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What is Linux?

Many years ago, after I first got Linux working, it took a long time to understand what it was all about and what held the operating system together. I remember, after some struggling, seeing KDE for the first time and wondering why I couldn't just download an executable and run it. I couldn't believe that USB devices didn’t simply work, or Windows drivers couldn't be installed, or that the CD-ROM wouldn't automatically mount itself.

All of those specific problems have gone, but the questions they raise are just as important today. And despite being used everywhere, from tiny black boxes and Android phones to the multiplicity of servers run by Google, Linux is still difficult to understand.

Many people have got used to the idea that operating systems are supposed to be transparent. But Linux is different, and to get the most out of it, it really does help to know your way around. This is the motivation behind this month’s main feature – What is Linux?

As a magazine, we've covered all the various components that come together to make Linux, but we've never before covered exactly how they come together. We've approached the subject in a way that we’re hoping will be easy enough for beginners to understand, but there are plenty of gory details for everyone – I never understood what those wretched dynamic kernel modules were until now, for example; and because Linux is always changing, it’s a good way of putting those changes in context.

Your comments

You'll continue to have a

You'll continue to have a problem understanding "Linux" if you think it is an operating system rather than the kernel (the bit that manages hardware resources) of an operating system.

Android is nothing like what is on your desktop, Linux does not run executables.

There is no "Linux desktop" or "Linux command line" and the operating system can be run with a different kernel.

The name of the operating system, the thing that has POSIX compliance (look it up, there's a nice article on Wikipedia), the thing that was developed as free software starting in the early 1980's, the thing that used UNIX as a template be wrote all new code, the thing that started the free software movement.

It's called GNU, and when it uses Linux as its kernel it is GNU/Linux.

Use "Linux" on it's own and you will achieve nothing, put it as a component part of an operating system then you can use it.

Simply saying "LInux this" and "Linux that" when refering to completely different operating systems (and different licensing systems too) is misleading, confusing and, quite frankly, wrong.

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