History: Unix, GNU, Gnome
A brief review of the history of Unix will place in context much of
the terminology and philosophy of this operating system. Terms like
Linux, GNU, Unix, Gnome, Free Software, and Free and Open Source
Software get bandied around, often with little understanding and
usually with much misunderstanding.
A fundamental misunderstanding is the relationship between Linux and
operating systems. Linux is the low level code that interacts with and
controls the hardware of the computer (whether it is an Intel 486,
Pentium, Sun Sparc, or a Merced). This is the kernel of
the operating system, providing routines to help applications talk to
each other, allowing many applications to share the CPU at the same
time, and managing the use of memory, allowing many different
applications to run at the same time without interfering with other
applications. Linus Torvalds wrote the first Linux kernel in
1991 and it continues to be actively developed today by Linus and a
core team of international developers.
While the kernel is crucial, it is the larger suite of software that
sits on top of the kernel that provides the functional operating
system. Most of the software applications at this level come from the
GNU Project. These tools include the
command line utilities like ls, cp,
find, bash, and the compilers like gcc.
This collection of applications is usually considered to be the actual
operating system and hence we refer to the operating system as
GNU/Linux in recognition of the GNU software coupled with the Linux
kernel. GNU/HURD is an alternative operating system using the GNU
software with the HURD kernel being developed by the GNU Project.
Sitting on top of this command-line level of the operating system is
what we might refer to as the end user level of the operating system.
This is typically a graphical user interface (GUI) aiming to provide
an intuitive, easy to use system for both the general, non-technical
user and the power user. Such an interface is typically an
application that sits on top of and makes considerable use of the
operating system. For GNU/Linux this is the X Window System.
The Window System provides a platform for GUI-based applications.
Other applications sit on top of the Window System to provide
integrated platforms with a common look and feel. Gnome, another GNU
project, is one such popular platform. All Gnome applications have a
similar look and share many components and can communicate with each
other. KDE is a popular alternative to Gnome and while it is not one I
use, I will try to include information about it whenever I can.
In this chapter we briefly review the history of Unix, GNU Software,
the GNU/Linux Operating System, and Gnome.
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