Origins in UNIXEdit

Linux's origins are tied to the GNU Project, which was initiated by the Free Software Foundation, an intiative started by Richard Stallman. It's goal was to create a free version of UNIX, a Network Operating System originally developed by AT&T Bell Labs for use on the PDP-7. Later on, it was rewritten in the C Programming Language.

By free, Stallman meant Software that could be freely used, read, modified, and redistributed. The FSF successfully built a vast number of useful components, including a C compiler (gcc), an impressive text editor (emacs), and a host of fundamental tools. However, in the 1990's, the FSF was having trouble developing the operating system kernel, and without a kernel their dream of a completely free operating system would not be realized.

Linux Development and HistoryEdit

Linux began in 1991, with Linus Torvalds. He created an operating system kernel that was based on Minix (And indeed, included much the same functionality).

This kernel could be combined with the FSF material, and other components (in particular, some of the BSD components and MIT's X-Windows software) to produce a freely-modifiable, and very useful operating system. GNU/Linux was born.

The Concept of DistributionsEdit

Since the Source Code for Linux can be edited and redistributed by anyone, many have come up with their own written versions of Linux. These are called Distributions. The Companies (or individuals) are called Distributors.

The core of any Linux distribution is the kernel (see below), which is then used to run other programs and packages which can add hardware support, functionality, a graphical user interface or GUI (for example Gnome or KDE), etc. The combination of various programs and packages, whether programmed specifically for a specific distribution or distributions in general, comprises a Linux distribution.

The Linux KernelEdit

The Linux Kernel is the core program upon which any distribution of Linux is built. It can be likened to DOS being the core operating system which Windows is built upon. Without a kernel, no further software can be installed on a computer. With the Linux Kernel installed, it can be set to run more programs, thus resulting in a complete operating system.

A team of software engineers regularly updates the Linux Kernel, which innumberable programmers worldwide can then build their various Linux distributions upon, adding support for specific hardware, drivers, software, files, etc.

Linux vs. WindowsEdit

The Open Source DebateEdit

The particular big difference, which distinguishes Linux from Windows, and indeed other commercial operating systems, is its openess. As Linux and most of its programs are published under the GNU General Public License (GPL) it may be used not only free of charge, but also free of almost any restrictions. A nice analogy to explain this is the following: "Linux is free like in free speech, not like in free beer".

The name Linux originally is for the Operating System itself, but in fact getting Linux today means also getting a full featured set of software. Office Software, Development Tools, Imaging Software, etc. are generally at a professional standard, and competitive with those from the Windows World. However, the Linux Operating System, and the software contained therein, is totally free.

Some have eschewed this way of 'bloating' the Operating System with, in some cases to users, useless software that will never be needed, that's included in the Distribution, that inflates the Disc Image size. Therefore, to address this niche, some have made Minimalist Versions of Linux, such as Damn Small Linux, which can be as small as a 50MB ISO (Or even small enough to fit on a 1.44MB Floppy Disk).

Also, many new Open Source programs are now coming to Windows. Among the most prominent are now-common titles such as Mozilla Firefox, Suite, and The Gimp. Programs such as these have been steadily rising in popularity in the last couple of years.

For example, the Massachusetts state government is now only using Sun Microsystem's OpenDocument format under Also, since the first public release (1.0) came out, the Mozilla Foundation's Firefox browser has skyrocketed, to say the least in popularity.

The openness of Linux also applies to the Source Code. If any program is published under the GPL/lGPL, this implies the right for any user, to view, change and redistribute the Source Code.

Differences between Linux and WindowsEdit

Linux and Windows are very different operating systems, and their software is vastly different in operation to each other. With the use of the WINE project, Windows functionality on a Linux system is possible (although sometimes quite difficult), but Linux functionality on Windows is almost non-existant. Open source programs on Linux are often ported to Windows because of volunteer programmers donating their time to the cause, but commercial programs are rarely available on Linux because large corporations wish to remain in charge and not support the growth of open source software. Furthermore, the licenses placed on popular commercial file formats often hinder their use in open source software.

Conventional wisdom states that Linux is more secure than Windows, and this is mostly true. Because Windows is more widely used, there is more malware produced, and more hackers to attack Windows. Conversely, Linux is less a target so it is seemingly more secure. Beyond that, default Linux installs have generally been more secure. Just remember that when Windows or Linux is improperly maintained, it will exhibit vulnerabilities. Properly maintaining and securing your operating system is important no matter which you use.

An important factor in choosing an operating system is what desktop applications you wish to run, such as internet access, office productivity, or games. Luckily, both Linux and Windows excel at the internet access applications, such as the World Wide Net, email, file sharing, etc. Very excellent office productivity apps, such as spreadsheets and word processing, exist for both, and for the most part, are compatible. Gaming is a different matter. Windows is definitely more popular for games than Linux, primarily because there are more, popular, games on Windows. Linux may have an advantage in programming and web development.

While Linux is popular on the desktop, it has a special place as a server. Server applications such as web servers and database management has made the internet what it is.

Linux is facing the challenge of being as user friendly as other operating systems (having been originally intended solely for computer experts), and supporting the same programs and file formats as other operating systems. Generally, people not using Linux consider it to be inferior, or believe that such an operating system is not practical whilst other operating systems remain dominant. People who use and support Linux (particularly programmers and developers) often consider it superior, and support the effort to make available open source operating systems and software which truly is free.

More Resources Edit

Linux Distribution List
Linux: Slackware | Gentoo | Red Hat | Fedora Core | Debian | Ubuntu | Kbuntu | SuSE | Topologino | Knoppix | Mandriva | Linspire | Mandrake | Damn Small | Gnoppix

Operating System List

CP/M | QDOS | MS-DOS | FreeDOS | Windows | Linux | UNIX | BSD | Mac OS | MenuetOS | AmigaOS | ReactOS | BeOS | SkyOS | Minix | OS/2 | Solaris

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