Linux (also known as gnu/Linux) is a Unix-like computer operating system

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Linux (also known as GNU/Linux) is a Unix-like computer operating system. It is one of the most prominent examples of open source development and free software; unlike proprietary operating systems such as Windows or Mac OS, all of its underlying source code is available to the public for anyone to freely use, modify, and redistribute.


Tux the penguin, based on an image created by Larry Ewing in 1996, is the logo and mascot of Linux.

nitially, Linux was primarily developed and used by individual enthusiasts on personal computers. Since then, Linux has gained the support of major corporations such as IBM, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, and Novell for use in servers and is gaining popularity in the desktop market[1]. It is used in systems ranging from supercomputers to mobile phones. Proponents and analysts attribute its success to its low cost, security, reliability, and freedom from vendor lock-in[2][3].


In 1983, Richard Stallman founded the GNU Project, with the goal of developing a complete Unix-like operating system composed entirely of free software. By the beginning of the 1990s, GNU had produced or collected most of the necessary components of this system—libraries, compilers, text editors, a Unix-like shell—except for the core component, the kernel. The GNU project began developing a kernel, the Hurd, in 1990, based on the Mach microkernel, but the development of this Mach-based design proved difficult and proceeded slowly.


Linus Torvalds,

creator of the

Linux kernel.
eanwhile, in 1991, another kernel was begun as a hobby by Finnish university student Linus Torvalds while attending the University of Helsinki. Torvalds originally used Minix on his own computer, a simplified Unix-like system written by Andrew Tanenbaum for teaching operating system design. However, Tanenbaum did not permit others to extend his operating system, leading Torvalds to create a replacement for Minix.

Originally, Torvalds called his kernel "Freax" for "free" and "freak" and with the often-used X in the names of Unix-like systems. The name "Linux" was coined by Ari Lemmke, who administered an FTP server belonging to the Finnish University Network; he invented the name Linux for the directory from which Torvalds' project was first available for download.[4]

At first a computer running Minix was necessary in order to configure and install Linux. Initial versions of Linux also required another operating system to be present in order to boot from a hard disk, but soon there were independent boot loaders such as LILO. The Linux system quickly surpassed Minix in functionality; Torvalds and other early Linux kernel developers adapted their work for the GNU components and user-space programs to create a complete, fully functional, and free operating system.

Today, Torvalds continues to direct the development of the kernel, while other subsystems such as the GNU components continue to be developed separately (Linux kernel development is not part of the GNU Project). Other groups and companies combine and distribute these components with additional application software in the form of Linux distributions.


The Linux kernel was originally designed only for Intel 80386 microprocessors, but now supports a wide variety of computer architectures. Linux is now one of the most widely ported operating systems, running on a diverse range of systems from the hand-held ARM-based iPAQ to the mainframe IBM System z9. Specialised distributions exist for less mainstream architectures.

Copyright licensing, and the Linux trademark

The Linux kernel and most GNU software are licensed under the GNU General Public License. The GPL requires that all distributed source code modifications and derived works also be licensed under the GPL, and is sometimes referred to as a "share and share-alike" or "copyleft" license. In 1997, Linus Torvalds stated, "Making Linux GPL'd was definitely the best thing I ever did."[5] Other software may use other licenses; many libraries use the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL), a more permissive variant of the GPL, and the X Window System uses the MIT License.

In the United States, the name Linux is a trademark[6] registered to Linus Torvalds. In 1997, after another individual registered the trademark and demanded royalty payments from Linux distributors, Torvalds and some affected organizations sued to have the trademark assigned instead to Torvalds. The licensing of the trademark is now handled by the Linux Mark Institute. Torvalds has stated that he only trademarked the name to prevent someone else from using it, but was bound in 2005 by United States trademark law to take active measures to enforce the trademark. As a result, the LMI sent out a number of letters to distribution vendors requesting that a fee be paid for the use of the name, and a number of companies have complied.]

Linux and the GNU Project

Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU project for a free operating system.
ecause most general-purpose Linux distributions rely on libraries and tools from the GNU project, which predates the Linux kernel, Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation ask that such combined system be referred to as "GNU/Linux" or "a Linux-based GNU system". Linus Torvalds has said that he finds calling Linux in general GNU/Linux "just ridiculous". Some distributions do use this name—notably Debian GNU/Linux—while many people simply refer to the system as Linux. The distinction between the Linux kernel and distributions based on it is a source of confusion to many newcomers, and the naming remains controversial.

SCO Litigation

In March 2003, the SCO Group filed a lawsuit against IBM, claiming that IBM had contributed portions of SCO's copyrighted code to the Linux kernel in violation of IBM's license to use Unix. Additionally, SCO sent letters to a number of companies warning that their use of Linux without a license from SCO may be actionable, and claimed in the press that they would be suing individual Linux users. This controversy has involved lawsuits by SCO against Novell, DaimlerChrysler (dismissed in 2004), and AutoZone, and by Red Hat and others against SCO.

To date, no proof of SCO's claims of copied code in Linux has been provided and SCO's claims have varied widely.

Development efforts

More Than a Gigabuck: Estimating GNU/Linux's Size[8], a 2001 study of Red Hat Linux 7.1, found that the particular distribution contained 30 million source lines of code. Using the Constructive Cost Model, the study estimated that this distribution required about eight thousand man-years of development time. According to the study, if all this software had been developed by conventional proprietary means, it would have cost about 1.08 billion dollars (year 2000 U.S. dollars) to develop in the United States.

The majority of the code (71%) was written in the C programming language, but many other languages were used, including C++, Lisp, assembly language, Perl, Fortran, Python and various shell scripting languages. Slightly over half of all lines of code were licensed under the GPL. The Linux kernel amounted for 2.4 million lines of code, or 8% of the total.

In a later study, Counting potatoes: The size of Debian 2.2[9], the same analysis was performed for Debian GNU/Linux version 2.2. This distribution contained over fifty-five million source lines of code, and the study estimated that it would have cost 1.9 billion dollars (year 2000 U.S. dollars) to develop by conventional means.


A KDE desktop on the SUSE distribution.
inux has historically been used mainly as a server operating system, but its low cost, flexibility, and Unix background make it suitable for a wide range of applications.

Linux is the cornerstone of the "LAMP" server-software combination (Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl/PHP/Python) which has achieved widespread popularity among Web developers, making it one of the most common platforms on the Web.

Due to its low cost and its high configurability, Linux is often used in embedded systems such as television set-top boxes, mobile phones, and handheld devices. Linux has become a major competitor to the proprietary Symbian OS found in many mobile phones, and it is an alternative to the dominant Windows CE and Palm OS operating systems on handheld devices. The popular TiVo digital video recorder uses a customized version of Linux. Several network firewall and router standalone products, including several from Linksys, use Linux internally, using its advanced firewalling and routing capabilities.

Linux is increasingly common as an operating system for supercomputers. In the November 2005 TOP500 list of supercomputers, the two fastest supercomputers in the world ran Linux. Of the 500 systems, 371 (74.2%) ran some version of Linux, including seven of the top ten.

The Sony PlayStation 3 video game console, to be launched in 2006, will run Linux by default. Sony has previously released a PS2 Linux kit for their PlayStation 2 video game console. Game developers like Atari and id Software have released titles to the Linux desktop.

The One Laptop Per Child project, which aims to provide computing devices to all children in developing nations, uses Linux as the device's operating system.


Linux is predominantly used as part of a Linux distribution (commonly called a "distro"). These are compiled by individuals, loose-knit teams, and commercial and volunteer organizations. They commonly include additional system and application software, an installer system to ease initial system setup, and integrated management of software installation and upgrading. Distributions are created for many different purposes, including computer architecture support, localization to a specific region or language, real-time applications, and embedded systems, and many 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.[10]

A typical general-purpose distribution includes the Linux kernel, some GNU libraries and tools, command-line shells, the graphical X Window System and an accompanying desktop environment such as KDE or GNOME, together with thousands of application software packages, from office suites to compilers, text editors, and scientific tools.

Desktop usage

The high level of access granted to Linux's internals has led to Linux users traditionally tending to be more technologically oriented than users of Microsoft Windows and Mac OS, sometimes revelling in the tag of "hacker" or "geek". Linux and other free software projects have been frequently criticized for not going far enough to ensure ease of use.


A GNOME desktop running from the GNOME LiveCD.
his stereotype has begun to be dispelled in recent years. Linux may now be used with a user interface that is very similar to those running on other operating systems. Users may have to switch application software, and there are often fewer "known" options (as in the case of computer games) but there often exists a replacement of sufficient quality, and general applications like spreadsheets, word processors, and browsers are available for Linux in profusion. Additionally, a growing number of proprietary software vendors are supporting Linux.[11]

Linux's roots in the UNIX operating system mean that while graphical configuration tools and control panels are available for many system settings and services, plain-text configuration files are still commonly used to configure the OS and are often exposed to users. In the command shell, many usability hangups from early Unix days generally remain, such as the inability to undo many operations such as file deletion and the inconsistency of the user interface amongst older programs.

The Berlin-based organization Relevantive concluded in 2003 that the usability of Linux for a set of desktop-related tasks was "nearly equal to Windows XP."[12] Since then, there have been numerous independent studies and articles [13] which indicate that a modern Linux desktop using either GNOME or KDE is on par with Microsoft Windows in a business setting.

Market share and uptake

According to the market research company IDC, 25% of servers and 2.8% of desktop computers ran Linux as of 2002.[14]

The Linux market is rapidly growing and is projected to exceed $35.7 billion by 2008.[15] It is important to note that this figure represents only paid Linux shipments; since most Linux distributions are available for free download from the internet, the actual installed base is higher than may be indicated by this figure.

The paper Why Open Source Software / Free Software (OSS/FS)? Look at the Numbers![16] identifies many quantitative studies of open source software, on topics including market share and reliability, with many studies specifically examining Linux.


The most common method of installing Linux on a personal computer is by booting from a CD that contains the installation program and installable software. Such a CD can be burned from a downloaded ISO image, purchased alone for a low price, or can be obtained as part of a box set that may also include manuals and additional commercial software.

As with servers, personal computers that come with Linux already installed are available from vendors including Hewlett-Packard and Dell, although generally only for their business desktop line.

Alternatives to traditional desktop installation include thin client installation, where the operating system is loaded and run from a centralised machine over a network connection; and running from a LiveCD, where the computer boots the entire operating system from CD-ROM without first installing it on the computer's hard disk.

On embedded devices, Linux is typically held in the device's firmware and may or may not be consumer-accessible.

Programming on Linux

GCC is by far the most commonly used compiler family on Linux, providing frontends for C, C++ and Java among others. Most distributions also come installed with Perl, Python and other language interpreters, and several now include C# via the Mono project.

There are a number of IDEs available including KDevelop, Anjuta, NetBeans, and Eclipse while the traditional editors Emacs and Vim are also provided and remain popular.

As well as these free and open source options, there are proprietary compilers and tools available from a range of companies such as Intel[1], PathScale [2] and the Portland Group [3].


Technical support is provided by commercial suppliers and by other Linux users, usually in online forums, newsgroups, and mailing lists. Linux User Groups have traditionally been organised to provide support for Linux in a specific area.

The business model of commercial suppliers is generally dependent on charging for support, especially for business users. A number of companies offer a specialized business version of their distribution which adds proprietary support packages and tools to administer higher numbers of installations or to simplify administrative tasks.

From slightly modified by Sam Bowne

CNIT 30 – Bowne Page of From Wikipedia

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