What is Linux?

“What is Linux?”

Linux University is about “Linux and Open Source Software Advocacy and Education”. However, it is very hard to do advocacy and education successfully, unless one has a very clear idea what is it that one is an advocate for and what is it that one educates others about. In this article we will attempt to explore the question “What is Linux?” to provide you with some idea of what it is we are talking about.

To someone new to the world of Linux and Open Source Software, the term “Linux” means a simple and narrowly defined thing. Most likely when they think about Linux, the thing that if first and foremost there is a bundle of software they have installed on their computer.

In fact, as Linux University learnt in course of our research, “What is Linux?” is a question that quite is difficult to answer in a simple and and straight forward manner. This is because the term – Linux – and therefore the question itself, means different things to different people. This is why we need to explore the various answers, so that we get to better understand and define the range of topics we will need to cover.

Linux University has taken some time to consider this question, and we believe that the term “Linux” means (at least) four very different but very also very closely related things. Here is what we found:

Linux – the name.

In the United States, the name Linux is a trademark registered to Linus Torvalds, the “inventor” and principal author of the Linux kernel.

Linux – the operating system.

Linux is a unix-like operating system based around the Linux kernel and distributed under the model of free and open source software. In this context, here at Linux University we believe that the term Linux refers to two distinct but closely bound entities.

  • First is the Linux kernel itself, classified as a monolithic type operating system kernel. The first version of the Linux kernel was released by Linus Torvalds, in 1991, and in the 20 years since then, it has been widely developed and updated.
  • Second is the Linux distribution, which is an integrated collection of Linux kernel and associated support tools and software packages that turn a supported platform into a Linux system.

As at the time of the writing of this article Linux University have counted no fewer than 25 supported platforms and a quick survey of the environment shows that Linux is used on systems of all sizes, from mobile smartphones that use the Linux based Google Android operating system, through embedded and appliance devices such as ADSL modems and routers or media player appliances, through the large corporate system to the high end research supercomputers.

Linux – the expression of the Open Source Software concept.

Here, at Linux University, we recognise the fact that to many people out there, Linux is an embodiment and an expression of a concept and a philosophy of the Free and Open Source Software.

This is because the Linux kernel and most of the software that makes up all of the Linux Distributions is made available under a Free and Open Source Software licence of soe sort and like the Linux kernel itself, each of the software packages that makes up a Linux system is written, maintained and updated by a community of individuals, all of whom contribute their time, skills and other resources to the particular project they are involved in, while making the result of their labours available to others.

Linux – the software product.

There are many Linux distributions available through the world. In fact when asked about Linux, most people will point to one of these distributions and say: ”this is Linux”. Linux University research shows that in fact each Linux distribution is a software product, as each of these a varying mix of software, education and training services, product updates and maintenance and professional services – all of which are the core components of a software product.

This “software product” based model is so successful, that by being able to offer the Linux software “for free” (or at a very low cost), companies such as Red Hat and Novell have built a billion dollar business by offering Linux operating system, bundled together subscription based support, extensive software testing and hardware platform certification, a suite of professional services and education and training services.

This concludes inaugural Linux University article. We hope that you have found it useful and informative. In future articles we will explore a lot of the concepts we mentioned here in more depth.