What is Linux ?

Microsoft has dominated the operating system market with Windows for almost a long time in the micro-computing world. Among the alternative systems to Windows, there are some, based on Linux, which are used massively to operate computer servers.

What is Linux ?

Before explaining what Linux is, it’s worth remembering what an operating system is. Very schematically, it is a set of software working together to operate a computer, allow it to interact with its user (s), and to manipulate data. Many people confuse Linux with the operating system, when they are two different things.

Linux is a kernel.

It is an essential component of an operating system, but it is not enough to run a computer.

It’s the heart of the system.

Indeed, it is the kernel that takes care of all the hardware components that make up a computer: the processor, the RAM, the persistent memory, the components managing the display, the input devices such as the keyboard or the mouse, the network card are some examples.

As he manages the hardware components, he is responsible for distributing resources to the various programs running on the computer. When a program requests memory, to store data to process there for example, it is the kernel which allocates it. But he cannot do everything alone.

The kernel supports input devices such as the keyboard, but it does not provide the software in which the user will enter instructions. It is the role of the shell to provide an environment for user interaction. In the world of Linux distributions, bash is a very widely used shell. The shell is one example among thousands of others, and depending on the function of the computer, the operating system will also consist of a graphical environment, software allowing the user to configure certain functions of the kernel (such as firewall for example), or a system that supports the installation of additional software.

Linux distributions

The Linux kernel is open source, as well as most of the software commonly used to build a distribution (the proportion varies from one distribution to another, but frequently approaches 100%). This property implies that many distribution projects have seen, and continue to see the light of day, and the ecosystem thus formed is extremely rich and varied. So it’s not just an operating system using Linux.

Are there many Linux distributions ?

There are dozens. The exact number is difficult to determine, as many projects are born continuously, others disappear. To get an idea, the distrowatch.com site currently lists more than 200 distributions. However, they all have in common that they are powered by the Linux kernel, in different versions and configured in different ways.

Among the best known and most widely used distributions are:

  • Ubuntu
  • Linux Mint
  • Debian
  • Fedora
  • openSUSE
  • CentOS
  • Red hat

We will come back soon with more details on the main distributions.


An example of Linux distribution with the Ubuntu desktop.

The Linux distribution office Ubuntu which is very suitable for the general public

Who uses these Linux distributions ?

Almost everyone uses Linux distributions. More specifically, everyone now has access to one or a multitude of services hosted by a server running a Linux distribution, such as the majority of sites populating the Internet (more than 60%). For example, by displaying this page, the reader uses a Linux distribution, running the nginx web server which powers this site.

In recent years, the number of users of operating systems using the Linux kernel has exploded: by the field of telephony, with the rise of smartphones running Android. Indeed, this system designed by Google is built around a Linux kernel, certainly highly customized. In this area, we can therefore say that there are tens of millions of direct users of this kernel. It is notable that the choice made by the web search giant shows how much the Linux kernel is a product to be trusted.

In the area of ​​micro-computing, however, the proportion of users of Linux distributions to run their personal computers is very low, compared to that of Microsoft Windows or even Apple Mac OS users.

Who creates and maintains these distributions ?

Professionals for many of them, who exercise this activity as part of their main job for some, and on their free time for a large number of others.

A Linux distribution is a collection of software created elsewhere in other projects. Very often, especially in the most important distributions, those responsible for integrating applications into the distribution are also active contributors to the development of these applications.

Who programs the Linux kernel ?

A community of several thousand developers, often on a voluntary basis, led by the original creator of the Linux kernel, Linus Torvalds.

Can I install a Linux distribution on my personal computer ?

Yes, probably. There is a good chance that all the hardware making up the computer will be recognized and functional as soon as the installation is complete, as the support for a large number of peripherals has grown in recent years. The installers have also been perfected to make them easy to use and accessible to the greatest number of people. Also note that there is a way to test Linux without installing it using a Live CD or a Live USB.

Is Linux Free ?

Absolutely. Although open source is not necessarily free, the Linux kernel is completely free, as are many of the distributions built around it. Not all of them are, however, and in the case of those which are chargeable, it is not the integrated software that we pay for most of the time, but the assembly and optimization of the package of the various elements as well as technical support provided by the company marketing its distribution.

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