What is Linux: Explained

Linux is used everywhere, from your phone to your smart TV. The Linux kernel can be found powering the software on millions of devices. When referring to Linux, most people are talking about GNU Linux, which is the operating system. Much like Microsoft Windows and Mac OS, Linux is used mainly as a computer operating system. The difference is that Linux is free and open source and, by nature, compatible with a much wider range of devices. 

5 Facts about Linux

  • Linux is free and open source.
  • Linux is compatible with millions of digital devices.
  • Linus Torvalds originally created Linux in the early 1990s.
  • Linux is used on servers, data centers, and even in supercomputers.
  • Linux is written using almost exclusively using the C programming language.

The History of Linux

The history of Linux starts with Linus Torvalds, who began work on the code in 1991 while a student at the University of Helsinki. Linus wanted to create a better alternative to MINIX, a UNIX-based operating system developed for use in the educational field. The problem with MINIX was that users could not modify or freely distribute the code.

Using almost exclusively the C programming language, Linus developed the Linux kernel using the foundation laid by Richard Stallman’s work on the GNU project. Work was completed on the project over the next few years, and Linus released version 1.0 of Linux in 1994. Not long after that, Red Hat and Suse became the first Linux distributions based on the original kernel.

Linux explodes in popularity over the next few years. Within a decade, Linux was ported to thousands of different types of devices and received the support of major companies like Compaq, HP, and Dell. Additionally, Dell became the first manufacturer to offer Linux across its entire product line.

Over the next two decades, dozens of new Linux distributions are released, driven mainly by hobbyist developers. Today, Ubuntu is the most popular distribution of Linux, with over 25 million users worldwide. Although Linux doesn’t enjoy the huge popularity that Microsoft Windows and Mac OS have, it still caters to a niche audience. Additionally, since Linux is completely open source, there are no licensing fees or costs to use it.

How to Use Linux

Plenty of tutorials online give explanations of every aspect of Linux. Depending on what you are looking to do, you should be able to find a tutorial that caters to your needs. If you are familiar with Windows or Mac OS, most distributions of Linux are similar. Furthermore, if all you’re using your PC for is browsing the internet, then Linux will be an almost identical experience to other operating systems.

To start with Linux, you’ll need a computer with an internet connection and a USB storage device with at least 8GB of space. Once you have the key ingredients, the installation of Linux is quite simple:

  1. Download the installation media from the website of the distribution you want. For Linux Mint, this would be https://linuxmint.com/.
  2. Use a program like Etcher or Rufus to create a bootable USB device.
  3. Boot from the USB device on your computer.
  4. Complete the installation setup and unplug the USB device.
  5. Update your system after installation to get all of your hardware drivers.
Dell PowerEdge 2950
Linux is one of the most preferred operating systems across many different devices and is free to use.

How To Learn Linux

Due to its similarity to other operating systems, you can get started with Linux having only basic computer skills. Browsing the internet, watching videos, and checking your social media can all be done easily. However, if you want to become a master of Linux, there is a lot to learn.

The most essential part of the Linux user’s toolbox is the command line, also known as the terminal. Learning the terminal in Linux allows you to gain a deeper understanding of how your computer works. Within the terminal, you can easily navigate through folders and directories, create and edit files, and install software. Additionally, mastering the most common commands is especially useful if you are a developer or systems administrator.

If you want to become a “power user” of Linux, reading books on the topic can help you. One of the most popular books in this area is the Linux Bible by Christopher Negus. Now in its 10th edition, the Linux Bible contains everything a Linux user needs to know to get the most out of the operating system. Covering advanced topics such as managing users, storage, and security, as well as specialized software, the Linux Bible is packed with helpful information.

Another great book is the Linux Pocket Guide by Daniel Barrett. With all of the essential commands and tools, the Linux Pocket Guide is an excellent book to check out if you want to master the command line and become a power user in Linux. Daniel Barret also wrote another book, Efficient Linux at the Command Line, which covers commands and terminal usage on a more advanced level.

Besides books, countless courses and tutorials are available across the internet for free. However, the best way to learn Linux is to jump in and start using it.

The Difference Between Linux and Windows

Microsoft Windows has always been the most prominent contender to Linux. Even though Linux is free and compatible with many more devices, Windows still has a significantly higher market share in the desktop operating system market. Even compared to Mac OS, Linux is still notably less popular among typical computer users.

That doesn’t mean Linux doesn’t have its advantages. If you are a programmer or developer, Linux is very appealing due to the open nature of the code base. You can modify and edit the kernel to your liking and install a wide range of packages and software to enhance your experience. Additionally, with a vast support network for Linux worldwide, you’ll find no shortage of assistance if you run into problems and need help.

Microsoft Windows, however, is entirely closed-source and commercially licensed. This means that you can’t modify or edit your kernel and may also notice more limited compatibility relative to Linux. Windows also suffers in performance and privacy due to the bloated nature of the operating system. 

Overall, Linux is the preferred operating system if you want to get more customization out of your computer’s operating system. If you enjoy tinkering and solving problems, Linux will be fun for you to use. Linux shows you a closer view of how your computer works. If you don’t care about exploring how your computer works and just want something easy to use, sticking with Windows pre-installed on your PC may be the wiser choice.

Linux: Different Versions

Since Linux is free and open source, many developers are encouraged to customize the code and create their own version. Thanks to this, we have thousands of different versions or ‘distributions’ of Linux. Over the years, some of these versions became extremely popular and developed strong fan bases of users and contributors.

What are some of the most popular versions of Linux?

Ubuntu

Ubuntu is often recommended as a beginner-friendly version of Linux for many reasons.

Released in 2004, Ubuntu has become the most popular Linux distribution of all time, with over 25 million users worldwide. Ubuntu has been developed over the years to become a powerful operating system and a great alternative to Mac OS or Windows.

Additionally, Ubuntu has focus on being user-friendly, and the interface is designed to look very similar to Mac OS. Users enjoy compatibility with the most popular apps, including Spotify, Google Chrome, Skype, Telegram, and others. 

Linux Mint

Linux Mint is regarded as the most beginner-friendly version of Linux, alongside Ubuntu. Initially released in 2006, Linux Mint grew in popularity due to its ease of use and library of free apps that it came with. With Firefox, LibreOffice, Thunderbird, and tons of media software preinstalled, Linux Mint is a very powerful operating system.

Fedora

Fedora was initially released in 2003 and was designed to be a more secure version of Linux. Thanks to a stronger built-in firewall with a higher level of customizability, Fedora makes a great security-focused operating system. With increased attention to security, it’s no wonder that Fedora became very popular in the server and enterprise field.

Tails

Tails is a specialized version of Linux with a focus on privacy. Unlike other distributions of Linux, which focus on performance, usability, and other features, Tails is designed solely for privacy. Users who care about their privacy admire Tails due to its built-in ‘amnesic’ function, which means the operating system forgets all traces of user activity when the computer is shut down. TOR, a popular web browser designed to make the user anonymous, and a Bitcoin wallet called ‘Electrum’ are preinstalled with Tails, rounding out the suite of privacy-focused applications.

Debian

Debian is commonly used by developers and enterprise applications, but it is also commended as being reasonably easy to use for beginners. One of the oldest versions of Linux, the beta of Debian, was initially released in 1993. The first stable version wasn’t officially released until 1996, and it grew in popularity over the next few years as more users realized the advantages.

Created by Ian Murdock, Debian is praised for its stability, security, and compatibility with a wide variety of hardware architecture.

Arch Linux

Arch Linux is less user-friendly than other versions of Linux, but it has several advantages for the experienced user. With a minimal design, users are encouraged to maintain complete control of every aspect of their operating system. This can make Arch Linux less approachable for a beginner. However, Arch Linux is ideal if you enjoy the hands-on approach and want a unique option.

Up Next

The Complete History of Linux: Everything You Need to Know FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

When did Linux come out?

The first official version of Linux was released in 1994.

Who invented Linux?

Linus Torvalds invented Linux.

What is Linux used for?

Linux is used for mobile operating systems, servers, data centers, programming, and desktop computers.

Is Linux an operating system?

The name “Linux” actually refers to the kernel created by Linus Torvalds. The operating system is actually known as GNU Linux, which refers to the original components of the operating system developed by Richard Stallman.

What version of Linux is best?

The most popular version of Linux is Ubuntu, but Linux Mint and Debian are also highly-recommended by Linux users.

About the Author

Follow Me On:

LinkedIn Logo

More from History-Computer

  • britannica.com Available here: https://www.britannica.com/technology/Linux
  • linuxhint.com Available here: https://linuxhint.com/history-of-linux/
  • wikipedia.org Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Linux#Chronology
  • statcounter.com Available here: https://gs.statcounter.com/os-market-share/desktop/worldwide
  • itsfoss.com Available here: https://itsfoss.com/best-linux-books/
  • educba.com Available here: https://www.educba.com/uses-of-ubuntu/
  • ntchosting.com Available here: https://www.ntchosting.com/encyclopedia/hosting/fedora-linux-based-operating-system/#:~:text=First%20and%20foremost%2C%20Fedora%20is,Red%20Hat%20Linux%20was%20discontinued.
  • archlinux.org Available here: https://wiki.archlinux.org/title/Frequently_asked_questions