Where it all began
Look up any history of the Linux Operating System and you will find the name of Linus Torvalds, a Finnish student, who developed and released the first version of Linux in 1991.
Delve a little deeper and you will find that the history has to go back a little further. The aims largely remain the same and that is to provide computer software free to users. You will find references to UNIX, a freely available operating system (or at least a set of modifiable source code files enabling developers to use and amend for their own purposes) which was adapted to run on a number of different manufacturers equipment particularly what was then known as the mini computer. These computers may have cost a few thousand pounds to buy at the time but were much less than the mainframe computers that could cost millions. Unix was released first in 1970 but never really caught on.
Around this subject you will find references to Unix, GNU, GPL, Bell Labs, BSD, MINIX, Open Source and many other acronyms. It is not our intention here to explore all these references. That is for you to follow if you are really interested.
Enter Linus Torvalds
Linus was a student in Finland and wanted to write an operating system that could be adaptable, portable and free to use and it was to be targeted at personal computers using the Intel 80386 / 80486 processors. He took as his model the UNIX, GNU, BSD, Minix systems. I doubt he ever thought that his system, which was his own personal project, would reach the popularity it has today.
Variations on a theme
The trouble with Open Source software is that it changes, it forks, it splits and Linux is no different in this respect. The kernel of the system, the bit that Linus Torvalds developed on its own does very little so it has been taken by a number of other people to develop the stuff around the kernel which makes a complete system.
There have been two major bifurcations in this process. One is the Debian project, the other the RedHat system. Both use the Linux kernel but what is different is how the rest of this system interacts with the kernel and all the other equipment.
Early releases of Linux systems include RedHat and SUSE Linux but early days to install a version of Linux relied on you having some knowledge of the equipment you were installing it for. As an example when we first installed SUSE Linux you had to know the vertical and horizontal refresh rates of the monitor you were using.
There is no intention of listing all the different releases on Linux of this website, and even if we did by tomorrow it would probably be out of date. If we have really piqued your interest you can get some sort of information from Wikipedia at this location. Don’t get bogged down or hung up on all the different offers. Many of them have specific uses which will not appeal to everyone
How does Linux develop?
Linux develops and changes because of the Open Source nature of the product. This means that anyone can look at the source code. They can point out flaws and bugs, they can suggest changes, they can implement changes (but this is under some sort of control).
Some distributions have been developed by enterprises for particular purposes for example RedHat Linux is really built for the server market. Others like Ubuntu has been developed for the work station / home user. Some versions are stripped down to run in internet switches / routers or your set top box for your television. Specific needs for specific purposes.
A note for mobile phone users. Android has been developed for mobile devices from a version of Linux which was initially sponsored by Google. And don’t we all love it!
So why do I have to pay for some versions of Linux?
If you want a genuine version of RedHat Enterprise or SUSE enterprise expect to pay for it (We are not recommending that you will want to do this). By why do I have to pay for a free product? Well here is the rub. When you buy RedHat Enterprise you are not paying for the Linux kernel. You are paying for the software produced by RedHat to make their Enterprise version work in a particular way. You are paying for the add ons. You are paying for the support.
Other distributions may not charge you but might ask for donations or through merchandising get you to buy a printed T-shirt for £30 which might cost £5 unprinted. And why not?
Linux is more secure. Why?
Linux is more secure than the Microsoft products for a couple of major reasons.
The first is that there is a complete separation of administrator and user functions. You cannot install new software or updates without supplying the administrator authentication. Even if programs are installed for a specific user (Oh by the way Linux is a true multi user operating system) if this software malfunctions it cannot harm the kernel of the operating system. This is the inheritance it gains from its Unix roots.
Secondly, if a bug is found in the source code of a program there are so many people looking at it that it gets fixed. There are many minds focusing that these sorts of errors that the chances are that they will be fixed quicker. In addition many of the distributions of Linux operate on a quicker ‘new release’ programme. Rather than waiting years between releases as you will for Microsoft products (Windows 10 released July 2015, Windows 11 due for release 2021) Ubuntu Linux has a strict cycle of 6 monthly releases of a new version.
One final point to make is that because the way Linux works it does not suffer from major malware problems. Yes, there have been viruses attacking Linux but they are few and far between. Malware writers attack Windows a) because they can, and b) because some of them have a ‘we will screw Microsoft any way we can’ attitude.
The advantage of this in built greater security is that Linux users do not normally have to run antivirus software to protect the system itself. You then don’t need precious resources continually scanning files when you open then, scanning discs on a daily basis. You don’t get loads of infected file clogging up your file system.
Users of Apple hardware will these days run a version of OS X a proprietary operating system produced by Apple Computers which comes from the same UNIX root as Linux. It shares some similarities such as discussed in the security section above, however, this is strengthened by Apple only allowing Apple or Apple approved software to be installed on the machine. We see this as an advantage but also a dis-advantage as it denies users a lot of choice in which programs they can run on their computer.
It is believed that the majority of Internet servers are running Linux based software.