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What is Linux?

Related articles: Linux is a complete operating system that is similar but not identical to UNIX. It runs on a wide variety of hardware, ranging from 386's/486's/Pentiums/Pentium II's to more exotic hardware such as Digital Alpha computers, PowerPCs, and Silicon Graphics workstations. Probably the most unique characterisitc of Linux is that it is freely distributable. Freely distributable means that the source code for the kernel and most software cannot be withheld. It does not mean that companies cannot charge for it.

Originally the term Linux referred strictly to the kernel (the core of the operating system), but the phrase itself refers nowadays to a collection of configured software that runs on top of the Linux kernel. These 'collections of software' are known as distributions. Although these distributions often have their own unique (together with some proprietary software) flavour they are essentially the same. Just a few years ago there were only two popular distributions, Slackware and SLS. However, nowadays there is a wide choice from such companies as Red Hat, Caldera, S.U.S.E, Stampede. These companies do not just compile and configure the software. Caldera, Red Hat and others have added their own proprietary software to their distribution, which help to make such tasks as installation no harder than say Windows 95.

The easiest way to obtain a Linux distribution is to purchase a CD-ROM containing the software. Unless you have a very fast connection to the Internet a CD-ROM represents the most convenient method. Two American companies stand out in offering these distributions at incredibly cheap prices (just a couple of dollars); Cheapbytes and LSL. If you live in the UK and Europe the Linux Emporium offers the popular distributions for 2 pounds, which includes postage. I have purchased from all three companies in the past, and they offer a reliable service. One thing they can't offer is technical support. If you think you will need some help in installing Linux I would recommend you purchase from one of the distribution companies; for example Red Hat offer 30 days free technical support in installing their distribution.

If I had to recommend one distribution to a newcomer it would be Red Hat 5.0. Why, you ask? This is an up-to-date distribution which has some excellent utilities for configuring Linux, it has arguably the best package manager (for easy installation and de-installation of software), and has wide support among the Linux community.

Most UNIX software runs on Linux and there are many commercial applications that have been ported over to Linux, such as the excellent graphics package Corel DRAW, wordprocessors such as WordPerfect, and spreadsheets such as NeXS. Additionally the commercial WABI program allows you to run many 16-bit Windows applications under Linux, if you so wish.

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