Linux, or GNU/Linux as some prefer, is a multi-user, multi-tasking variant of the Unix operating system. Think of an operating system as your humble, loyal servant silently toiling behind the scenes to create a smooth and problem free user experience. Actually, it is many small programs interacting with each other to make your computer work. Without a great operating system, things just don’t function properly – there are security problems, system crashes, inoperable features, and bugs galore.
GNU/Linux is a miracle of human collaboration, made possible by the Internet. The GNU in GNU/Linux refers to the system of programs that allow computers to be useful, while the Linux refers to the kernel, the single most important program on the computer – the one that actually talks to your hardware. Both are essential, hence GNU/Linux.
In 1991 the Linux kernel contained over 10,000 lines of code. Since then, over 12,000 programmers from around the world, have contributed to the kernel and more than 1200 companies have worked very hard to ensure that Linux is completely compatible with their particular products. In 2013 the size of the kernel has risen to more than 15 million lines of source code with an annual growth of about 10%. Were such a project undertaken commercially, it would cost between one and two billon dollars to develop. And as to the system, in 2012, version six of Debian GNU/Linux codenamed “Wheezy”, contained more than 400 million lines of code and would have cost about nineteen billion dollars to develop commercially. 400 million lines of code would fill at least thirty thousand books. And it works.
Of course all this software is freely available. Anyone may download the source code, thanks to the licensing revolution. But it’s much more convenient to use a GNU/Linux “distribution”. Distributions are collections of the thousands of files users need and an easy to use installer. Typically, a distribution is installed on a computer which then enables a user to add whatever programs they wish to run. Some general purpose distributions, such as Debian and Centos, are available without charge. Others, such as Suse and Red Hat, focus on the corporate sector, and are commercial in nature. Their software of course is still free, but they bundle other commercial products and services with their distribution such as 24/7 telephone support, remote infrastructure management and proprietary software. And that’s what their customers purchase. The vast majority of the more than 300 distributions are freely available. Popular distributions such as Mint and Ubuntu focus upon being especially easy to install and use. Others are quite specialized and cater to a variety of niches. Whether you’re a grandmother or a grandchild, a CEO or a CTO, a programmer or a sysadmin, a student or a professional, a hobbiest or an employee, whatever your need, there’s a Linux distribution that’s right for you.
But whether you choose a commercial or non-commercial version of Linux, this in no way means that computing is free. All users will still have to pay for hardware, bandwidth, media, services, and possibly staff. When we talk about the Free Software Movement we are talking not simply about the cost of the software, but more importantly about your access to the software and its source code. It’s not “free as in price” (gratis), driving the licensing revolution that makes GNU/Linux possible, but “free as in freedom” (liberté). Free as in freedom means that everyone is free to use, study, copy, share, modify and distribute GNU/Linux as they see fit. Such licensing is open, permissive, and generous, the opposite of the narrow, closed and restrictive conditions characteristic of proprietary software licences. GNU/Linux contains no per-user, per-seat, per-copy, per-machine, per-module, or per-update licensing costs or restrictions. Anyone is free to use as many copies of GNU/Linux on as many machines as they wish. The licensing revolution has turned copyright inside out and is sometimes referred to as “copyleft”.
And this is the future of software. Today corporate giants such as Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, have developed their individual Open Source strategies. In fact, the licensing revolution has created hundreds of free software licenses – each its own variation on the theme of free software. After all, if you can’t beat ’em – you join ’em. You don’t want to be left behind.
The Linux ecology is large. While some computer users may need hundreds of applications, Wheezy has over 48,000 packages available in its repositories. All of the usual kinds of programs are there whatever your purpose or need. After three decades, GNU/Linux has reached the point where it has the building blocks needed for just about any development project already in place. Wheezy supports thirteen architectures, large, medium and small, emerging and established, Big Iron platforms from IBM, HP, Sun, Cray and Silicon Graphics. So projects are portable. The top ten supercomputers in the world all run Linux. And Linux will run on just about any laptop or personal computer, even ancient hardware. And more. Linux is in your washer, microwave, thermostat, television, automobile, cellphone, tablet and the devices of day to day living. Linux is everywhere, invisibly embedded in everything electronic.
The future of Linux is bright. It’s success is enormous, and with good reason. From the desktop to the mainframe, the cell phone to the satellite, GNU/Linux delivers. Experience tells us it is better – more secure, more robust, faster, cheaper, more adaptable, more useful, more efficient, and more portable than proprietary alternatives. So why haven’t you heard about Linux? You may have noticed that we don’t advertise. There’s no spin, no branding, just high quality computing. And isn’t that what you really want? So satisfy your curiosity. Download Linux and have a look. We know you’ll like what you see.
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