What is Linux?

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original in en Miguel Torrealba

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A short explanation of Linux and its history.

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About Linux

Linux is a freely distributable version of Unix which is available for multiple platforms: x86, Motorola 68k, Digital Alpha, Sparc, Mips y Motorola Power PC. Linux is an implementation that follows closely the POSIX specification that most commercial Unix versions implement. The kernel of Linux does not use any code from AT&T or any other proprietary source. Most of the programs available for Linux were developed within the GNU project of the Free Software Foundation.

Linux supports a wide spectrum of applications or development packages such as X windows, Emacs and data bases under TCP/IP protocols (including SLIP, PPP, ISDN). Numerous people have run benchmark tests on Linux 80486 systems achieving performance comparable to medium-range Sun and Digital stations.

The kernel is legally protected by the GNU Public License (GPL for short) and it is usually packaged with many executables that comprise a fully functional Unix operating system. These packages, called "distributions," come in many arrangements and sizes.

The Linux kernel is available on the Internet at hundreds of ftp servers. There are also Linux distributions on CDROM.  Some of them are Caldera, Debian, Slakware, Red Hat, among others. One of the most popular and well-known ftp sites for Linux distributions is ftp://sunsite.unc.edu/pub/Linux/distributions, with dozens of mirrors everywhere in the world.

Linux is being used by hundred of thousands of people around the world. It is being used to develop programs, networks (Intranet and Internet), and as a platform for users. Linux has become a cost-effective alternative to most expensive Unix systems.


Linux is not in the public domain, but under the GNU Public License: the source code must always be freely distributable. People can earn money on Linux, if they wish, as long as they do not try to limit its redistribution.

Many people around the world have worked and continue to work in teams to create Linux, under the direction of Linus Torvald, the original author.  Each one keeps his/her own copyright on their contribution to the kernel.

History of Linux

Linux was created originally by and named after Linus Torvald at the University of Helsinki in Finland (Here is a picture of Linus). It was developed and still is thanks to the collaboration of many programmers on the Internet.

Linus first hacked his kernel as a pet project, inspired by his interest in Minix, a small Unix system developed by Andy Tannenbaum,. He set  himself  the task of writing, in his own words, a "better Minix than Minix". After working on the project for some time he posted the following notice to the news group comp.os.minix:

Do you pine for the nice days of minix-1.1, when men were men and wrote their own device drivers? Are you without a nice project and just dying to cut your teeth on a OS you can try to modify for your needs? Are you finding it frustrating when everything works on minix? No more all-nighters to get a nifty program working? Then this post might be just for you :-)

As I mentioned a month(?) ago, I'm working on a free version of a minix-lookalike for AT-386 computers. It has finally reached the stage where it's even usable (though may not be depending on what you want), and I am willing to put out the sources for wider distribution. It is just version 0.02 (+1 (very small) patch already), but I've successfully run bash/gcc/gnu-make/gnu-sed/compress etc under it......

On october 5th 1991, Linus announced his first "official" version of Linux, version 0.02. Since then many programmers have answered his call and have helped build Linux into the completely functional operating system it is today.


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