What is Linux? An in-depth introduction

Linux is one of the most commonly used operating systems, serving as the backbone for a diverse array of devices, from personal computers to servers and mobile phones. Linux has been around since the 1990s, and it has since established a global presence, seamlessly integrating into virtually every imaginable application and industry.

While the versatility of the Linux operating system is well known, many remain unaware of how ubiquitous it is. In addition to supporting much of the internet, Linux OS is powering anything from TV sticks to large appliances like refrigerators and elevators. 

In this comprehensive introductory guide, we collected everything you need to know to learn if Linux is the right fit for you, including its most common uses, basic terminology, a quick installation guide, and answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about Linux OS. Whether you’re a complete newbie or seeking to deepen your understanding, read on to learn more about the versatility and potential of the Linux operating system.

Key Takeaways

  • Linux is an open-source operating system known for its security, reliability, and flexibility. Its core kernel manages hardware resources, process multitasking, and invites collaborative development under the General Public License (GPL).
  • There is a vast array of customizable Linux distributions and desktop environments, serving different needs and preferences, from desktop computing and servers to gaming and embedded devices.
  • Linux offers a secure and customizable alternative to other operating systems; it features an active community for support and development; and it´s widely employed in various devices and enterprise solutions.

Linux Operating System: a brief introduction

Serving as a liaison between software and hardware, an OS manages the intricacies of a computer’s components. In the realm of operating systems like Linux or Windows, key components work in unison to facilitate seamless functionality:

  • Bootloader. Your computer needs to go through a startup sequence called booting. This boot process needs guidance, and your OS is the software in control throughout the boot process. When you start your computer the bootloader for your operating system kickstarts the process.
  • OS Kernel. You can call the kernel the part of the operating system which is the “closest” to your computing hardware as it is the part which controls the CPU, access to memory and any peripheral devices. It is the “lowest” level at which your operating system works.
  • Background services. Called “daemons” in Linux, these small applications act as servants in the background, ensuring that key functions such as scheduling, printing and multimedia function correctly. They load after you have booted up, or when you have logged into your computer.
  • OS Shell. You need to be able to tell our operating system what to do, and this is the goal of the shell. Also known as the command line, it is a facility which lets you instruct your OS using text. However few people nowadays are familiar with command line code, and it once used to put people off using Linux. This changed because a modern distribution of Linux will use a desktop shell just like Windows.
  • Graphics server. This provides a graphical sub-system that renders images and shapes on your computer monitor. Linux uses a graphical server called “X” or “X-server”.
  • Desktop environment. You can’t interact with the graphical server directly. Instead you need software that can drive the server. This is called a desktop environment in Linux and there are plenty of options including KDE, Unity and Cinnamon. A desktop environment is usually bundled with a number of applications including file and web browsers plus a couple of games.
  • Applications. Obviously, the desktop environment which is bundled with your Linux OS or which you choose to install cannot cater for every application need, there are too many. Individual applications, however, can and there are thousands for Linux just like Windows and Apple’s OS X has thousands of applications. Most Linux distros have app stores which help you find and install apps, for example Ubuntu Software which comes with Ubuntu.

It’s worth noting that Ubuntu’s application repository, the Ubuntu software centre, is a great place to look around for Linux applications, both free to use and paid to use.

Why use Linux software?

The desktop operating systems most of us use are typically bundled with our computers and we rarely question why we need to change operating systems. Few people are interested in learning a new operating system and rarely ask what Linux is simply because they feel their existing operating system does the job just fine.

However, it is not always obvious how much time is lost in the process of battling common OS problems, including malicious software such as viruses, frequent OS crashes, and the resulting costly repairs. Don’t forget that most operating systems charge a license fee too.

Perhaps your existing choice of OS is not doing the job just fine. If you are tired of paying for an operating system and hate the frequent, costly maintenance you have to do on your existing OS you might just want to think about Linux and whether it offers a better, free alternative. There is no charge for trying Linux, and many people will consider Linux to be the most reliable operating system for a desktop computer.

Costs: you can save by using Linux software

Because of the open-source, collaborative nature of Linux, there is no charge whatsoever to try Linux. You can install the OS free of charge on an unlimited number of computers without paying anything towards licensing. This is the case for both the server editions and the desktop editions of many Linux distributions.

In contrast with commercial solutions, many Linux distributions are completely free and include open-source server software, so you can get started serving web pages without paying any fees for licensing. Getting a fully functional Linux web server up and running is, in fact, just a few clicks away. To learn more on Linux server distributions, read this post.

Reliability: Linux OS is great when stability matters

It’s also easy to argue that Linux software makes life easy for system administrators because Linux is more reliable. It means you don’t need to closely watch your server every day; you can rely on it running without a problem. Also, because of the way Linux is built, you can often restart individual services without impacting the entire Linux OS.

By definition, an operating system is a tool that you need to be able to rely on. If cost is not the biggest factor for you, the reliability that Linux brings can be game-changing. Wondering what the Linux operating system’s biggest advantage is? Well, its inherent reliability and its general immunity to viruses, malicious software, and other random operating system issues are perhaps the biggest reasons to adopt Linux.

Server reboots are a particular problem for sysadmins, and Linux, due to its stability, allows sysadmins to largely avoid reboots unless the kernel is updated. Many Linux servers can run for years without seeing a reboot, and sysadmins would often consider this a sign of the reliability of Linux.

Open source: Linux equals freedom

We mentioned open source earlier in this article. But what is open source? Simply put, any software that is open source follows a set of principles, which include:

  • Full freedom to run the software, no matter your reason for running it or your goals
  • Permission to examine and disassemble the software, to study it, and to make any changes you want to make to it
  • There are no restrictions on distributing the software
  • There are no restrictions on distributing any copies of the software modified by you

It is also important to understand that open-source software is a community. It´s a community that built Linux and a community that maintains Linux. Arguably, it´s this open-source philosophy that has made Linux so popular.

The Linux OS list: understanding distributions

The different editions, or distributions, of Linux can be vary varied. They can be aimed at desktop use, or designed to be used as server software. Some distributions of Linux focus on expert users, other Linux distributions are easy enough to use for beginners. Also known as distros, most Linux editions can be downloaded free of charge and burned to an optical disk or USB drive for installation.

There are an almost endless number of Linux distributions. For desktop Linux users the default choice is often Ubuntu, but Fedora, Arch, Linux Mint, Debian and openSUSE are also popular choices. Ubuntu is one of the most modern thanks to Ubuntu Unity while KDE, included with openSUSE, has a more traditional Linux look.

Looking for the server Linux OS list? It’s a long list, but some of the most well know distros include Red Hat, Ubuntu Server, SUSE Enterprise and CentOS. However some Linux server distros are not free, Red Hat requires licensing but bear in mind that you do get support in return for your license fee, which can be important for businesses.

Popular Linux Distributions

A number of Linux distributions have gained a following for their unique features and specialized offerings. For example, Ubuntu is highly regarded for its user-friendly interface and various versions tailored to desktop, server, and IoT needs. It also boasts the support of Canonical as well as a customized GNOME desktop environment.

On the other hand, Fedora remains closely aligned with traditional GNOME experiences while providing software management through dnf, rpm, and Flatpak.

Some other notable Linux distributions include:

Red Hat Enterprise Linux which focuses on long-term commercial stability backed by default use of GNOME.

MX Linx which merges MEPIS Linux and antiX to create an intermediate distribution offering both reliability from its stable foundation along with current applications made possible thanks in partto MX-tools;

openSUSE caters towards diverse users via Leap (a more consistent edition) or Tumbleweed’s rolling release system. Each differs according to preferences/needs.

Linux Desktop Environments

Linux stands out from Windows and macOS in its flexible graphical user interfaces, offering a wide range of customization options. Popular choices include GNOME with personalized touches on Fedora and Ubuntu, Cinnamon, MATE, and Xfce for Linux Mint users who prioritize lightweight alternatives like LXQt or Xfce as seen in Lubuntu and Linux Lite.

Major versions of various distributions also present diverse desktop environments such as KDE, Pantheon, Mate among others to cater to different preferences for visual appeal or functionality. Lightweight solutions are preferred by some users, resulting in the popularity of Openbox, SliTaz, IceWM along with Trinity Desktop which can be found on Q4OS,Tiny Core Linux, Absolute Linux etc.

Comparing Linux to Other Operating Systems

When compared to other operating systems, Linux stands out for its strong security measures and flexibility. The architecture of Linux has various built-in features that make it more secure than many competing operating systems. There have been instances of specific malware targeting Linux, such as Symbiote. Despite this potential vulnerability, the proactive community consistently tests and addresses any security flaws in the system.

While the growing popularity of Linux has made it a target for malicious attacks like malware, overall it remains reliable and cost-effective due to its lower number of targeted vulnerabilities compared to Windows – largely because Windows still dominates with approximately 75% market share on desktops while only about 3% use Linux instead.

Nevertheless, a significant portion continues to choose Linux over others due to their prioritization of safeguarding computer data and reducing risk exposure by using less attractive operating systems which are likely already hacked or at least regularly tested for safety glitches. Even though its user base is relatively small compared to those who prefer Windows, Linux retains an appeal among security-conscious users which amounts up not more than three percent of those who opt for a safer computing experience foregoing the popular yet potentially risky Microsoft operating system (Linux uses a steadyitie between upgrades).

Security Features

Linux is known for its robust security features, which include file permissions and the use of Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux) to enforce additional application and network-level protections. These measures contribute to its reputation as a more secure operating system than others.

When it comes to file permissions in Linux, they are based on Unix’s model that allows owners, groups, and other users different levels of access such as read, write, and execute. This highly configurable nature adds another layer of security. Additionally, UX-based systems rely on optional packages like ClamAV for antivirus protection instead of having an integrated one like Windows 10 or built-in technologies similar to macOS’ Gatekeeper.

Although all three major operating systems – Linux,Windows & macOS – utilize codesigning, to ensure trustworthiness, it’s worth noting that there have been some instances where unsigned code has slipped through with Tux at a slightly higher frequency compared with the other two OSs’.

Customization and Flexibility

The open-source nature of Linux allows for extensive customization, from the kernel to the desktop environment. This enables users to create a personalized computing experience tailored to their specific needs.

Linux’s file system and directory structure can be extensively configured, giving users even more control over their systems. Scripting and automation are deeply integrated in Linux, providing power users with command-line tools that allow them to automate tasks and adjust system behavior according to their preferences. The flexibility and level of personalization of these features make Linux a powerful tool for those who know how to use it effectively.

What is Linux used for?

Linux is widely utilized in a diverse range of devices, including smartphones, cars, supercomputers, home appliances, desktops, servers, and embedded systems. Its strengths lie in providing dependable and secure desktop environments as well as graphical server solutions that require minimal maintenance.

The versatility of Linux allows it to cater to the needs of various users, such as business owners looking for robust web server platforms or developers creating applications for mobile devices. Even hobbyists experimenting with their own home automation systems can benefit from its tailored solutions. This demonstrates the expansive capabilities and reach of this operating system, making it an excellent choice for any Linux system.

One key feature that makes Linux stand out is its reliability on different types of machines, ranging from small-scale personal computers to large enterprise-grade servers. It also offers flexible options like graphical interfaces, which are user-friendly yet low-maintenance compared to other traditional operating systems, allowing businesses more convenience with their data handling methods without compromising security measures due to constant monitoring requirements.

It’s no wonder why so many individuals turn towards utilizing a Linux-based environment, whether they’re trying to optimize resource management throughput levels or ensuring foolproof access restrictions throughout all organization layers used. Regardless of whether you use your computer on a work, home, or mobile platform, there will always be something new to explore while learning after switching over completely painlessly.

Web Servers and Enterprise Solutions

In the realm of web servers and corporate environments, a Linux server provides customizable solutions for hosting and balancing loads to meet diverse data usage requirements. With over 41.8% of known operating systems using Linux, this technology is widely adopted by various websites worldwide.

Some of the popularly used distributions include Ubuntu, Debian, CentOS, Red Hat Gentoo, and AlmaLinux.

Leading cloud service providers such as AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure have successfully integrated Linux into their services, catering to a wide array of computing and hosting demands. Different enterprise needs are met with specific versions and distributions offered within Linux; Fedora requires updates every nine months, followed by reboots, whereas Ubuntu Server has gained recognition for its ability to support cloud-native applications.”

Mobile Devices and Embedded Systems

Linux serves as the base for a variety of popular consumer electronics, including smartphones, smart TVs, in-vehicle infotainment systems, and routers. Android is one prime example where Linux dominates the mobile operating system market.

Embedded Linux can be found at work in various devices, such as Sharp Zaurus PDAs or TomTom GPS units, along with Linksys routers and Motorola smartphones, which run on the Sailfish OS. This widespread use of Linux reflects its versatility and reliability.

Whether you’re using your smartphone to surf the internet or relying on your GPS device to navigate through unfamiliar streets, chances are high that you’re utilizing a product powered by Linux technology.

Which Linux OS is right for you?

Your Linux distro of choice is going to depend on your personal needs. Foremost, you should consider your computer skills. If you have never used the command line or Linux, you will be more restricted in your choices. Another obvious point to consider is: are you going to use your Linux OS on a desktop or to serve applications? And, if desktop, do you prefer one of the modern-looking distros or a more classic Linux look?

With basic computer skills, you should look at a distribution that caters to inexperienced Linux users. Linux Mint and Deepin are good choices. Are you a pro Linux user? You might prefer to use Fedora or Debian, while the most experienced users could choose Gentoo.

As for servers, consider the need for a GUI. Some servers are best managed via the command line, which means your server won’t be slowed down by the graphics server. Some server distros won’t come with a GUI, some will, and some, like Ubuntu, will allow you to add a GUI any time after you’ve installed the server.

Some server distros are good for specific applications, including a lot of pre-bundled services. CentOS is a good example, as it offers a lot of what you need to run a comprehensive server out of the box. You can even start with a desktop distribution and add Linux operating system components as and when you need them. Consider Debian or Ubuntu if that’s the case.

Getting Started with Linux

Transitioning to Linux involves creating a bootable installation media, partitioning the hard drive, and using package managers for software management. It is possible to have multiple operating systems on one computer by dividing the hard drive and utilizing a boot manager like GRUB during system startup.

Don’t be intimidated! Live distributions in Linux make it easier to install without permanently saving it on your device. The key element of managing and installing software in Linux is leveraging its specific distribution package manager(s).

Installation Process

The process of installing Linux is fairly straightforward. To install a Linux distribution, you will need to create bootable installation media with at least 4GB of space on a USB thumb drive or external hard drive using Rufus. The recommended minimum amount of dedicated space for the operating system is 20GB when partitioning your PC’s hard drive.

During the installation process, you need to:

1. Run the Live distribution

2. Go through an installation wizard where you must choose language, time zone, and keyboard layout.

3. Create login credentials for your user account.

You´ll then be prompted by GNU GRUB to select which operating system they would like to use. There may be options available during this process, such as downloading updates or third-party software, if desired by Linux users.

As you embark on your journey with Linux installation, we understand that it’s essential to start with the basics. For those new to Linux, we’ve prepared a beginner-friendly guide on setting up a Linux mail server, empowering you to expand your server’s functionalities while gaining valuable hands-on experience. Additionally, discover our tutorial on finding files in Linux from the command line, providing you with fundamental skills to navigate your system efficiently. Let’s dive in and make your Linux journey a smooth and enjoyable one!

Installing Software on Linux

Linux uses a package manager to effectively manage software installation by adding, updating, or removing components from trusted repositories. On Debian-based systems, users can utilize the command line with ‘sudo apt install packagename’ while on DNF-based systems like Fedora, it would be ‘sudo dnf install packagename’. Before initiating any installations, keeping an updated list of available software is important, and this can be done through commands such as ‘sudo apt update’ for Debian-based systems and sudo dnf makecache for DNF-based systems.

To find specific packages that meet their needs, users have options depending on the type of system they are using. For instance, on Debian-based systems, keyword searching is possible via “apt-cache search” followed by desired keywords, whereas, for those on DNF-based ones, the equivalent command would involve typing in’sudo dnf search softwarename‘.

Some people may opt for graphical user interfaces instead, particularly if they prefer visual representations when working; GNOME Software, KDE Discover, and Synaptic are examples of tools offering easy-to-use graphical interfaces for managing software. In addition to these traditional packaging methods, some universal solutions, including Flatpak and Snap, also exist that provide cross-distribution compatibility thus easing sharing between different Linux distributions. 

In addition to general software installation, users may also install web hosting control panels like Plesk on Linux servers. If that is your case, here´s how to install Plesk on Linux.

The Linux Community and Resources

The community of Linux users offers various resources, such as online forums, documentation, and local gatherings known as Linux User Groups (LUGs), to promote collaboration, provide support, and facilitate learning. LUGs that are successful typically maintain a user-friendly website with easily accessible URLs, share event details, including maps and directions, welcome all members of the public at their meetings without charging any fees, and regularly update their online content with relevant information along with functional hyperlinks.

Individuals who acquire proficiency in commonly used open-source tools like the Linux kernel can take advantage of increased employment opportunities by actively contributing to them. Embedded systems also have thriving communities involved in developing Linux-based devices through initiatives such as Embeddable Linux Kernel Subset, Yocto, OpenEmbedded, and OpenWrt. All these groups play a vital role in enhancing the development process for embedded systems using Linux technology.

Linux User Groups (LUGs)

Linux User Groups (LUGs) are instrumental in promoting preferred Linux distributions and providing various forms of support, such as demonstrations, technical assistance, training sessions, and guidance for newcomers on how to install the operating system. These groups gather physically and virtually through online platforms to organize social events, deliver technical talks, and facilitate informal discussions among members with a shared interest in using Linux.

For LUGs to maintain an active community that operates effectively over time, it is recommended they establish consistent meeting times and locations while being mindful of avoiding scheduling conflicts. Furthermore, having a dedicated core group comprising enthusiastic users can greatly contribute to their success. LUG websites serve as valuable tools for showcasing past activities, enabling effective communication among members, and offering practical learning resources related to internet technologies specific to the use of Linux.

Online Forums and Documentation

The availability of online platforms such as Ubuntu Forums plays a crucial role in facilitating knowledge sharing, troubleshooting discussions, and highlighting the strong support system present for Linux users. The forum is structured to include both a resolution center and a council agenda dedicated to governing the community and resolving conflicts within it.

These internet resources are vital to fostering collaboration among members of the Linux community by providing an inclusive platform where they can exchange ideas, seek assistance with problems, and find solutions. They effectively showcase the power behind open-source principles by promoting a culture that values sharing information and continuous learning. Thus driving forward progress and innovation within Linux.

Summary and conclusion

Linux offers a vast range of possibilities for individuals and businesses alike due to its open-source nature, backed by a thriving community.

In this article, we covered the fundamentals of the Linux Operating System and listed the most common use cases where Linux is employed. We also covered the unique security features of Linux and the advantages of its versatility, as well as how it can adapt to users with different proficiency levels. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is Linux, in simple words?

Linux is an open-source operating system kernel. It differs from proprietary operating systems like Windows and macOS in that it is freely distributable, customizable, and supported by a vast community of developers worldwide.

Is Linux secure compared to other operating systems?

Linux is renowned for its security features, including user permissions, robust access controls, and regular security updates. However, no system is entirely immune to vulnerabilities, so it’s essential to practice good security hygiene, such as installing updates promptly and using reputable software sources.

Why use Linux as the main OS?

Linux offers numerous advantages, including stability, security, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness. It can breathe new life into older hardware, provide robust server capabilities, and offer a wide range of software options tailored to various needs.

Is Linux suitable for enterprise environments?

Linux is widely used in enterprise environments for servers, cloud computing, networking, and embedded systems. Its stability, scalability, and cost-effectiveness make it a compelling choice for businesses seeking reliable solutions without vendor lock-in.

Is Linux difficult to learn for beginners?

While Linux may have a learning curve for beginners accustomed to other operating systems, many distributions (distros) offer user-friendly interfaces and extensive documentation. With some patience and practice, users can quickly adapt to Linux and its ecosystem.

Can I run Linux alongside my current operating system?

Yes, you can dual-boot Linux alongside Windows or macOS, allowing you to choose which operating system to use at startup. Alternatively, you can run Linux within a virtual machine for experimentation or as a secondary environment.

How do I install software on Linux?

Linux offers various package management systems, such as apt (Advanced Package Tool), yum (Yellowdog Updater, Modified), and Pacman, depending on the distribution. Users can install software using these package managers, which simplify the process of downloading, installing, and updating applications.

Who is the creator of Linux?

Linus Torvalds, a Finnish software engineer, created Linux in 1991. He developed the Linux kernel as an open-source project, originally intending it to be a Unix-like operating system kernel for personal computers. Torvalds released the first version of the Linux kernel to the public on September 17, 1991. Since then, Linux operating system has evolved with contributions from thousands of developers worldwide.

What is the Linux kernel?

The Linux kernel serves as the core element of the operating system and is responsible for managing hardware resources. It plays a crucial role in controlling how different components interact with each other.

What is a Linux distribution?

A Linux distribution, commonly referred to as a distro, is a specific version of Linux tailored to fulfill particular purposes. It´s a complete operating system based on the Linux kernel, along with various software applications and utilities. While the Linux kernel itself is the core component responsible for managing hardware resources and providing basic system functionalities, a Linux distribution packages the kernel with additional software, libraries, and configuration files to create a usable operating system with specific objectives or intended audiences in mind.

One comment

  1. Nice explanation!!

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