What is Linux?

Linux, also called GNU/Linux, is a free software operating system; in this case the ‘free’ has the meaning as in freedom, rather than any other idea of free (e.g. free beer). Most software vendors sell you software, which you then have no right to re-distribute. Free and open source software is generally also provided freely (for no charge) and can be re-distributed and changed to your liking.

When people first hear about this, they often think that the software will be of lower quality because it’s free. However, the reverse is true. The freedom to change software means that people contribute time to fixing and improving it and know that they (and everyone else) will benefit from the result.

Linux also comes in many different forms from different suppliers: these are called distributions – or distros for short. The distros I use out of preference are Ubuntu, Mepis and Debian.

Isn’t proprietary better because you pay for it?

It might seem hard to understand how something that is free can make people money, but new financial models are providing jobs in Free and Open Source Software and in support services associated with that software.

Free and open source software has over a million commercial development programmers worldwide. They’re involved in work that pays them to improve free and open source software. It doesn’t end there; volunteer contributors to free and open source software probably far outnumber the paid workers. Some people’s contributions are small, but they all add up to something great.

Proprietary software suppliers such as Microsoft can only afford to employ a few thousand software developers. Microsoft is secretive and closed off and so it simply can’t afford to employ millions of people to make its software better. Many people say that an open development model is the only way to create a secure and stable operating system.

Other benefits

Linux is also stable, secure and suffers very little from the spyware, malware and viruses that afflict proprietary operating systems.

Linux operating systems generally require a lower specification machine, meaning they can run quite happily on old hardware, extending the life of your kit.

Most hardware requires no special drivers to work with Linux. However, if an experienced Linux user can’t get a device working fairly quickly (say 15 – 30 mins.), it’s generally a sign it won’t work with Linux at all.

More information

A beginner’s guide to Linux

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