Linux: The Penguin Inside

Date: ca.1999

We all know Linux is does infinite loops in 5 seconds.
-- attributed to Linus Torvalds

I'm sure that anyone even remotely interested in computers must have heard of Linux by now. Some have wondered what it is, others have tried installing it, yet others play with it now and then. Some people bless it and some curse it. Some are scared of the apparent need to learn arcane commands. Others would rather type `find / -name -print' than search through a GUI file browser.

But there are many who wonder just what is Linux. Linus Torvalds, the man behind Linux, says that it is not the cure for world hunger. It is an operating system, somewhat similar to Unix. What most people call Linux is actually a core (the Linux kernel, which is all that Linus really develops) and a whole bunch of utilities, applications, TSR's, and what-not. These things are usually packaged as a distribution.

There are many distributions available, called RedHat, Slackware, Caldera, Suse, Mandrake, Zipslack... the list is endless. These "distros" typically have a version number which has nothing to do with the kernel version. For example the RedHat 6.0 distro comes with kernel 2.2.5. The kernel version is the actual Linux version and new releases typically take place at intervals on the order of a week or two -- meaning quick bugfixes.

Linux's strong point is the open-source nature, which means that the kernel source code (which just happens to be C) is open for all to view and modify. According to proponents of the open source method, this is good because the bugs are caught quickly, and anyone who can read C can understand what the system is doing. Many of the applications and utilities are distributed under the GNU GPL ( which means that they are also open. This is especially useful when a program is crashing for no apparent reason.

Linux may be used via a command-line interface (white-on-black screen, and a prompt where one types commands) or a GUI (graphical user interface with a mouse or other pointing device), though hard-core Linux users report opening a terminal window anyway. Modern distributions automate configuration almost to the level to which users of the popular Windows software are accustomed. Yet it is so configurable that two users can start with the same distro and end up with totally different interfaces!

Users who wish to try out Linux are encouraged to get hold of Redhat 6.0 and install it. There is plenty of documentation available both online and on the installation CDs.

Copyright © Satya 1999. All Rights Reserved.

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