What is Linux?

To the casual observer (and some corporate IT decision makers), linux appears to be a freak mutation — a rogue creature randomly generated by anarchy. How can something as complex and discipline dependent as a computer operating system be developed by a loosely knit band of volunteer computer geeks from around the world?

Unlike other proprietary operating systems such as Windows, macOS and iOS, linux is free and open source. It is written in the C programming language, which makes it very portable and scalable. The same kernel can be ported to run on small devices such as electronic photo frames, desktop computers and industrial-strength server systems. Linux is also interoperable, meaning it can be used with users and computers running other operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, UNIX and Apple Macintosh.

The core tenets of linux are “freedom to study how it works, freedom to change it to suit your needs, and freedom to redistribute your changes to others.” These principles have driven the growth of a vibrant community that includes developers and users of all skill levels from every corner of the globe. In addition to creating and maintaining the kernel, these users have created a wide range of applications for Linux that include user-friendly desktop environments, office suites, and even games.

Although linux is usually associated with the GNU operating system, it is an independent and distinct entity. The GNU operating system, which was originally conceived by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie at Bell Labs in the 1970s, is related to — though not directly descended from — Linux. The kernel, the one piece of software that is actually called linux, controls the CPU, memory and peripheral devices. It also manages background services, known as daemons.

Other parts of the operating system include the init system, which manages the boot process. The systemd init system is widely used with Linux. The utmp daemon is responsible for the system’s standard file structure.

Almost any software program that runs on other platforms can run on linux. This includes word processors, photo editing programs, video editors and more. In addition, linux has its own built-in graphical interface and provides the same types of tools that allow you to create, edit, manipulate, and print files.

Learning linux is a matter of getting familiar with the various commands and syntax. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to help you get started, including online tutorials and videos. You can also find a variety of books and printed manuals to guide you through the process. Once you become more comfortable with the basics, you can try linux out for yourself by installing it on your existing computer or using a device such as a Raspberry Pi that comes pre-loaded with the operating system. You can also purchase a System76 or Purism computer that comes with a fully configured and ready-to-use version of linux. Then you can use a popular application such as Firefox or Skype to see how well it works on your new platform.

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