What is Linux? Everything You Need to Know

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is Linux? Everything You Need to Know (2023)

What is Linux?

Welcome to the world of Linux, a powerful and versatile operating system that has made its mark across various industries and platforms. From personal computers to data centers, Linux has become an attractive choice for many users. In this blog post, we will journey through the ins and outs of Linux, exploring its origins, benefits, key components, and real-world applications. Get ready to dive into the fascinating world of Linux!

Summary

  • Linux is an open-source operating system, meaning that it is free to use, modify, and distribute. By contrast, Windows is closed-sourced and not for free.

  • Linux is highly reliable, secure, and provides users with a low cost of ownership compared to proprietary operating systems like Windows or MacOS.

  • Its minimalist approach to software offers users greater control over their operating system. As a result, IT professionals often choose Linux as their operating software.

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Understanding Linux

Linux is an open-source, Unix-like operating system that was created by Linus Torvalds in 1991 as a substitute for the Minix OS while he was studying at the University of Helsinki in Finland. At its core, Linux has a central component called the Linux kernel, which all Linux systems share. The kernel is responsible for allocating hardware resources. It also initiates and manages applications as well as provides a user interface.

The modular design of Linux allows for a highly configurable operating system that can be customized to fit various user needs. This flexibility has led to the creation of numerous Linux distributions, each designed for specific purposes, such as desktop computing, server operations, scientific computing tasks, and even running mobile devices with OS versions like Android. The Linux kernel is the base of every distribution, but the user experience can be quite different depending on how the system is being used.

Linux can be used with both command-line and graphical user interfaces (GUI), making it suitable for a wide range of users and applications. Its open-source nature allows users to access and modify the operating system’s source code, contributing to its continuous development and improvement. This has fostered a strong community of developers and enthusiasts who actively support and contribute to the growth of Linux.

Benefits of Using Linux

One of the main attractions of the Linux operating system is its reliability. Linux systems are known for their stability and ability to run smoothly for long periods without crashes or performance degradation. This makes Linux a popular choice for web servers, network operations, and other critical applications where downtime is not an option.

In addition to its reliability, Linux offers a great deal of flexibility to its users. Its open-source nature and modular design enable users to customize their own Linux distributions, tailoring the operating system to their specific needs and preferences. This flexibility is crucial for a wide range of applications, from embedded systems to high-performance computing clusters.

Security is another key benefit of using Linux. The operating system has a strong track record of being less susceptible to malware and other security threats compared to other operating systems. Furthermore, Linux’s cost-effectiveness makes it an attractive choice for organizations looking to reduce software licensing costs. Many Linux distributions are available free of charge, while others, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux, come at a cost but still offer significant savings compared to proprietary operating systems.

Key Components of Linux OS

The Linux operating system is composed of several key components, including the Linux kernel, modules, desktop environments, and package managers. Linux kernel is a monolithic kernel which is responsible for managing file systems, peripheral access, networking, and process control. It forms the core of the operating system, where all other programs run over it. It serves as the foundation of every Linux distribution and plays a crucial role in the overall functionality and performance of the system.

Modules are another essential component of Linux OS. They provide the Linux kernel with additional features to create a fully-functioning operating system. Modules can be customized to offer a command-line interface, create a GUI, manage security, or provide video input and audio services. This customization enables the creation of specialized distributions tailored for specific tasks or industries.

Desktop environments and package managers are also vital components of the Linux OS. Desktop environments, such as KDE Plasma and GNOME, dictate the look and feel of the user interface, providing users with a familiar and user-friendly experience. Package managers, on the other hand, allow users to add, update, or remove software components on Linux systems, enabling easy installation of software that isn’t part of the original distribution.

Exploring Linux Distributions

Linux distributions are unique variations of the Linux operating system, designed for specific target functions, such as servers, desktops, gaming, security, or even Raspberry Pi systems. These distributions provide users with tailored solutions that meet their specific needs and preferences. Some popular examples of Linux distributions include Knoppix Linux, which is well-suited for recovering damaged hard drives and performing other technical support tasks, and Kali Linux, which is designed for penetration testing and other security-related tasks.

Depending on the user’s requirements, Linux distributions can be either precompiled or source code-based. Precompiled distributions are ready-to-use, whereas source code distributions, like Gentoo Linux, need to be compiled during installation to fit the user’s system configuration. This allows for greater customization and optimization of the operating system based on the user’s specific hardware and software needs.

In the following subsections, we will delve deeper into the various types of Linux distributions, exploring their unique features and applications in detail.

Desktop Distributions

Desktop distributions of Linux are designed for personal computers and focus on providing a user-friendly experience. Distributions like Wayland or X11 come with windowing systems. They also have desktop environments such as KDE Plasma and GNOME. These environments dictate the look and feel of the user interface, allowing users to easily navigate and interact with the operating system.

Some popular examples of desktop distributions include Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Elementary OS, and Deepin. Each distribution offers unique features and characteristics that cater to different user needs and preferences. For instance, Ubuntu is known for its ease of use and extensive software repository, while Linux Mint provides a familiar interface for users transitioning from Windows.

Desktop environments, such as KDE Plasma, GNOME, Xfce, LXDE, and MATE, further enhance the user experience by providing customizable and aesthetically pleasing interfaces. These environments can be easily switched or customized according to user preferences, offering a truly personalized computing experience.

Server Distributions

Server distributions are specifically designed for server environments and enterprise usage. These distributions focus on providing the necessary tools and features required for server operations, such as web hosting, database management, and network administration. Server distributions are typically optimized for performance, stability, and security, making them an ideal choice for businesses and organizations.

Popular server distributions include Red Hat Enterprise Linux, CentOS, and Ubuntu Server. These distributions offer a robust and reliable platform for running various server applications and services. For example, CentOS is a server-specific distribution that includes all server essentials out-of-the-box, while Debian/Ubuntu Linux is a desktop distribution that can be customized by adding server components.

Ubuntu Server, in particular, is a server-only distribution that does not come with a GUI interface. This allows for a more streamlined and resource-efficient system, as server applications typically do not require a graphical interface. Instead, administrators can manage the server through the command line or use remote management tools.

Specialized Distributions

Specialized distributions are tailored to specific tasks or user groups, offering unique features and tools designed for particular needs or industries. These niche distributions cater to a wide range of applications, such as maintenance, multimedia, network management, or security.

Examples of specialized Linux distributions include Kali Linux, which is designed for penetration testing and security audits, and Knoppix Linux, which is well-suited for recovering damaged hard drives and performing other technical support tasks. Other specialized distributions focus on specific industries, such as media production or scientific research, providing tailored tools and features to enhance productivity and efficiency in these fields.

The versatility of specialized distributions showcases the adaptability and customizability of the Linux operating system. Users can choose from a wide variety of options to find a distribution that perfectly fits their needs, making Linux an attractive choice for countless applications and industries.

Choosing the Right Distribution

Selecting the appropriate Linux distribution can be a daunting task, given the vast array of options available. To choose the right distribution, it is essential to consider factors such as user needs, skills, and preferences. For instance, beginners may opt for user-friendly desktop distributions like Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Elementary OS, or Deepin, which provide a familiar environment and easy-to-use tools.

For users with more advanced computer and system administration skills, distributions like Debian and Fedora offer greater flexibility and customization options. These distributions cater to users who are comfortable with the command line and require a more powerful and versatile platform.

Users with expert-level skills may consider exploring more specialized distributions, such as Gentoo or Linux From Scratch. These distributions allow users to create their own highly customized Linux systems, tailored to their specific hardware and software requirements.

Ultimately, the right distribution will depend on the user’s needs, skill level, and personal preferences, ensuring a tailored and efficient Linux experience.

Installing and Using Linux

Once you have chosen a suitable Linux distribution, the installation process typically involves downloading the distribution’s ISO file and creating a bootable USB drive or burning the ISO to a CD/DVD. Afterward, you can boot your computer from the USB drive or CD/DVD and follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation. You can test-drive a Linux distribution by using its Live distribution. This allows you to use the operating system without installing it onto your hard drive, just by running it through a USB drive or CD/DVD.

For users who wish to try Linux without completely abandoning their current operating system, options such as dual booting or using virtual machines are also available. Dual booting allows you to install Linux alongside your existing operating system, enabling you to choose between the two each time you start your computer. Virtual machines, such as Hyper-V on Windows, enable you to run a Linux distribution inside a virtual environment on your existing operating system.

Once Linux is installed, managing software and updates is typically done through the distribution’s package manager. Package managers allow users to easily install, update, or remove software packages, ensuring that the system remains up-to-date and secure.

Linux vs. Other Operating Systems

When comparing Linux to other popular operating systems, such as Windows and macOS, one of the most significant differences is its open-source nature. This aspect allows users to access and modify the operating system’s source code, fostering a strong community of developers and enthusiasts who actively contribute to the growth and improvement of Linux.

In terms of adoption, Linux may not be as widely used on desktops as Windows and macOS, but it has gained considerable traction in server environments and embedded systems. The reliability, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness of Linux make it an attractive choice for many businesses and organizations, as well as for individual users who value the freedom and customization options offered by the open-source platform.

When it comes to performance, security, and stability, Linux often outperforms other operating systems, making it a popular choice for critical applications such as web servers and data centers. The combination of these advantages, along with the extensive range of available distributions and applications, make Linux a strong contender in the world of operating systems.

The Evolution of Linux

The history of Linux dates back to 1991 when Linus Torvalds, a Finnish computer science student, developed the Linux kernel as a personal project to create a new free operating system kernel similar to MINIX, a UNIX operating system. Since its inception, Linux has grown in popularity and become a widely-used operating system with many distributions and applications available.

Over the years, the Linux community has grown exponentially, with countless developers and enthusiasts contributing to the development and improvement of the operating system. This collaborative effort has led to the creation of a vast array of Linux distributions catering to various user needs and preferences.

Today, Linux is a powerful and versatile operating system that has made its mark across various industries and platforms. From personal computers to data centers, Linux has become an attractive choice for many users thanks to its reliability, flexibility, security, and cost-effectiveness.

Real-World Applications of Linux

Linux has found its way into various industries and sectors, showcasing its versatility and adaptability. In the software development industry, Linux is popular due to its open-source nature, allowing developers to access and modify the source code to create customized solutions for their projects. Data centers and cloud computing providers often choose Linux for their server operations due to its secure kernel, straightforward licensing, and small size. Linux is also commonly used in IoT devices, as its modular design and customizability make it well-suited for embedded systems with limited resources.

Another noteworthy application of Linux is in the automotive industry, where the open-source project Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) has become a significant part of car entertainment systems. Toyota and Lexus vehicles utilize AGL infotainment systems. Many automakers are a part of the AGL project, further popularizing its usage. This widespread adoption of Linux across various industries and applications is a testament to its power, flexibility, and versatility.

Summary

Throughout this blog post, we have explored the fascinating world of Linux, an open-source, Unix-like operating system that has become a powerful and versatile choice for users across various industries and platforms. From its inception by Linus Torvalds to its current status as a widely-used operating system, Linux has grown and evolved, offering users a vast array of distributions and applications to suit their specific needs and preferences.

Whether you are an individual user looking for a reliable and customizable operating system or a business seeking a cost-effective and secure solution for your server environment, Linux has much to offer. With its strong community of developers and enthusiasts, Linux will continue to grow, adapt, and innovate, making it a compelling choice for users now and in the future.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is Linux and why it is used?

Linux is an open source operating system, meaning that it is free to use, modify, and distribute. It is highly reliable, secure, and provides users with a low cost of ownership compared to proprietary operating systems like Windows or MacOS.

Additionally, its wide range of applications make it perfect for virtually any type of computing task.

What computers use Linux?

Many desktop computers, laptops, and netbooks run on Linux. It is a great alternative to more traditional operating systems and is favored by those who prefer open-source software for its freedom of customization.

So if you’re in the market for a new computer, give Linux a try!

Why do people use Linux?

People use Linux because of its reliability, robust security, flexibility, and speed. Its minimalist approach to software offers users greater control over their operating system, meaning they don’t have to worry about bloatware or buggy applications.

As a result, professionals often choose Linux as an ideal OS for powering their business and personal projects.

What is Linux vs Windows?

The major difference between Linux and Windows is that Linux is a free open-source operating system, whereas Windows is a commercial product from Microsoft. While the source code of Linux is freely available to users, Windows source code is private and cannot be modified or redistributed.

Furthermore, Linux requires less hardware resources in comparison to Windows.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor has tested 39 antivirus programs and 30 VPN services, and holds a Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate from Stanford University.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.