Understanding Linux

Learn a bit about the Linux phenomenon.
Published: Apr 13, 2006
Author: Michael E, Callahan
Related OS: Windows

This question submitted by Alan Weathers, Janie Snow, Roger Williamson, Jack Watson, Pamela Crim, Reggie Jamison, Dianne Summerville, and numerous others

I've received questions about Linux in many ways, shapes, and forms. Some of you just want to know what it is. Others want to know what I think of it. Still others want to know if I can recommend software that runs under Linux. In general, all of the questions convey the fact that many of you want to know about Linux. So, today I'll talk a little bit about it. Sit back, relax, hopefully this will be interesting.

Linux is an operating system. An operating system is the software that defines how all the other software behaves on a computer. Other operating systems you may have heard of might include DOS, Windows, UNIX, Macintosh, BE, and OS/2. In some ways the Linux operating system is like other operating systems, but in some key ways it's very different. Let me explain.

Linux behaves like, and is very similar to, UNIX. UNIX is used on many large computers because it's very stable. It also has very loose hardware demands so it's easy to run on a wide range of configurations. Linux was designed to run on PC's and in fact, it takes advantage of your computers design so you get maximum performance. Another interesting thing about Linux is that it's free! There are many variations of Linux that you can find on the Internet and download. Keep in mind that some of the files are very large, but there are also versions of Linux that will run off a CD. Pretty slick really.

Until recently nearly all PC manufacturers only put Windows on the computers they sold. The movement behind Linux, however, got the interest of some big companies, like IBM. Another company to start utilizing Linux was Compaq and both companies started selling computers that came with Linux, not Windows, installed. That was a major step forward. And, as more and more people and companies developed an interest in Linux, the more "versions" there seemed to be. If you've been wandering around the Internet you may have heard about, or seen ads for, variations of Linux like:

  • Mandrake
  • Red Hat
  • Samba
  • Xandros
  • Corel
  • Mandriva
  • And more!

And remember, all versions of the Linux software are free. Which reminds me of another term that's often associated with Linux and that's "Open Source." Open source means that the source code of Linux programs is readily available and many Linux programs are free as well.

Linux, without getting really technical, is really optimized. It's great at networking, it's great a multitasking, it's great at utilizing hard disk space and memory. It's been designed to require take advantage of the Intel and AMD processors so that a computer functions more efficiently.

Linux was created by Linus Torvalds in 1991 and the growth of the interest in Linux has been amazing ever since. Linux itself is free, many of the programs are free, and much of the software for programmers is free. Linux has grown from a grass roots movement as the alternative to Windows. Programmers contributed to the operating system as well as to the utilities and programs that ran on it. It soon became obvious that in order to reach a broader market, Linux would have to some kind of support. Red Hat put out the first commercial version of Linux and it came with documentation as well as technical support. That made Linux even more appealing to users who had been afraid to try it previously.

One of the biggest factors driving the Linux phenomenon is the fact that it's roots are based in the Open Source movement. "Open Source" means that the source code for a program is available and available for free. You can download it, alter it, and turn around and sell your own version of it. This is all handled under GPL or General Public License. Without trying to get anyone confused, Open Source is free, but it's not freeware, it's not shareware, and it's not "public domain." Every GPL software package has to provide the source code for free. All of this fits in perfectly with Linux itself. Programmers and others work to make not only Linux software, but Linux itself, better and better.

I've installed versions of Red Hat, Mandriva, and Xandros into "virtual machines" that I've created with VMware. I have to say that even running in a virtual machine all of the versions of Linux I've tried are impressive. Fast, efficient, and with lots of software to pick from. I've been so impressed that in the near future I plan on installing a version of Linux onto one of my office computers. I hope this summary has given you some insight into the phenomenon of Linux. If you'd like to download a version and try it out for yourself, here are just a few sites you can visit:

In 26 years in this industry I've seen a lot of changes. I've seen a lot of software. I've seen a lot of miraculous things, but I've seen very few phenomenons. That's really what Linux is, and it's worth investigating. You'll never know if there's something better than what you've got unless you try.

I'd like to thank Alan Weathers, Janie Snow, Roger Williamson, Jack Watson, Pamela Crim, Reggie Jamison, Dianne Summerville and numerous others for asking thisquestion.

And don't forget to use the Forums to participate. If you've already registered you can get into the forums by clicking HERE and if you need to register, you can click HERE. I look forward to discussing a wide range of topics with you in the Forums.

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About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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