Linux: What is It?
Linux is an operating system that is based on the Unix architecture that has 40+ years of experience under its belt. Linux is a relative newcomer to the operating system world, having been started in the early '90s by a Finish student, Linus Torvolds. It is currently available for a huge number of devices and computing platforms, including PCs and Macs. In fact you probably already have some device in your possession that is Linux powered.
Via the "Open Source" methodology Linux is developed and maintained by thousands of people all over the world. Many major corporations, like Novell, IBM, HP, contribute programming and fixes to improve and enahnce Linux's abilities. Even, major competitor, Microsoft has tried to contribute to the project. Although I don't know if the updates were ever accepted or not. I believe they are still going through the usual vetting process.
Linux is technically only the "kernel" of the operating system. It is the critical core piece of code that interfaces other software to the hardware, taking care of managing and arbitrating access to all of the devices attached to the computer.
If someone wants to use Linux on their computer they will want a host of other software to interact with the kernel to perform their day to day tasks. Thousands of entities have taken up the assembling of software suites with the Linux kernel, typically called a distribution (distro). There are tons of these distributions avaialble for all sorts of target audiences. A quick gander at Distro Watch can give you an idea of the numbers of them. The more popular install, especially for the end user, is Ubuntu, from South Africa.
Linux is much more resistant to viruses than windows. There are many reasons for this. One is that the architecture was designed from the ground up for security. Because the system is "Open Source" the Linux internals have been under review by many security experts and programmers. The source code within Linux has been mechanically tested for common flaws and it was found that it containd a small fraction of the failures normally found in commercial software. Those flaws were rapidly fixed shortly after the testing was done. They will continue to test and vet as development continues.
There are a large number of tools that are built in or are available by which Linux can defend itself. The firewall and routing code in the kernel is probably the best anywhere. Due to the large number of security tasks it gets put to the load of tools available for trapping and defending itself against nefarious software is huge. "Security Enhanced Linux" (started by the NSA) and "App Armor" (Novell) just to name a couple of interesting projects.
Linux has become my primary work platform because of its security features, stability, flexibility and speed. Even with all that its light on resources. When I need to venture into the realm of Windows I can always run a "virtual machine" to run it in a sealed and contained environment within my Linux system. The virtualization technology having been available on Linux since before 2000.
Take that computer that could hardly handle Vista and install Linux on it and feel the speed!
I haven't even scratched the surface so here are some informational links:
- The Official Linux site
- Wikipedia Article
- Distro Watch
- Linux Devices
- Linux Questions
- OpenSuSE (one of my favorite Linux distros)
- Debian (the granddaddy of all distros, but not easy for a novice)