What Linux is about? A question often asked. To be honest, there is not a straight forward answer. Most of my family think of Lennox, an HVAC company selling air conditioners and cooling systems. Many times the simple answer is that it is an Operating System, but that is not technically true. Others may say it is an app. Well, it is not an app either. So what is Linux and why should someone like you care to learn it?
Linux, technically speaking, is a group of Operating Systems that share the same Linux Kernel. A kernel is the core of an operating system that handles the communication between the Hardware (CPU, Memory, Devices, etc.) to the Applications. The kernel, in essence, is the middle man or go-between from the hardware to the software. When someone refers to Linux, they really mean one of the many Operating Systems distributions that use the Linux kernel.
History of Linux
To fully understand Linux, you must understand Linus Torvalds. You cannot fully separate Linux from the man named Linus. Linus was born in 1969 in the country of Finland.
His love for computers began in the early 1980s on an old Commodore VIC, where he began learning the computer programming language called BASIC. Linus’ computer programming skills eventually improved into learning what is called Assembly Language. Assembly Language is a low-level programming language that gives very specific information on how to move the data around inside the architecture of the computer.
At the time, the most popular operating system, especially for servers and mainframes, was IBM’s Unix. Unix began being developed in the mid-’60s as a joint operation of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Bell Labs, and General Electric to make one of the first multi-tasking operating systems. Bell Labs (later AT&T) had a very expensive licensing program for companies, which was out of reach for most individuals.
However, the University of Berkeley in California had a concurrent development of Unix. The University was able to establish its own free educational license, which would be called BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution), which later begin spawning various clones during the late 1980s. Today, FreeBSD would be the direct descendant of that Operating System.
MINIX, short for Mini-Unix, became one of the leading Unix clones. Linus began altering the code of MINIX in 1991. Eventually, he released his code from MINIX, which would be later named Linux. What Linus was able to do is write a very tedious set of code to allow the computer hardware components to work with computer software.
From 1991 to 1994, Linus painstakingly wrote the entire Linux kernel, basically by hand. In March of 1994 he finally officially released version 1.0. One thing that made his kernel code stand out at the time is that he released it under the GNU, General Public License, which allowed others to help him tweak the code to perfection.
To continue to develop the code, Linus realized that if he shared his project with others that cooperatively the community-at-large could write better code than anything he would ever be able to do himself. This is what has become Linux.
Tux, the penguin, would be named as the mascot for Linux in 1996. He has become the symbol of Linux around the world.
Development of Linux Distributions
By the mid to late 1990s, other groups were able to incorporate the Linux kernel into fully featured operating systems, rivaling the giants in the industry – Microsoft and Macintosh. This quickly led to an almost family tree structure of Operating Systems and various distributions, commonly called Distros. Think of 100s of years of human generations within a family with their grandfathers and cousins down to today.
The three major groups of Linux are Debian, SuSE, and Red Hat, which make up the core of what Linux is today. Most distros are from one of these families that now make up thousands of different and unique operating systems, all sharing one of the various versions of the Linux kernel. These are what are considered Linux.
The Debian Family Branch was established by Ian Murdock in 1993. Debian calls itself The Universal Operating System. The company exists today with its own solid Operating System but has also forked into many various and unique distributions.
For many years, Ubuntu was the most popular Linux Distribution. Ubuntu had its start around 2004, which has since forked into its own unique branch of operating systems. Ubuntu has been designed primarily for general desktop use.
For hackers, the Debian-based Linux distro known as Kali Linux has been specifically designed with tools for white hat and black hat hackers around the world.
In 1992, SuSE began its flavor of Linux. A German Company, SuSE stands for “Software und System-Entwicklung” (software and systems development in German). Designed for software developers and system administrators, SuSE would later merge with Slackware. Together they hold a sizeable share over the Linux distributions on the market today.
Red Hat / Fedora
The Server Operating systems for Linux, Red Hat and Fedora would together comprise a majority of the high-end servers on the market today. Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) has cornered the Linux commercial market by providing specialized support for its products for an enterprise environment.
Currently, CentOS has become a hybrid of sorts between the commercial license of RHEL by being a free version being nearly identical to the commands and structure found on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Centos is a personal favorite of mine. These both share the goal of being primarily for servers.
One of the most common distros of Linux today is Android. Starting in 2005 and then launching in 2008, Android took the mobile world by storm. By 2014, it edged out Apple’s IOS to become the most common Mobile Operating System in the world and has maintained that lead ever since. So if you have an Android phone, you technically have a Linux Custom Operating System in your pocket
Uses of Linux Today
Today, Linux can be found running on somewhere between 92% and 95% of all web servers on the internet. When you visit a website, odds are you are connecting to a Linux server somewhere in the world. Unix and Linux have built the internet. If you are on the internet, you need to learn Linux.
On a Windows-based computer, you might notice the \ (backslash) used frequently. You have probably seen “c:\” or a used “\\” on your home network when connecting to an SMB, Server Message Block (Microsofts Local Area Connection protocol). When using the internet (such as HTTP://) or a Linux system (/ = root and separates the directories), you will always use a / (forward slash). Many people claim that Microsoft is backward-looking, but Linux is always forward-looking. This is something about Linux everyone needs to learn.
If you own a smart TV, odds are you have the Linux kernel inside your TV. And not just if you have a smart TV, but a media player. These new players like Roku, Amazon Fire, and Android TV hook up to your television run Linux. If you have one, you are running Linux on your TV. Now even many cars have Linux built-in.
Windows still dominate the Desktop Operating System market. Apple dominates to a much lesser extent, but Linux has been slowly building steam. Much of the focus in this area is to give a Windows-like experience (such as Kubuntu distro) or an Apple-like experience (Gmac Linux distro) on a Linux system. This can offer a nearly seamless transition if you use Windows or Apple computers.
In the server market, Unix, which was once was dominant has given way to more Linux based systems for their lightweight nimbleness and ability to specialize in certain tasks, unlock Microsoft servers. Red Har Enterprise Linux has been leading the way.
Why everyone should learn some Linux today
Linux is not going away. Distributions have come and gone over the years, but Linux has not faded over the decades. Knowing some Linux can help you around the house with some hobbies to starting a new career. Find out what Linux is and just learn it.
Maybe you want to tinker around with a mini-board computer to run some of your home’s automation but have never typed in Linux commands before. Maybe you want to run your own web server or media server. Do you want to program that new drone you received for Christmas? Learning Linux.
It can save you a license fee that is generally been handed over to Microsoft in the area of $139 to $199 (just for a personal license for one computer) every time they decide to put out a new version. Adding to the cost of that new PC is the Windows license. This is costing you every time you buy another computer. Find one of the distros that looks almost just like Windows and you will hardly know the difference.
If you are a Mac user and tired of spending hundreds of dollars to make sure you have specialized Apple components with the fancy Apple on the outside, you can run Linux on practically any system and pay nothing for the license. There are multiple mac-like distros ready for you today.
If you want to go all-in, Linux Administrators fetch on order of $100,000 or more a year. It is worth your time to at least take Linux seriously. You can just start out by learning a little every day and become an expert before you know it. You can know what Linux is and the pay is probably the best reason to begin learning Linux today.