Linux is an operating system: a series of programs that let you
interact with your computer and run other programs.
An operating system consists of various fundamental programs which are
needed by your computer so that it can communicate and receive
instructions from users; read and write data to hard disks, tapes, and
printers; control the use of memory; and run other software. The most
important part of an operating system is the kernel. In a GNU/Linux
system, Linux is the kernel component. The rest of the system
consists of other programs, many of which were written by or for the
GNU Project. Because the Linux kernel alone does not form a working
operating system, we prefer to use the term “GNU/Linux”
to refer to systems that many people casually refer to as
Linux is modelled on the Unix operating system. From the start, Linux
was designed to be a multi-tasking, multi-user system. These facts are
enough to make Linux different from other well-known operating
systems. However, Linux is even more different than you might
imagine. In contrast to other operating systems, nobody owns
Linux. Much of its development is done by unpaid volunteers.
Development of what later became GNU/Linux began in 1984, when the
Free Software Foundation
began development of a free Unix-like operating system called GNU.
The GNU Project has developed a comprehensive set of free software
tools for use with Unix™ and Unix-like operating systems such as
Linux. These tools enable users to perform tasks ranging from the
mundane (such as copying or removing files from the system) to the
arcane (such as writing and compiling programs or doing sophisticated
editing in a variety of document formats).
While many groups and individuals have contributed to Linux, the
largest single contributor is still the Free Software Foundation,
which created not only most of the tools used in Linux, but also the
philosophy and the community that made Linux possible.
The Linux kernel first
appeared in 1991, when a Finnish computing science student named Linus
Torvalds announced an early version of a replacement kernel for Minix
to the Usenet newsgroup
Linux History Page.
Linus Torvalds continues to coordinate the work of several hundred
developers with the help of a few trusty deputies. An excellent
weekly summary of discussions on the
linux-kernel mailing list is
More information about the
list can be found on the
linux-kernel mailing list FAQ.
Linux users have immense freedom of choice in their software. For
example, Linux users can choose from a dozen different command line
shells and several graphical desktops. This selection is often
bewildering to users of other operating systems, who are not used to
thinking of the command line or desktop as something that they can
Linux is also less likely to crash, better able to run more than one
program at the same time, and more secure than many operating
systems. With these advantages, Linux is the fastest growing operating
system in the server market. More recently, Linux has begun to be
popular among home and business users as well.