Keeping with our Linux theme for the week, I present this week’s Orientation on, well, Linux. Despite a market share of less than 1 percent for the Linux OS compared to 92 percent for Windows and a smidge over 7 percent for Apple’s Mac OS, the seldom used (by the general public) OS is the epitome of open source dev and free software. I mostly dabbled with Linux in college and haven’t really used it much since. I’m a Mac user now but Darwin is different from the Linux kernel. It’s all based on Unix, but different nonetheless.
So for the uninitiated, here’s Linux in a nutshell.
Per the usual, let’s start with the basics. Linux is derived from the Linux kernel, which was started by Linus Torvalds in 1991. What’s a kernel? Well, it’s the central component of an OS. It essentially manages the communication between hardware and software. The Linux kernel is as wide open as Britney Spears’ legs when she gets out of a car. Everyone has a shot at it. But I digress. While in college Torvalds was enamored with Minix, but he wanted to make it better and that’s when Linux was born. When the Linux kernel was released, Torvalds called upon other programmers to build upon the kernel so long as they agreed to make it accessible to all.
Many have feared Linux for years because they thought it was too hard to navigate or that it wasn’t consumer friendly enough. It is, after all, based on Unix and that’s enough to scare anyone. But that’s not necessarily the case today. It’s gaining more of a foothold as proven by Dell’s inclusion of Ubuntu. It’s actually a pretty easy OS to learn thanks to the thousands of developers who’ve dumbed it down a bit for the common man. Developers like Mozilla and OpenOffice are two big ones that come to mind.
It all starts with a desktop management system that appears friendly and welcoming. GNOME and KDE are probably the most commonly used systems today. An X window manager is also a useful GUI that allocates separates windows for separate programs thus making your desktop clutter free and more manageable. Kind of like Spaces for Macs. From there you can program away in whatever language you prefer and optimize the OS to suit your needs. However, this can be somewhat of disadvantage for Linux.
You see, there are various distributions floating around and that can cause some confusion among the sheep. Each distribution of Linux has the same kernel, but the attached software, GUI, and even install process differ. However, I think that’s where Ubuntu fits in since a major manufacturer is distributing it. It won’t penetrate the market and gobble up significant market share from Windows or OS X, but it’s a step in the right direction. It’s a more unified approach that appeals to the masses.
Linux isn’t just a desktop OS anymore, either. It’s slowly creeping its way into phones and gaming systems. The Nokia N810 Internet tablet is a prime example and even Virgin America’s RED entertainment system is a flavor of Linux. Sony’s PS2 and PS3 consoles run Linux and previous gen iPods have been hacked to run Linux as well. Open source is the key here. A prime example of what is possible with a Linux OS is what Bug Labs is doing with open source hardware. It’s fully customizable to suit your needs and wants.
So, you see, Linux isn’t just an OS for nerds anymore. It’s infiltrating the general public ever so slightly. You may not know it, but it’s there like a lolcat in your cheeseburger that’s undercooked.
If you’re brave enough to try Linux then give Knoppix a whirl. It’s completely free and boots off a CD. So you don’t have to replace your existing OS.