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All about Linux

Linux is an operating system kernel developed by hundreds (might even be in the thousands) of developers all over the world. The lead engineer is a guy named Linus Torvalds (thus why it is called Linux).

Linus currently works for a company called the Open Source Development Labs, a Beaverton, Oregon based software consortium responsible for helping steer the development of the the Linux kernel.

The kernel is the heart of most operating systems (even windows has a kernel, not the same as Linux, of course). Other things make up an operating system, such as libraries and programs. Many people refer to operating systems which use the Linux kernel as Linux, yet really Linux is just the kernel, not the libraries or the programs. It's OK to call the operating system Linux, yet it is important to remember that Linux really means just the kernel.

There are many companies and even more non-commercial groups that create what are called 'distros' (short for distributions), containing the Linux kernel. A distro is a combination of the Linux kernel, and the other ingredients that make up an operating system, such as libraries and applications, all put together to make installation easy. Quite often these distros can be purchased (on media such as CD or DVD), and most of the distros can be downloaded, some are free while others cost money to use.

Here is a list of some of the more popular distros:

In case you didn't notice, Novell/Suse has been removed from my list because of their patent protection deal with microsoft. This deal is widely seen as violating the GPL. At minimum it has seriously damaged the open-source movement since it gives further support to microsoft in its belief that the Linux kernel violates microsoft patents. As a result Novell is now on my black list of companies that I will never buy from, or deal with.

Here is a nice graphical timeline of the most popular Linux distros from 1991 to 2006 (created by nonplusx AT gmail.com - click it for a high-res version):

click it for a high-res version

If you are interested in seeing ALL the different Linux distros check out Distro Watch. This site monitors all the distros, including non-Linux based 'free' operating systems (for example FreeBSD). A good guide to all the major Linux distros can be found here.

'By giving away his software, the Finnish programmer earned a place in history'

Here is an excellent summary on Linus in Time magazine's "60 years of heroes"' from 2006.