What is Linux?

Linux is the name for a Unix-like kernel created by Linus Torvalds in 1991 as an alternative to the expensive and complex Unix operating system and a modular alternative to Minix. This was to enable application development of Unix applications on a small personal computer. It is now used in the smallest of embedded computers, music and video consumer items, mobile phones through to the largest supercomputers. It is typically found in servers where its performance and stability earns a strong reputation. With new low-cost laptops and new wave of experimental users, Linux based systems are finding their way on to more desktops.

How do I say it?

In the UK, the letter "i" is typically short (as "in") where as in the USA it is longer (as "eye"). Due to many UK users hearing the word from the states, it is frequently pronounced L(y)nux. It must be pointed out that Linus is from Finland where the "i" is pronounced "ee" so probably the _correct_ pronounciation is L(ee)nux. 

A brief history of Unix and Linux

In 1969, the birth year of Linus Torvalds, Unix was developed at Bell Labs, NJ, USA by AT&T employees along with many other significant developments over the years. The original developers were engaged with previous systems including Multics nearly a decade earlier.
The design of Unix was based around a modular extensible computer operating system enabling many users to operate a single machine.
The 1970's saw many advances of Unix which shaped almost all operating systems produced since.
Unix was commercially focussed and typically operated in large organisations, government and the academic world.

A significant factor in the life of Linux was the GNU project in 1983 created by Richard Stallman. This was intended to be a free unix-like operating system and was mostly complete with a kernel and applications but did not attract enough support at the time to gain ground. Typical Linux distributions are based on a Linux kernel and GNU applications. It is argued that GNU should be stated when the operating system is discussed to ensure recognition is made to the fact that Linux is just the kernel. On this basis, the correct term is GNU/Linux.

Linux was an accidental revolution, Linus never intended to create a program that would become known world wide and in his original note advising the first release, he was clear that this is unlikely to be more than a program to facilitate testing of other applications and "won't be big".

Variants of Unix

Unix has many variants. These are known as *nix or Unix-like operating systems. Some examples:

  • Minix
  • Linux
  • GNU
  • Plan 9
  • BSD

Hard times for Linux

Linux has had its fair share of issues with internal disputes, ownership arguments and technical flaws. Due to the huge support, these attract large intellectual investment  and solutions are typically thorough and swift.

2038 - the end of time?

Unix and its relations store internal time as the number of seconds from midnight, January 1st 1970 (The Epoch). The variable can only store enough information to count this to January 19, 2038. The effect of this is that dates beyond 2038 may reset to 1901!

Most, if not all modern Unix and Unix-like systems have been fixed by creating a larger variable which will defer this problem for nearly 300 billion years which should be enough for most of us.

Legal complications

In 2003, the SCO group attempted to asert ownership of components of Unix and Linux. It demanded that large users pay a license fee, The battle involved many big names and big risks including the announcement that IBM would be sued for $5 billion and DaimlerChrysler were challenged to pay for their use of the software. Novell and Redhat were also involved with the cases.Ultimately, SCO failed to prove wrongdoing and subsequently filed for bankrupcy.

Posted by Tech team on 06/06/2012