Talk Linux to Me!

The first time I heard about Linux was back in 2002. I was dating a guy who studied IT and I would sometimes sneak into his lectures. His friends thought that I was incredibly nosy and annoying because of that. Sometimes I would sneak into the IT labs and watch him code.

All of the IT labs were connected to an internal network. There was no internet connection. All of the computers used Linux. At the time, I had no idea what an Operating System (OS) was.

“Linux is an OS”, he would say and I would look at him like he had sprouted a second head. He’d clear his throat and continue, “basically, it’s like Windows. You have a computer and you install a system that can act as the bridge between the user and the computer. Linux does the same thing as Windows, Unix or Mac OS, but it’s a little different”.

“Then why don’t you use Windows?”, I’d ask.

“Well, because Linux is open source”, he’d explain. I’d stare at him blankly. “That means that all of its source code is publicly available. It makes it easy to customize and it’s free”.

I still didn’t understand what “open source” was. Also, by saying it was free, I made a completely wrong assumption about the meaning of how “free” it was, but more on that in a later post.

It was a whole new world and, not wanting to be too nosy, ignorant and annoying, I decided to leave it at that. It’s been almost 15 years since I first encountered Linux and I’ve learned a few more things about that OS, which I would now like to share with you.


What is Linux?

Linux was created in the 1990’s by a man named Linus Torvald. It started out as an OS for hobbyists but has since become one of the most widely used OS available, especially in –but not limited to– hosting servers. Linux is also a popular OS for smartphones (Android), video game consoles, smart watches, automation devices and many other things that we use in our daily life.

The reason a lot of these devices use Linux is that there’s a lot of free software developed for it. That doesn’t mean that all Linux distributions and software are free, though, only that their source code is freely available.


The History

At the time of its creation, most OS were commercially developed and open source code was not freely available. The source code of these OS was not legally available so that learning about how an OS worked was very difficult.

Inspired by Minix (a mini-OS created by Andrew Tanenbaum to teach his students about the inner workings of an OS like Unix), Torvalds developed his own OS and made it readily available on the internet, along with its source code. The original distribution of Linux only had a Bash, GCC, and an update system. The idea was that by allowing other people to modify his product, the result would be even better.


What the Heck is Open Source?

Open source software is software whose source code is freely available so that other developers can download it, modify it and make it better. In the case of Linux, this has led to there being a lot of versions of the software available, each reflecting on the tastes and necessities of the different communities who have created them.


The Linux OS comes in many different flavors, which are usually called “Linux distributions”. These are the different versions that have been created by the different Linux communities. They’re kind of like different packages that have been created containing a Linux kernel, utilities, and configurations. Of course, you could potentially modify them and create your own version of Linux. Different Linux distributions have different strengths, weaknesses, and uses.

Some popular Linux distributions are CentOS, Debian, Fedora, SUSE, Red Hat and Ubuntu. Some distributions are available for free like Fedora and Ubuntu, and some can be purchased like SUSE and Red Hat.

Ubuntu is one of the most used Linux distributions for desktops. Many consider this distribution a beginner’s version of Linux for users that are new to the Linux OS. Personally, I use Fedora, which is a free avantgarde version of Red Hat.


There’s a lot more to say about Linux, but I don’t want to make the post too long. I’ll go into the grit of Linux some other time. Until then,