What is Linux and why is it used?


What is Linux and why is it used?

In: Technology

Linux is an open source operating system. It is used mostly in places where the cost of a commercial operating system wouldn’t be worth the benefits available outside the open source community. The functionality of almost all web services is hosted on Linux servers, for reliability and cost reduction reasons.

Linux is an open-source operating system kernel that can be used to build your own, custom operating system to fit your computing needs. Because it’s open-source, it’s also free, so you can find whatever distribution you need and install it on your machine without having to pay for it. Furthermore, each distribution is often heavily refined towards a specific goal, whether its being small, fast, efficient, or comprehensive. It’s fairly popular among the hacking community (both “White hat” hackers – tinkerers and hobbyists – and “Black hat” hackers – the malicious ones that create viruses), and since it’s so popular, people are constantly working to keep it secure.

UNIX was an operating system developed by AT&T back in the 1960s. It was used on mainframe systems and workstations. But licensing fee was quite expensive to use. The -ix/-ux suffix was popular on similar operating systems, Minix, Xenix, AIX, HPUX, etc. In the early 1990s Linus Torvalds wrote his own UNIX-like operating system for Intel 386 systems and released it open source (I remember the original post n Usenet..). It was very basic at the time, didn’t support many peripherals, it didn’t run on my disk controller for example. Other people started contributing to it and it took off from there. Now it supports lots of different architectures and devices.

It’s used pretty much everywhere now. Those huge data centers used by Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc all run Linux. Android phones run a version of Linux, some cable boxes or smart TVs, airline in-seat video systems.

Technically, Linux refers to the Linux kernel written by Linus Torvalds. But Linux usually refers to the Linux kernel plus the other operating system infrastructure sometimes called GNU/Linux. Together they make an open source, Unix like operating system.

Because Linux is open source. it has been adapted to run on everything from single chip computers to mainframes.

Linux can be found in smartphones, routers, NASs, set top boxes and many other devices.

There are a number of desk top environments that can be added to Linux for desktop computers and laptops. This is often favoured by developers who are developing for Linux servers.

So there are operating systems you use on your computers, tablets, phones, etc. Popular ones are windows, mac, android, etc. Linux is a Legos version of an operating system. With windows and mac everything is built and ready to use. With linux it comes with a base system then you can customize it more to fit your needs. Its mostly used by computer savvy people as it requires some knowledge in programming.

It’s an operating system. To ask why it’s used is to ask why operating systems are used. Operating systems are used to provide a layer of abstraction between hardware and vendor software.

Ok, what does that mean? Back in the 80s, we had operating systems, and they did really very nearly next to nothing. It was good for loading programs. If your program was a game and you wanted graphics, you had to write code specific to the video cards out on the market at that time. If your video card wasn’t in that list, then that game wouldn’t work.

So operating systems got more sophisticated, and now the video game only has to talk to the operating system and say “draw like this”. The game doesn’t have to know anything about video cards beyond this single interface the OS provides. The hardware manufacturer can make any video card they like, and they see the opposite side of the OS video interface, they tell the OS “this is how I draw”.

So why does Linux exist? Because there isn’t one OS to rule them all. Because there’s more than one way to do something. Because any way you do a thing is an exercise in compromises, and Linux meets the needs of some market segment.

Linux is THE MOST POPULAR operating system on the planet! Most servers on the internet are running Linux, lots of the networking hardware that just routes or filters traffic run Linux, and most tablets and phones all run Linux. The Android operating system, for example, is actually Linux.

Linux is free as in gratis – it doesn’t cost money. But also you don’t get guarantees or support beyond volunteer. You can absolutely pay someone for Linux support, if you want to, but how often have you called or emailed Microsoft for support?

Linux is also free as in freedom. You have access to the source code so it can be audited or changed as you see fit. For the individual, that might not be all that important, but for businesses, it can be essential.

I’m answering this question on an Ubuntu Linux machine right now. I’ve got a graphical desktop, Chrome and Firefox browsers, and many, many software packages that do all sorts of things. There’s a whole community of free software – I haven’t bought a piece of software in years, and I’m not talking about piracy, either. If you’re more interested in getting work done than how you get that work done, then the alternatives to popular software products might appeal to you. But if you want that one software product you know, and your only option is to buy it, then your only option is to run that software on whatever OS the vendor supports, as well.

r/linux4noobs is that way, just to add.

To understand the answer, you have to know what an operating system is.

An operating system is like the software equivalent of an ecosystem / system of government / society.

A piece of software on your computer doesn’t talk *directly* to the screen and keyboard and mouse and disk drive. That would be anarchy, like some post-apocalyptic Mad Max hellscape, where everyone just takes what they can and to hell with everyone else.

Instead, it sends polite requests to the *operating system* to do things for it – and the operating system makes sure that those requests are safe and legal and fair to the other software using the computer.

It’s a bit like a restaurant: you don’t just barge straight into the kitchen, rummage in the fridge, fight over utensils, throw other pans off the stove, cook whatever you feel like then drag it out to the middle of the floor to eat it. That would be bad enough for *one* person to do, but if everyone did that, everyone would have a bad time.

Instead, there are rules and procedures and facilities. You make a reservation, to ensure there’s capacity. You wait at the front desk, acknowledge your reservation, and the waiter takes you to a table. When you get to the table, you’re given time to think, then they come back and ask you to pick a meal from the menu. The water goes away, hands your order to the chefs, who know how all the utensils and equipment are meant to be used, who have their own setup for sharing and maintaining them, who have portioned out the ingredients and scheduled the cooking, they cook your food and hand the finished plate to the waiter, who brings it back to your table. You eat, you pay, you leave, and they free up the table for the next person.

It’s civilised, it’s reliable, you don’t need to know how their stove works, you don’t even need to know how to cook at all.

In this model, the computer is the *physical* restaurant – the kitchen, the equipment, the dining room, etc. – and the operating system is the *business* that runs there – the staff and the whole system of running the place, designing the menu, ordering the ingredients, actually cooking, waiting on tables, and cleaning up after.

A different business could purchase the whole lot, and run a very, very different restaurant in it. Smokey Joes BBQ Firepit is going to be a very different set of services and procedures and expectations from a snooty french place, which will in turn be very different from a vegan commune where you pick your own mung beans.

And so the choice of operating system depends on what kind of software you’re using and what you want to do with it.

Windows is all about graphical applications – everything has a window, it pops up, you poke buttons on it, you close it. It’s great for big self-contained apps, but not really set up for tinkering, not really set up for chaining tools together, not (traditionally) great for running web servers or doing development work. It’s all very plastic-wrapped, all very finished-product. It’s like like living in a Daiso store.

Linux on the other hand, *is* good for all those things. There’s a wealth of ways for programs to talk to each other, there’s a plethora of small tools you can McGyver together, and there’s systems for managing gigantic workloads. It’s really very industrial, like a factory / workshop / petroleum refinery. Not so great for people who just want to *use* stuff, but excellent for people who need to create software and provide services.