If you’re new round here, you’re probably asking, at almost every page you visit, “What in the actual world is linux?” In this article, I hope to shed some light on Linux, its community and its philosophy.
To explain what linux is, you need to know what an operating system is.
An operating system is essentially a piece of software, a program, that runs and manages your computer. In its simplest form, it displays stuff on the screen, allows you to control what is going on by smashing that board of keys in front of you and is responsible for all those blue screens of death we got in the 90s. But seriously, an OS handles almost any task that you use a computer for. Often programs can be loaded onto an operating system (they can be installed) to extend its functionality.
There are many thousands of operating systems out there, the most common of which are Microsoft’s windows OS that has the largest marketshare and Apple’s macOS, which comes on any apple computer you buy. Linux is one of these;
And So Much More!
Linux isn’t just an operating system. Technically speaking, Linux on its own is just an OS kernel (I.E. the core of the operating system that allows the applications and environment you interact with to talk to the computer hardware). It on its own does not include any applications.
The GNU Coreutils
One of the reasons people love to get into … discussions … about what to call Linux is due to the fantastic work of the Free Software Foundation. They, along with many, many others of course, created most of the tools that are usually bundled with a distribution of Linux. Some people, me included, believe that they deserve as much credit as the creators and maintainers of Linux get (they did after all turn the Linux kernel into a useful, complete operating system. However, others, me also included, feel that GNU / Linux is too long to type (plus it includes a ‘/’ character, which may not be allowed in certain circumstances) and use Linux as a shorthand.
One of the best and worst parts of the Linux ecosystem is how modular and configurable it is. Unlike other OSSes, Linux is composed of many different parts from many different projects, maintainers and communities. Often, multiple implementations of a particular feature or service exist, each with its own idea of how things should work. This allows for an unpresidented level of modularity, however, it also fragments the Linux community, leading to those lengthy debates on r/linux and other places that, at times, can get quite acidic (if you haven’t seen them yet, you’ll grow to ignore them and focus on what actually matters after a while).
Dispite its downsides, I personally believe Linux and its satalites is the future. Why? …
The Concept of Opensource
While typical operating systems are made in house at some company, the linux OS is open to the public. So what does this mean? Essentially, anybody with the knowledge can contribute to a project (E.G. the Linux kernel itself). This allows a community to form around it, with each person scratching their own particular itch and improving the OS as a whole. So in many less words, open source means that the code (source) is out in the open for anyone to contribute to, audit and improve.
Open Source Downsides
Yes. As much as I don’t want them to exist, this open model has its flaws. For example, if anyone can look at the code, anyone can find a security flaw. And while security researchers are constantly doing this to fix these holes, some people aren’t as nice and will take advantage of this opertunity. I believe with enough community support that this can be overcome (in fact it allready has, as common consensus suggests Linux is more secure than other OSses), but it’s a matter of opinion at this point.
So, now you know what linux is. But what is Ubuntu then? Or Debian, Arch, Linux Mint? These are called distributions (distros). They’re essentially the Linux kernel bundled with tools to make it useful. What tools are bundled, how they’re installed and managed, is all up to the distro maintainers to decide. Since the code is out in the open, anyone is free to create their own version of linux with their own tools and way of doing things. Consequently, distros can be based off of other distros, so Ubuntu for example is based off of the code created by Debian. All of this comes together to create a very flexible structure (you choose the distro that best suits your needs, or if you’re feeling adventurous, you create your own).
It seems that in the modern digital age, we have no choice but to accept the fact that everything about us will be sent off to some of the richest companies on the plannet, to be mined, tracked and highly analysed, all to sell ads. But this just isn’t true! Because of its strong philosophy of freedom, both in a monitary and choice sense, you won’t find built-in spyware in Linux. What’s more, while companies like Apple say that they are privacy respecting, with a Linux distro, they are forced by the license of the code to publish all source code used in the final product. If a piece of spyware was to be found in a Linux distribution, the public would immediately know and someone would likely fork the project (take the code, rebrand and rerelease it) with the spying code removed, completely shutting down the original distro as the fork offers the same features, but no spying.
And that’s linux. I wrote this specifically to give blind and visually impaired people a hint as to what I talk about alot on this site, so that they can make sense of it for themselves and choose which OS they want to use.
Thanks for reading!