Linux Overview

This entry was posted by Tuesday, 7 April, 2009
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What is Linux?

Strictly speaking, Linux is the kernel of a computer operating system. A kernel is software that enables communications between computer applications and hardware, providing system services like file management, virtual memory, device I/O, and more. An Operating System needs more than just the kernel. The GNU organization ported, wrote and developed many of the software applications that combine with the Linux kernel to make a complete Operating System. This is why you will see the term GNU/Linux used when referring to Linux, to give credit for their contribution. Put all of this software together with some custom configuration and installation programs and you have what’s referred to as a Distribution. Each distribution is created by a particular person or persons, be it a for-profit company like Redhat, or a group of like-minded individuals. Distributions vary in areas such as ease of installation, included software, and kernel versions.

Who Created/Wrote/Made Linux?

The Linux kernel was created by Linus Torvalds and first announced on the Internet in 1991. Before and during this period, Richard Stallman was creating the GNU organization, writing software like compilers and editors and such, and creating a software license called the General Public License, or GPL. All of this software, and a lot of other programs written, enhanced, and developed by many other volunteers became what is now, in its various flavors, called Linux or GNU/Linux. Since the Internet has been such an integral part of Linux since the beginning, it seems so very appropriate that this multiuser, multitasking, multiprocessor-supporting, multi-contributor operating system now runs so many of the systems that power today’s Internet.

Which Distribution Is The Best?

Yeah, right. The best distribution is whichever one that You think is best. I suggest that you install and try as many different distributions as you can. Not only will you learn some things about Linux in general, you’ll also discover some things about Linux in particular, like which one is best for you.

Will Linux Run On My Computer?

Most likely, probably without a hitch, almost. The fact is, it depends on your system’s hardware and whether or not the different ‘pieces’ that make up your computer are supported by a particular distribution. The best way to determine this is to go to the home page of whichever Linux distribution interests you and check your computer’s hardware against that distribution’s Hardware Compatibility List. You’ll need to know what model of sound card or modem or ethernet card is in your system. You’ll need to determine what, if any, hardware functions are done by your motherboard. Sound cards, modems, printers, scanners and video cards are some of the pieces on which to pay close attention. Spend some time looking through these lists, and determine which distribution at least has a chance of being installed on your computer, before you spend the time, effort and/or money trying to install Linux.

What Does It Cost?

The short answer is anywhere from $00.00 to hundreds of dollars. Linux is free as in ‘free beer’ and as in ‘freedom’. The ‘free beer’ part deals with the monetary cost of Linux. You can download it for as little as the cost of an Internet connection. Someone can GIVE you a copy of Linux, legally. The ‘freedom’ part means you are legally alloweded to possess the source code, the actual programming code of Linux. You can inspect this code, line by line, even make changes to suit yourself. These free aspects of Linux, and other similarly licensed software, are at the heart of what Linux is about. The Linux kernel and most every other program that is part of a distribution are released under the GPL, or General Public License, also called a ‘copyleft license’. ( Think about it. ) This license makes provisions for the distribution and modification of free software like Linux. Anyone may modify and/or distribute GPL software, as long as all subsequent modifications are released under this same GPL. The GPL allows money to be made from GPL’d software, while also ensuring that everyone can distribute and continue to have access to this same software without restrictions. GPL software is copyrighted to the author or authors, and is not public domain software or shareware.

Is Linux Easy To Use?

Linux began as a programmer’s operating system, written by and for those that like to get their hands dirty, so to speak, with the bits and bytes that make things happen on computers. Perhaps because of this beginning, ease of use has only recently become a consideration. Linux is not Windows, and there’s good and not-so-good in that statement. Some of the good has already been mentioned (the freedom parts). One aspect of the not-so-good is that Linux is not easily installed on just any computer system. Depending on the hardware in a particular computer, Linux may not support certain hardware functions, particularly the modem. Many current modems, also called HSP or Winmodems, are designed to work primarily with Windows through proprietary drivers, and some of the manufacturers have chosen to not release their driver information in a way that would allow others to write Linux drivers for this hardware. Hardware support for Linux is growing, but is still a concern, and a reason why checking a distribution’s Hardware Compatability List before installation is a must. Learning new software applications and learning enough about Linux to be able to use it at whatever level you desire will take time, just like learning anything new takes time. Challenging, yes. Difficult, sometimes. Impossible, hardly.

How Can I Get A Copy?

Linux can be obtained on CD or DVD media. You can download an ISO image, say, from LinuxISO, and then burn that .iso file to a cd. An iso image is an image of a CD-ROM disk saved in ISO-9660 format, an exact copy of a disk stored as a file. If you chose to download an ISO, you should use a program which can resume an interrupted download. ISO files are generally 640 megabytes in size, a lot to download. While there is generally some documentation included on downloadable iso images, there is no free technical support with a downloaded iso image. If you need technical support buy a boxed version of a distribution, with cdrom’s and/or dvd’s, printed documentation and technical support. If you don’t or can’t download an iso image, you can buy only the CD’s, without printed material or tech support. There are other installation methods, but the ones I listed here are what I consider to be most practical for those new to Linux.

Can I Keep My Current OS?

Most users new to Linux are running Windows. No surprise there, it’s the ubiquitous desktop computer operating system. Linux can ‘play nice’ with Windows, meaning you don’t have to erase your current version of Windows to use Linux. There must be some unused/free space on your hard drive to install Linux, just how much or how little depends on the particular distribution. At least 1 gigabyte should be enough for most, more will be better. Installation methods are as different as the distributions themselves. Fortunately, you will find documentation on the cd itself; reading it before you do an install is recommended. Some Linux distributions will install on unused disk space within your current Windows system, using as little as 300 megabytes of your drive. A couple of distributions have the ability to run from the cd itself, creating only temporary files on your hard drive that are erased when you shut down your system, without making permanent changes to your hard drive. If you decide to do an on-the-drive installation, you can still keep your current OS. Linux can set up a dual-boot system using a Boot Loader program, such as LILO, which allows you to select which installed operating system to run shortly after your computer boots up.

What’s The Worst That Could Happen?

Installing Linux involves changes to your computer’s hard drive, perhaps even repartitioning of the hard drive to create the room to install the Linux OS. How you create this space depends upon how your system’s hard drive is setup. If you happen to have unpartitioned space on your drive, (not likely with a newer, bought-from-the-store system) you can partition and format this space for Linux. If your drive is just one big partition you will have to resize a current partition. This involves making changes to your system that could make the hard drive, and everything on it, no longer accessible, requiring a complete reinstall of your current operating system. Backing up your hard drive, or at the least whatever information and programs you would not want to lose is strongly recommended. If you determine this to be the case with your system, I recommend that you buy one of the boxed Linux distributions that includes instructions and software specifically written to handle this. If this hasn’t scared you away, and it shouldn’t have, you’re ready to boot the installation program.

I’m Sold. How Do I Start?

Check out the home pages of the various distributions, look at their Hardware Compatibility Lists, find those distributions that support and will install on your computer. If yIf you have questions or concerns about installing Linux, I suggest that you buy a boxed version. Not only will you get printed documentation, but retail distributions come with some form of technical support, just in case.

This was taken from Which is a great source of information and places to download linux

Last-Modified: 2007-03-07 19:38:50

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