Jim's Open Source Software Pages

Free yourself from commercial software

What is Linux?

To fully convert to free, open source software (FOSS), you need to include an operating system (OS). Some people might draw the line there, because they've heard that the alternative to Windows is something scary called Linux.

Yes, Linux by itself can be daunting, but very few people use Linux by itself. It is a kernel around which FOSS graphical user interface (GUI) operating systems are built. These are collectively known as Linux distributions. Two or three dozen of them account for most usage, but since this is FOSS, hundreds of derivatives have been created, primarily for small, specialized user bases. With a FOSS GUI OS, you never have to learn, understand, or even see Linux. Still, if you're curious, the following is a bit of information about Linux.

The Linux kernel was created in 1991 by Linus Torvalds to run personal computers using the commands and file structure of UNIX, an operating system created in 1969 at Bell Labs to run mainframe computers. Torvalds wanted to create a new free OS that would provide better functionality for a PC than DOS, the Microsoft OS that was the foundation for Windows. Others were already working on the GUI portion of the FOSS OS, so the creation of Linux provided the final ingredient.

Remembering the command line

If you're old enough to remember DOS, you've had a taste of what plain Linux looks like. Both are command-line operating systems. In case you haven't had the pleasure, below are close-ups of the command prompts for each.

DOS command-line terminal
DOS command-line terminal
Linux command-line terminal
Linux command-line terminal

Keep in mind, this is just the upper left corner of the screen. The rest of it is blank, as you can see by clicking on the Linux close-up to see the full screen, known as the terminal. There are no menus or icons to guide you. To make this work, you need to memorize all the commands you'll need to do the job at hand, or keep a command reference guide at your desk.

Ubuntu is Linux for human beings

Just as Windows made DOS easy to use for everyone, so Ubuntu makes Linux easy to use. The folks at Ubuntu like to say it's "Linux for human beings."

Ubuntu and many other Linux distributions are packaged with a wide range of applications and utilities, including a full office suite. Whereas the applications included with Windows usually have limited functionality until you pay extra for the full version, those included with many Linux distributions are fully functional, since they are all FOSS. Your initial installation may contain everything you need to perform most of your usual tasks. If not, there are hundreds of additional applications available.

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