15 March 2007


Linux is the name of a Unix-like operating system kernel developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991. Linux is not, strictly speaking, an OS since any working installation of it must have libraries, utilities, shells, and compilers from elsewhere. In the vast majority of cases, these are supplied by the GNU project, and hence covered by the GNU-General Public License. GNU/Linux is a variant of the BSD 4.4-Lite version of Unix. Officially, that means it is Unix-like, rather than Unix.

Oddly, the technical differences tend to be very subtle and recondite, since there have been several major efforts to merge and optimize all the existing versions into one super-duper version (most famously, AT&T's & Sun Microsystem's SVR4). The differences in copyrighting and libraries is another matter. Each of the innumerable flavors has a corpus of libraries that are suited to peculiar computer/mission combinations. GNU/Linux packages like GNU/Debian, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and Ubuntu are special combinations of GNU components, a Linux kernel, and some 3rd source components that optimize the software to a particular computer and mission.

Initially, Linux was an exceptionally challenging software for home use. I knew several people who attempted to install it who gave up in despair. In the last four years, the situation has improved considerably, although there remains a large population of competing Linux packages.

SOURCES & ADDITIONAL READING: "SCO, GNU, and Linux," Richard Stallman-Free Software Foundation (2003); LinuxPlanet;

Wikipedia, Linux kernel, GNU Project, GNU/Debian, Red Hat & RH-Enterprise Linux, Ubuntu;

BOOKS: Red Hat Linux 9 Bible, Christopher Negus—Wiley Publishing (2003); UNIX: the Complete Reference, by Kenneth Rosen, Douglas Host, James Farber, & Richard Rosinski—Tata McGraw-Hill edition (2002)

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