What is Linux?
Linux is an operating system and it is the software on a computer that enables applications and the computer operator to access the devices on the computer to perform desired functions. The operating system (OS) relays instructions from an application to, for instance, the computer’s processor. The processor performs the instructed task, then sends the results back to the application via the operating system.
Linux is very similar to other operating systems, such as Windows and OS X, but unlike them, Linux is an open operating systems.
Since its inception in 1991, Linux has grown to become a force in computing, powering everything from the New York Stock Exchange to mobile phones to supercomputers to consumer devices.
As an open operating system, Linux is developed collaboratively, meaning no one company is solely responsible for its development or ongoing support. Companies participating in the Linux economy share research and development costs with their partners and competitors. This spreading of development burden amongst individuals and companies has resulted in a large and efficient ecosystem and unheralded software innovation.
Over 1,000 developers, from at least 100 different companies, contribute to every kernel release.
Where is Linux?
One of the most noted properties of Linux is where it can be used. Windows and OS X are predominantly found on personal computing devices such as desktop and laptop computers. Other operating systems, such as Symbian, are found on small devices such as phones and PDAs, while mainframes and supercomputers found in major academic and corporate labs use specialized operating systems such as AS/400 and the Cray OS.
Linux, which began its existence as a server OS and has become useful as a desktop OS, distributions may be specialized for different purposes including: computer architecture support, embedded systems, stability, security, localization to a specific region or language, targeting of specific user groups, support for real-time applications, or commitment to a given desktop environment.
Furthermore, some distributions deliberately include only free software. Currently, over three hundred distributions are actively developed, with about a dozen distributions being most popular for general-purpose use.
Linux is a widely ported operating system kernel. The Linux kernel runs on a highly diverse range of computer architectures: in the hand-held ARM-based iPAQ and the mainframe IBM System z9, System z10; in devices ranging from mobile phones to supercomputers.
Specialized distributions exist for less mainstream architectures. The ELKS kernel fork can run on Intel 8086 or Intel 80286 16-bit microprocessors, while the µClinux kernel fork may run on systems without amemory management unit. The kernel also runs on architectures that were only ever intended to use a manufacturer-created operating system, such as Macintosh computers (with both PowerPC and Intel processors), PDAs, video game consoles, portable music players, and mobile phones.
There are several industry associations and hardware conferences devoted to maintaining and improving support for diverse hardware under Linux, such as FreedomHEC.