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An Introduction to Linux for the Complete Novice

written by: Sam OBrien•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 1/13/2010

An introduction of Linux is for those who are curious about this free operating system and may want to give it a try. No previous knowledge of open source programs is assumed. Learn who created Linux, when and why? Also, discover the philosophy behind it in a brief Linux introduction history.

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    Introducing... Linux!

    An introduction of Linux is necessary for anyone who's considering a partial or full switch to this free operating system. Often such people have many questions and may even be skeptical about the value of anything that's free of charge. However, getting answers to their questions helps to assure them that they're making the right decision to use or not to use open source software. Undoubtedly, almost every Personal Computer (PC) user knows that Bill Gates is the creator of Microsoft Windows, but who created Linux?

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    Is Linux Part of UNIX?

    You may have heard that Linux is a free clone of another operating system called UNIX. However, while Linux is based on UNIX, it is not UNIX because the philosophy and license behind it are different. Also, the kernel of the two systems may differ as well as the file systems supported. Linux runs on a wider range of platforms and doesn't share the exact same application compatibility with UNIX. Additionally, there are slight differences in system administration and they don't support the same file systems, so it's more accurate to refer to it as being UNIX-like or UNIX-based.

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    A Brief History of Linux

    The creation of UNIX began in the 1960's and was fully operational by the 1970's. However, it wasn't a system without restrictions, but rather one under a license dictating what could and could not be done with the code and what payments were expected. This led to legal disputes between major businesses.

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    Back in 1991, a college student in Finland named Linus Torvalds decided to write a free operating system to suit his work in Computer Science. At the time, he was working with MINIX, a UNIX-based system used in academic environments. Although the source code for MINIX was made available, its modification and redistribution were prohibited. Mr. Torvalds desired freedom to do what he wanted with software so he began work on what was to later become Linux.

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    GNU/Linux

    You'll sometimes read that a certain distribution of this free operating system is, "based on GNU/Linux." Many Linux users will simply refer to their particular distribution as being based on the Linux kernel when, in fact, they should say that it is based on GNU/Linux. This is giving credit where credit is due.

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    GNU's Not UNIX? Is GNU Linux?

    The "GNU's Not Unix!" (GNU) project was launched in 1984 to promote free software availability for everyone. "Free" doesn't refer strictly to price, but to freedom--the freedom to run software for any purpose, study, modify, and redistribute it. This freedom is a programmer's delight. The project's goal was to develop a UNIX-like free operating system; however, the kernel is still not complete. Therefore, it's often used with the Linux kernel to build various distributions, also called "flavors." The two working together are GNU/Linux.

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    Thanks to the efforts of Linus Torvalds and the GNU project, millions of people worldwide now enjoy freedom when working with GNU/Linux based operating systems. Most have also obtained them free of charge. Hopefully, this introduction of Linux helps all users of this system or of Windows to appreciate the value of open source software.

Understanding Linux

These articles serve as an introduction to Linux (part I), and a beginner's guide to understanding Linux (part II). They will help those who are interested in using or are newbies to this free operating system. Your most basic questions are answered in clear and concise language.
  1. An Introduction to Linux for the Complete Novice
  2. A Linux Beginner's Guide for Newbies