What is Linux?
Linux is, in simplest terms, an operating system. It is the software on a computer that enables applications and the computer operator to access the devices on the computer to perform desired functions. The operating system (OS) relays instructions from an application to, for instance, the computer’s processor. The processor performs the instructed task, then sends the results back to the application via the operating system. Explained in these terms, Linux is very similar to other operating systems, such as Windows and OS X. As an open operating system, Linux is developed collaboratively, meaning no one company is solely responsible for its development or ongoing support. Companies participating in the Linux economy share research and development costs with their partners and competitors. This spreading of development burden amongst individuals and companies has resulted in a large and efficient ecosystem and unheralded software innovation.
The Birth of Linux
On August 25, 1991, a Finn computer science student named Linus Torvalds made the following announcement to the Usenet group comp.os.minux:
I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) (among other things). The Minix Torvalds referred to is a variant of the UNIX operating system, used as a guideline for his the free operating system he wanted to run on the x86-based consumer PCs of the day. Gnu, refers to the set of GNU (GNU Is Not Unix) tools first put together by Richard Stallman in 1983. UNIX, the operating system that started it all, had its origins in the old Bell Labs back in the early 60s.
Torvalds built the core of the Linux operating system, known as the kernel. A kernel alone does not make an operating system, but Stallman’s GNU tools were from a project to create an operating system as well–a project that was missing a kernel to make Stallman’s operating system complete. Torvalds’ matching of GNU tools with the Linux kernel marked the beginning of the Linux operating system as it is known today. Linux is in many ways still only at the beginning of its potential, even though it has enjoyed tremendous success since Torvalds’ first request for help in 1991. Linux has gained strong popularity amongst UNIX developers, who like it for its portability to many platforms, its similarity to UNIX, and its free software license. Around the turn of the century, several commercial developers began to distribute Linux, including VA Linux, Turbo Linux, Mandrake linux, Red Hat, and SuSE GMbH. IBM’s 2000 decision to invest $2 billion in Linux development and sales was a significant positive event to the growth of Linux. Today, Linux is a multi-billion dollar industry, with companies and governments around the world taking advantage of the operating system’s security and flexibility. Thousands of companies use Linux for day-to-day use, attracted by the lower licensing and support costs. Governments around the world are deploying Linux to save money and time, with some governments commissioning their own versions of Linux.
Code is contributed to the Linux kernel under a number of licenses, but all code must be compatible with version 2 of the GNU General Public License (GPLv2), which is the license covering the kernel distribution as a whole. In practice, that means that all code contributions are covered either by GPLv2 (with, optionally, language allowing distribution under later versions of the GPL) or the three-clause BSD license. Any contributions which are not covered by a compatible license will not be accepted into the kernel. Linux is free as “freedom” under the GNU licence and in some cases free in terms of cost.
Where is Linux?
One of the most noted properties of Linux is where it can be used. Linux, which began its existence as a server OS and has become useful as a desktop OS, can also be found on a range of devices and appliances. From wrist watches to supercomputers, is the popular description of Linux’ capabilities. It has found great popularity in mobile handsets and tablets in the form of Android and it is installed as the BIOS on most desktop / laptop computers.
Why Use Linux?
You might believe that dumping Windows and switching to Linux is a difficult task, but the change in thought and the perception of that switch are the most difficult. If you’ve attempted an upgrade any OS, you know what pain is when it comes to missing drivers / configurations. Business owners find that Linux, for what was once a “niche” operating system, provides the necessary components and services on which many rely. Linux continues its entry into the world’s largest data centres, onto hundreds of thousands of individual desktops, and it represents a near 100 percent domination of the cloud services industry. Take the time to discover Linux and use it in your business. Here are ten reasons to give Linux at least a second look:
1. Commercial Support
In the past, businesses used the lack of commercial support as the main reason for staying with Windows. Red Hat, Novell and Canonical, the “big three” commercial Linux providers, have put this fear to rest. Each of these companies offers 24x7x365 support for your mission-critical applications and business services.
2. .NET Support
Businesses that have standardized on Microsoft technology, specifically their .NET web technology, can rely on Linux for support of those same .NET applications. Novell owns and supports the Mono project that maintains .NET compatibility. One of the Mono project’s goals is to provide businesses the ability to make a choice and to resist vendor lock-in. Additionally, the Mono project offers Visual Studio plugins so that .NET developers can easily transfer Windows-based .NET applications without changing their familiar development tools. Why would Novell and others put forth the effort to create a .NET environment for Linux? For real .NET application stability, Linux is a better choice than Windows.
3. Unix Uptimes
Linux stability offers business owners the peace of mind that their applications won’t suffer lengthy outages due to operating system instability. Linux enjoys the same high uptimes (often measured in years) that its Unix cousins do. This stability means that Linux can support your “99.999 percent available” service requirements. Rebooting after every patch, service pack, or driver change makes Windows an unstable and unreliable choice for those who need nonstop support for their critical applications and services.
No operating system is 100 percent secure and Linux is no exception. But, Linux offers excellent security for its users. From regular kernel updates to an almost daily list of security patches, Linux code maintainers keep Linux systems very secure. Business owners who rely on commercially supported Linux systems will have access to every available security fix. With Linux, you have a worldwide community providing security fixes, not a single company with closed source code. You are completely dependent on the response of one company to provide you with timely security fixes when you use Windows.
5. Transferable skills
One barrier to Linux adoption was the idea that Linux isn’t enough like Unix, and therefore Unix administrators couldn’t successfully use their knowledge when making the switch to Linux. The Linux filesystem layout looks like any commercial version of Unix. Linux also uses a standard set of Unix commands. There are some Linux commands that do not transfer, but this is also true of any version of Unix.
Windows administrators might find that using a keyboard instead of a mouse is a difficult part of the transition, but once they discover the power of the command line, they might never click again. Don’t worry, though, for you GUI-bound Windows types, Linux has several desktop managers from which to choose–not just one.
6. Commodity hardware
Business owners will like the fact that their “out-of-date” systems will still run Linux and run it well. Fortunately for Linux adopters, there’s no hardware upgrade madness that follows every new version of the software that’s released. Linux runs on x86 32-bit and 64-bit architectures. If your system runs Windows, it will run Linux.
7. Linux is free
You may have heard that Linux is free. It is. Linux is free of charge and it is free in the sense that it is also free of patents and other restrictions that make it unwieldy for creative business owners who wish to edit and enhance the source code. This ability to innovate with Linux has helped create companies like Google, who have taken that ability and converted it into big business. Linux is free, as in freedom.
8. Worldwide community
Linux has the support of a worldwide community of developers who contribute to the source code, security fixes and system enhancements. This active community also provides businesses with free support through forums and community sites. This distributed community gives peace of mind to Linux users, because there’s no single point of failure and no single source for Linux support or development.
9. Linux Foundation
The Linux Foundation is a corporate collective of platinum supporters (Fujitsu, Hitachi, HP, IBM, Intel, NEC, Novell and Oracle) and members who, through donations and membership dues, sponsor Linus Torvalds and others who work on Linux full time. Their purpose is to “promote, protect and standardize Linux to fuel its growth around the world.” It is the primary source for all things Linux. The Linux Foundation is a big positive for Linux users and adopters because its existence assures continued development of Linux.
10. Regular Updates
Are you tired of waiting for a Windows service pack every 18 months? Are you also tired of the difficulty in upgrading your Windows systems every few years because there’s no clear upgrade path? (Ubuntu Linux offers new, improved versions every six months) and long-term support (LTS) versions every two years. Every Linux distribution offers regular updates of its packages and sources several times per year and security fixes as needed. You can leave any upgrade angst in your officially licensed copy of Windows because it’s easy to upgrade and update Linux. And, the best part? No reboot required.
The Future of Linux
Linux is already successful on many different kinds of devices, but there are also many technological areas where Linux is moving towards, even as desktop and server development continues to grow faster than any other operating system today.
Linux is here to stay; it is getting stronger day by day, and that is good from a technical, financial and social point of view.
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