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ABOUT LINUX: What Is Linux?

Last Updated: Wednesday, 28-Jan-98 11:37:49 PST

[ About Linux ] [ Copyrights ] [ Linux History ] [ For More Information ]

About Linux

Linux is a freely-distributable, independent UNIX-like operating system for x86, Motorola 68k, Digital Alpha, Sparc, Mips, and Motorola PowerPC machines. It is an implementation of the POSIX specification with which all true versions of UNIX comply. The Linux kernel uses no code from AT&T or any other proprietary source, and much of the software available for Linux is developed by the Free Software Foundation's GNU project.

It supports a wide range of software, including X Windows, Emacs, TCP/IP networking (including SLIP/PPP/ISDN), the works. Many people have executed benchmarks on 80486 Linux systems and found them comparable with mid-range workstations from Sun and Digital.

Linux (often pronounced with a short ``i'' and with the first syllable stressed -- LIH-nucks) is available over the Internet from hundreds of ftp sites, and from various vendors on floppies or on CD-ROM.

The Linux kernel is covered by the GNU Public License (GPL), and is usually bundled with various binaries that comprise a working UNIX operating system. These software bundles are called ``distributions'' and come in many sizes and arrangements.

  • For a chart comparing the various Linux distributions, click here.
  • To see the latest Linux kernel version number, click here.

Linux is being used today by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. It is used for software development, networking (intra-office and Internet), and as an end-user platform. Linux has become a cost-effective alternative to expensive UNIX systems.


Linux is not public domain software, but under the GNU Public License, the source code for Linux must always remain freely available. People can charge money for Linux if they wish, so long as they do not attempt to limit the redistribution of Linux.

Many people around the world have worked together to create Linux, under the direction of Linus Torvalds, the original author, and each holds the copyright to the code he or she has written.

Linux History

Linux was originally created by Linus Torvalds at the University of Helsinki in Finland. (Click here for a 72k gif of Linus himself.) It has been developed with the help of many programmers across the Internet.

Linus originally started hacking the kernel as a pet project, inspired by his interest in Minix, a small UNIX system developed by Andy Tannenbaum. He set out to create, in his own words, "a better Minix than Minix". And after some time of working on this project by himself, he made this posting to 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...but I've successfully run bash, gcc, gnu-make, gnu-sed, compress, etc. under it.''

On October 5th, 1991, Linus announced the first ``official'' version of Linux, version 0.02. Since then, many programmers have responded to his call, and have helped to make Linux the fully-featured operating system it is today.

For More Information

To find out more about what Linux is and why you should use it, see the "What Is Linux?" article in Linux Journal's 1997 Buyer's Guide.

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