The Basics of Linux

The linux operating system (OS) is used to manage the hardware on home desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones and other devices; powering most of the Internet; the world’s top 500 supercomputers; and even cars and refrigerators. It is one of the most stable, secure and worry-free OSes available.

The history of linux starts in 1991 when Linus Torvalds, a Helsinki University student, started developing a free and open source alternative to Minix, a Unix-like clone that was expensive and locked down by its software vendor. In an attempt to finance the project, Stallman created the Free Software Foundation and sold licenses for the new software — but not the copyright that would have allowed a single company to own the code and dictate its future development.

Since its inception, the linux project has remained open. Anyone can download the latest linux source and modify it to their liking. The result of the project’s openness is a very flexible and adaptable OS that is gaining in popularity among computer manufacturers, network equipment vendors, server providers and users alike.

There are many different versions of linux, which are known as distributions. Each has its own personality and focus. Some use very modern user interfaces (such as GNOME and Elementary OS’ Pantheon), while others opt for a more traditional desktop environment. Some are designed for server environments, while others target specific hardware configurations. A few of the most popular distributions are listed on Distrowatch.

While the kernel, or core of linux, is its most critical component, the entire operating system is comprised of a number of subsystems that work together. These include a bootloader, which handles initial booting after the BIOS loads into memory; an init system, which controls the running of daemons; and a file system.

The combination of these components allows linux to be configured as a graphical workstation, office productivity suite, a home entertainment system or as a file server. It is also extremely stable, with the kernel achieving a level of maturity that many software developers would envy. It is not uncommon for a Linux server to run for years without crashing.

If you’re considering using linux in your library, it’s important to have a system of maintenance in place. Unless your information technology staff is already familiar with the platform, you’ll need to create a plan for checking and applying updates frequently. Many linux distributions offer graphical interface tools for system updates and software package installations. Be sure to check the documentation for your chosen distribution for more details.

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