What's all this Linux Stuff?
by Stacey Falconer
ost people who have computers have heard of Linux. If they haven't then they must live very sheltered lives.
I've been using Linux in its various flavours for some time, watching it develop from a very powerful yet geeky operating system to an even more powerful and a much more user friendly one. This is in part due to the continued development of applications by the very dedicated Open Source community. Many of these applications such as Open Office and The Gimp are fast becoming very reliable and powerful applications, and have even been ported to work on Microsoft Windows.
What is Linux?
Let us first dispel the myth that Linux is a complete operating system. Linux is simply the kernel at the core of the operating system. It is the part that (for simplicity) manages all the system devices and input and output processing that these devices require. From the outset though, it is also a multi tasking Unix-like kernel that operates like a mainframe computer, capable of serving a multitude of users and processes.
The operating system that we've come to associate and call Linux is actually the Linux kernel bundled with the large array of associated (mostly Open Source) programs and scripts that gives a Linux machine its user friendly interface to the outside world.
Linux was the brain child of Linus Torvalds who created the first Linux kernel as a class project at the University of Helsinki in Finland. In Linus' own words at a special VLUG meeting in Victoria at the end of a Linux Lunacy Cruise, he said: "It sucked big time!" Linus released the kernel to the Open Source community, and what followed was a flurry of development. Thus, the Gnu/Linux system that we know today started with these infant like footsteps, and continued to develop into a powerful and user friendly operating system.
Linux Applications now allow users to do things that vary from creating spreadsheets and document files, to photo and image manipulation. They can even do video and sound recording and editing, and can create DVDs. In Fact, this page was created in Linux using a page layout program called Scribus, and the images were assembled in The Gimp.
Choices, choices, choices!
Linux comes in a variety of flavors, often specializing in specific areas such as web servers, audio/visual editing environments, desktop publishing, and office administration. Linux distributions can be booted and run off of 'live CDs' or installed and run from a hard disk, It can coexist with other operating systems such as Windows. I have two different Linux flavours on my computer, happily coexisting with Win XP. You might even find an embedded Linux system running one of your modern kitchen appliances.
The main flavors of Linux are based primarily on Redhat, Debian, and Slackware type distributions, each with its own specialized package management system. SuSE is another type, but is pretty much its own distribution with very few variants. Though at first very popular in Europe but not in North America, SuSE is quickly becoming a world wide favorite.
If a Windows user wants to explore Linux, I'd personally suggest trying out one of the live cd's. Kannotix, Simply Mepis, and many others are based upon the Knoppix live CD. Often it can be installed from the same CD, but when choosing to install I'd strongly suggest that those unfamiliar with the complexities of Linux acquire the help of an experienced Linux geek.
There are many resources on the web for downloading Linux; one of the best is Distrowatch.