What is the Linux Operating System? What is it used for? Learn the answers in this easy-to-understand introductory guide.
New to Linux? Linux is as much a phenomenon as it is an operating system. In fact, Linux is what supports much of the internet, but the general public is not all that familiar with the word Linux. This guide for nontechnical users can help you get started.
What is Linux Operating System?
Linux is an operating system, just like Microsoft Windows or macOS. An operating system is a software that enables the communication between computer hardware and software.
Linux is a free and open source software, which means that you can use, copy, and change the software in any way. It’s freely available to everyone. In other words, you do not have to pay a dime to use it. Just download it, and install it on your computer.
The Linux kernel is the main component of the Linux operating system. In general terms, the kernel is a software code that serves as a layer between the hardware and main programs that run on a computer. It was created by Linus Torvalds back in the early 1990s in Finland and licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL). In other words, Torvalds was made the Linux kernel available to the world for free. There is an official website for the Linux kernel.
The rest of the system consists of other programs, many of which were written by or for the GNU Project. These utilities were then added to the Linux kernel to create a complete system. The kernel is an essential part of an operating system, but useless by itself, because the Linux kernel alone does not form a working operating system. It can only function in the context of a complete operating system.
The Linux kernel is used by Linux distributions alongside GNU tools and libraries that interact with it. This combination is sometimes referred to as GNU/Linux.
So Linux is just a kernel, but the term Linux is far more commonly used by the public and media and that it serves as a generic term for systems that combine that kernel with software from multiple other sources. Therefore when most people say Linux, they’re really talking about a combination of the Linux kernel plus a lot of tools and libraries from the GNU Project.
To put it more clearly, Linux and GNU/Linux refer to the same operating system and software. There is still a controversy over which term is more appropriate.
What is a Linux Distribution?
When Linux was originally developed, distributions didn’t exist. So the early developers download the kernel and they had use various complicated tools to compile it, installed on the system and compile the individual pieces of software they needed. They had have to assemble those all by hand. As you can imagine, that was actually rather difficult to do.
So very quickly the developers figured out that it would be useful to provide, they call the “distribution of tools”, that new developers and new users could use to quickly set up living systems.
It very rapidly turned out there wasn’t going to be just one Linux distribution, because there were many different use cases and people want different sets of tools for different purposes.
Hundreds of Linux distributions are available today, and each targets specific users or systems such as desktops, servers, mobile devices or embedded devices. Some of the more widely used Linux distributions include Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, openSUSE, Linux Mint, Arch Linux, Manjaro, etc.
The distribution vendor has to act as a curator, selecting which programs and which versions of those programs they want to include and support. They also have to provide some way to easily install and update that software. In addition, they need to provide some way to support that software.
Linux now has many variants, all based around the same original kernel. A Linux distribution, often shortened to Linux distro, is an operating system composed of the Linux kernel, GNU tools and libraries, additional software and a package manager.
The Linux distribution vendors/developers do the hard work for you, taking all the code from a huge number of open source projects and compiling it for you, combining it into a single operating system, called Linux distribution, that you can boot up and install.
Who Makes Linux Now?
The Linux operating system isn’t produced by a single organization, but by a large community of open source projects. Different organizations and people work on different parts.
Linux is a computer operating system that is developed using the open source model. The open source development model also means that improvements come from many different corporate and individual contributors, so the product direction is determined largely by the community of users, rather than by a single development team at a single vendor.
Who Uses Linux?
Linux runs almost everything these days, but many people are not aware of that. Companies and individuals choose Linux for their servers because it’s secure and flexible.
But let’s face some facts. Every single one of the world’s top 500 supercomputers use Linux. CERN’s Large Hadron Collider relies on Linux. NASA’s International Space Station switched to Linux due to the operating system’s reliability. New York Stock Exchange (NYSC) which provides means for buyers and sellers in order to trade shares of stock in companies registered for public trading relies solely on Linux. The United States Department of Defense uses Linux.
Mega-companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, LinkedIn, etc., use Linux for their servers. We can continue this list indefinitely. So the internet we use today really couldn’t exist without Linux. In other words, every Facebook, Twitter or Instagram post you make, every YouTube video you watch, every Google search you type, runs on Linux behind the scene. In fact, the very website you’re reading right now is running on Linux.
You probably already use Linux, whether you know it or not. Many devices you probably own, such as Android phones and tablets and Chromebooks, smart TVs, e-readers, digital storage devices, personal video recorders, cameras, wearables, and more, also run Linux.
The car you drive might well be running Linux. While some companies, like Tesla, run their own homebrew Linux, most rely on Automotive Grade Linux (AGL).
Now, you are probably asking yourself: “Why Linux instead of another operating system?”. The answer is because only Linux combines high stability, security, flexibility, and low cost.
Who Owns Linux Operating System?
It is clear that Microsoft owns Windows and Apple owns macOS, but does anybody own Linux? At first glance, you might think nobody does because it’s free and anyone can use it.
The main creator of the Linux kernel is Linus Torvalds. But that doesn’t means that Torvalds himself or any other single entity has ownership of the Linux source code in full. However there is official Kernel group which maintains what must be part of Linux kernel. Torvalds himself approves a number of changes made to Linux, but that doesn’t give him the copyright to those changes.
You can contribute code to Linux, which then gets approved by the community, but you get to retain the copyright to that piece of code. That means you will become one of the thousands of collective owners of Linux.
To be as precise as possible, the Linux trademark is owned by Linus Torvalds for “Computer operating system software to facilitate computer use and operation”. His assignee, an organization called the Linux Mark Institute, is empowered to collect licensing fees from companies and individuals who want to use the word commercially.
Above all, Linux, and the Linux community, is about freedom. So, who owns Linux? There is only one simple answer to this question: The community owns Linux.