a Linux box, if one machine acquires a virus the other two will probably still be safe. Note also that different platforms have different general levels of resistance; UNIX machines are almost immune, Win '95 / '98 / ME / XP is quite vulnerable, and most others lie somewhere in between.
UNIX is a family of OSes, each being made by a different company or organization but all offering a very similar look and feel. It can not quite be considered non-proprietary, however, as the differences between different vendor's versions can be significant (it is still generally possible to switch from one vendor's UNIX to another without too much effort; today the differences between different UNIXes are similar to the differences between the different MS-Windows; historically there were two different UNIX camps, Berkeley / BSD and AT&T / System V, but the assorted vendors have worked together to minimalize the differences). The free variant Linux is one of the closest things to a current, non-proprietary OS; its development is controlled by a non-profit organization and its distribution is provided by several companies. UNIX is powerful; it is fully multitasking and can do pretty much anything that any OS can do (look to the Hurd if you need a more powerful OS). With power comes complexity, however, and UNIX tends not to be overly friendly to beginners (although those who think UNIX is difficult or cryptic apparently have not used CP/M). Window managers are available for UNIX (running under X-Windows) and once properly configured common operations will be almost as simple on a UNIX machine as on a Mac. Out of all the OSes in current use, UNIX has the greatest range of hardware support. It will run on machines built around many different processors. Lightweight versions of UNIX have been made to run on PDAs, and in the other direction, full featured versions make full advantage of all the resources on large, multi-processor machines. Some different UNIX versions include Solaris, Linux, IRIX, AIX, SunOS, FreeBSD, Digital UNIX, HP-UX, NetBSD, OpenBSD, etc.
The x86 series of processors includes the Pentium, Pentium Pro, Pentium II, Pentium III, Celeron, and Athlon as well as the 786, 686, 586, 486, 386, 286, 8086, 8088, etc. It is an exceptionally popular design (by far the most popular CISC series) in spite of the fact that even its fastest model is significantly slower than the assorted RISC processors. Many different OSes run on machines built around x86 processors, including MS-DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows '95, Windows '98, Windows ME, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows CE, Windows XP, GEOS, Linux, Solaris, OpenBSD, NetBSD, FreeBSD, Mac OS X, OS/2, BeOS, CP/M, etc. A couple different companies produce x86 processors, but the bulk of them are produced by Intel. It is expected that this processor will eventually be completely replaced by the Merced, but the Merced development schedule is somewhat behind. Also, it should be noted that the Pentium III processor has stirred some controversy by including a "fingerprint" that will enable individual computer usage of web pages etc. to be accurately tracked.

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