Quick question: what operating system powers 90% of the world’s top 500 supercomputers, along with your Xbox 360, PS3, and your Android mobile phone? If you guessed Linux, you are absolutely right. Developed by Linus Torvalds in 1991, Linux is an open-source operating system, i.e. it can be downloaded and modified by anyone. Originally meant to be an alternative to paid operating systems like Windows and the Mac OS, Linux quickly gained in popularity upon release and soon led the charge for free, open source software worldwide.
A Brief History of Linux
Linux borrows much of its architecture from UNIX (which was developed by AT&T’s Bell Labs in 1969), and another UNIX spinoff, MINIX. It was in 1991 while attending the University of Helsinki that Linus Torvalds grew frustrated with the strict licensing rules of these operating systems and started work on his very own OS, which soon grew into what we now call Linux (which also borrows its name from its creator). Bucking the trend, Torvalds released the Linux software for free and encourage developers to add to, and improve upon it. Because of its flexibility and free licensing, Linux was quickly taken up by developers across the world who helped turn it into a powerful, full-featured operating system. Linus Torvalds also gave Linux its penguin mascot called ‘Tux’.
Commercial Use of Linux
Linux powers most of the world’s commercial servers, mainframe computers, supercomputers, and even the customized software on gaming consoles, tablet PCs, and the popular Android mobile OS. Generally, Linux is distributed through a format called ‘Linux Distribution’ which includes a range of software and utilities, along with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) for use on servers and desktop/laptop computers. While one can certainly download the core Linux kernel for free, these Linux distributions offer unparalleled ease of use and a Windows/OS X like user interface, which makes them much more suitable for commercial use. Some of the popular Linux distributions are Fedora (by Red Hat), Ubuntu, and community driven distributions like Gentoo and Debian. Altogether, the total revenues from desktops, servers and software running Linux are in excess of $35B each year.
Advantages of Linux
The greatest advantage of Linux is its flexibility, stability and large developer base. There are hundreds of thousands of programmers spread across the globe working to iron out chinks and flaws in the operating system at any given time which gives it unmatched stability (Linux literally never crashes). It can be used on devices ranging from small handheld computers and mobile phones to massive supercomputers used by NASA and the Pentagon. This community driven approach made it one of the most widely used OS on the planet.
Another big advantage of Linux is its extensive software library. Much of the software on Linux is free and open-source, and can often rival commercial grade software. GIMP, for instance, is a graphics editor offering a rich roster of features that match up to commercial distributions of Adobe Photoshop. Plus, the large Linux community is continuously upgrading and porting Windows and Mac software to Linux.
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