What is Linux: definition, explanations of the Linux kernel

In the world of microcomputing, Microsoft, with Windows, has dominated the operating system market almost from the beginning, so to speak.


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However, if we consider all the computers on the planet, including servers, supercomputers, nanocomputers and all the rest of the bestiary that animates this ecosystem, this statistic is far from being so obvious and clear, although it is very difficult to have precise figures.

Among the alternative systems to Windows, there are some, based on Linux, that are used massively to run computer servers, among others.

Linux is not an operating system.

Before explaining what Linux is, it is worth remembering what an operating system is.

Basically, it is a set of software programs that work together to make a computer work, to allow it to interact with its user(s), and to manipulate data. Many people confuse Linux with an operating system, when they are two different things.

Linux is a kernel.

It is an indispensable component of an operating system, but it is not enough to run a computer.

It is the heart of the system.

Indeed, it is the core that supports all hardware components that make up a computer: the processor, the random access memory, the persistent memory, the components that manage the screen, the input devices such as the keyboard or the mouse, the network card are some examples.

He is the conductor.

Since it manages the hardware components, it is responsible for distributing the resources to the various programs running on the computer. When a program requires memory, for example to store data for processing, the kernel allocates it.

But he can’t do it all by himself.

The kernel supports input devices such as the keyboard, but does not provide the software in which the user will enter instructions.

The role of the shell is to provide an environment for user interaction. In the world of Linux distributions, bash is a widely used shell.

The shell is one example among thousands of others, and depending on the function of the computer, the operating system will also consist of a graphical environment, software that allows the user to configure certain kernel functions (such as the firewall, for example), or a system that supports the installation of additional software.

But then, what is the name of the operating system that uses Linux?

It is customary to talk about a Linux distribution, or even a GNU/Linux distribution, but the subtlety between the two names, while significant, is a topic for discussion by experts.

The Linux kernel is open source, as are most of the software that is commonly used to build a distribution (the proportion varies from one distribution to another, but often approaches 100%).

This property implies that many distribution projects have seen, and continue to see the light of day, and the resulting ecosystem is extremely rich and varied. So there is no single operating system that uses Linux.

Are there many Linux distributions?

There are dozens of them. The exact number is difficult to determine because many projects are born all the time, others disappear. To get an idea, the site distrowatch.com currently has more than 200 distributions.

However, they all have in common that they are powered by the Linux kernel, in different versions and customized/parametered in different ways.

Some of the best known and most widely used distributions include :

  • Ubuntu
  • The Linux Mint
  • Debian
  • Fedora
  • openSUSE
  • CentOS
  • Red hat

For a presentation of some of them, we advise you to read our article on some of the main Linux distributions.

The Ubuntu Linux distribution desktop that is very suitable for the general public

Who uses these Linux distributions?

The image that the collective unconscious of the Linux distribution user has of a bearded, hairy, pizza-eating man. For a long time this was not caricatured, but now it is no longer true.

Everyone uses Linux distributions, or almost everyone uses Linux distributions. More precisely, everyone now accesses one or a multitude of services hosted on a server running a Linux distribution, like most sites that populate the Internet (over 60%).

For example, when displaying this page, the reader is using a Linux distribution, running the nginx web server that feeds this site.

In recent years, the number of operating system users using the Linux kernel has exploded: in the field of telephony, with the rise of Android smartphones.

In fact, this Google-designed system is built around a Linux kernel, although highly customized. Therefore, we can say that there are tens of millions of direct users of this kernel.

It is worth mentioning that the choice made by the web search giant shows how much the Linux kernel is a product that can be trusted.

However, in the field of microcomputing, the proportion of users of Linux distributions to run their personal computers is very low, compared to users of Microsoft Windows or even Apple Mac OS.

The reasons for this low acceptance in the microcomputing world are more historical than technical or functional, as there are many Linux distributions that offer a complete desktop environment that is interoperable with other systems.

Who creates and maintains these distributions?

Many of them are professionals, some of them working in their main job and many others in their free time.

A Linux distribution is a collection of software created elsewhere, within other projects.

Very often, especially in larger distributions, those responsible for integrating the applications into the distribution also actively contribute to the development project of those applications.

Who programs the Linux kernel?

A community of several thousand developers, often on a voluntary basis, led by the original creator of the Linux kernel, Linus Torvalds. He still has the final say when it comes to deciding the direction of the project, for example.

Can I install a Linux distribution on my personal computer?

Yes, probably. Most likely, all computer hardware will be recognized and functional by the end of the installation, as support for a large number of devices has increased in recent years.

The installers have also been improved to be user-friendly and accessible to as many people as possible. You should also know that there is a way to test Linux without installing it using a Live CD or a Live USB (ex: Ubuntu Live CD presentation).

Is Linux free?

That’s right. Although open source doesn’t necessarily mean free, the Linux kernel is completely free, as are many of the distributions built around it.

However, not all of them are and, in the case of those that are paid for, it is not the built-in software that is paid for most of the time, but the assembly and optimization of the package of the different elements, as well as the technical support provided by the company that markets its distribution.

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