What is Linux

Linux. It’s one big thing in the world of tech that you may have heard of but know very little about. You may also be unaware about how big a part the Linux operating system plays in your daily life: from making sure traffic lights are working to recording your favourite show on TV and, of course, keeping your Android smartphone up and running.

But all this is just the tip of the iceberg. So let’s take a look at what exactly Linux does and how it can help you. But first, let’s find out where Linux came from to get where it is today…

What is an Operating System?

I'll start by defining what Windows, OS X and Linux are - computer operating systems (OS). An OS is the main thing you will use when starting your computer and it gives you access to basic functions as well as coming with lots of programs and apps to perform more advanced options like web browsing, playing media and more.

The operating system on almost all computers is traditionally Windows - you can find it in schools, businesses, bank machines, everywhere. Despite Apple's perceived popularity, records show they only have around 7-8% market-share of computers, whilst Windows commands around 89-90%. The remaining 2-3% is where we can find Linux. This is one reason why most people have not heard of Linux, and also why most will never even see a computer running Linux. However, despite the small usage share, there are a lot of places where it can be found.


Linux: A Brief History

Linux was first developed in 1991, when operating systems were a world away from what we know them as now.


Back in 1991, operating systems were a far cry from what we know them as now. Windows was in version 3.0 and Mac OS was still version 7. Of course, at the time they were pretty amazing, allowing you to point and click on whatever you wanted. But you were limited to what Microsoft or Apple would allow you to use on their system or whoever bought the exclusive rights to write the software to use on the system.

So, at the University of Helsinki, a software engineer named Linus Torvalds came up with the idea of Linux, an open source (freely distributed) Kernel (more about this below), allowing anyone with the right knowledge to write software for, or make changes to, the operating system itself. In other words, at the heart of Linux’s innovation and appeal was its ability to be highly customised to fit the user’s needs.

Linux Today

Linux is an open operating system that many people around the world work on to develop and take further – moulding it into their own personalised OS. No one company is in charge and anyone can make changes. The companies involved with researching and developing future technologies are grouped together as the Linux Foundation. While proving extremely lucrative for its members, Linux has also seen its influence spread across the globe - powering computers and Mainframe web servers from the New York Stock Exchange to home computers to your TiVo Box.

A few facts taken from www.linuxfoundation.org:

  • Google, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon are all powered by Linux
  • 1.3 million Android phones are activated daily
  • Linux powers the international space station
  • Most of the 600,000 TVs sold daily run on Linux
  • Linux powers the air traffic control systems.




Linux features a graphical command user interface (GUI).


When Linux was developed, it featured a Command Line Interface (CLI) rather than the more common graphical user interface (GUI).

This is why so many businesses around the world picked Linux up; making it the industry-leading OS installed on servers worldwide. Its open source build meant that anyone with enough know how could customise it to run systems from water network to inflight entertainment systems - something neither Apple nor Microsoft couldn’t achieve with their systems due to the GUI the developer could overlay on the system.


As an open source OS, 90% of the programs on Linux are free.


Open Source

Because Linux is open source, it means that 90% of programs are free; you only have software you want installed; and as mentioned earlier, the customisation is endless. I could download and install a copy of Ubuntu (a popular Linux version) and have it running in an hour - without it costing a single penny!

In the past few years, Linux has attracted more and more attention, and the main reason for this is the rise of smartphones. Both Android and Tizen use Linux as the framework for their operating systems. Again, because of its customisation, this allowed Android to dominate the smartphone market. Android uses Linux kernel to run the programs required for the apps and other features to work on its smartphones.

What is a Kernel?

The Linux kernel is an integral part of how Linux works.

A kernel is the code that tells the processor how to make your computer work and is a central part of how an operating system works. An operating system is a single system made up of different programs and functions, with the kernel being the centre. A great way to think of it would be as a pizza, with the kernel being the base and the driver, etc., as the topping. Although they function on their own, together they make a full system.

The Linux kernel is works as a sort of translator that takes the instructions from the apps and then sends the instruction to the hardware.

So, there you have it, a full rundown of what the Linux OS is and how it works. If you have any questions or comments about Linux, feel free to get in touch using the comments box below.


Where can you find Linux?

Steam offers its own version of Linux, SteamOS.

There are two main areas where you might find Linux running - consumer desktops and servers. Consumer computers that run Linux are hard to come by as almost all manufacturers except Apple choose to use Windows. There are a few reasons for this - they normally have big contracts with Microsoft that compel them to use it and computer users are more familiar with Windows that Linux.

A few manufacturers like HP and Dell have at times offered computers running Linux instead of Windows, but they were normally something that had to be specially ordered, and it seems that not many people did. A few years ago when Netbooks were booming, a lot of manufacturers where able to keep costs down by using Linux instead of Windows.

So it can be tough to find Linux, but servers that keep websites running and businesses' backbone systems going will often run Linux as opposed to Windows. Linux is well known for its stability and in-built security and it's estimated that 85% of the world's most powerful supercomputers run the OS.

Well-known gaming service Steam also recently began to offer its own Linux version called SteamOS, which is designed for what it calls Steam Boxes - an alternative to consoles such as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. If these catch on, then we're likely to see more exposure given to Linux, but at the moment only time will tell.

Different Variations of Linux

If you intend to download, install or use Linux you'll find there are many, many different versions available. This is again one of the features of Linux - not only is it free, but anyone can download and modify it to their own liking. All these variations are known as distributions, and frankly there are far too many to list, but here are some of the more popular ones if you want to try it out:

Edited By: Joshua Thompson

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