What is Linux?

Your computer, despite being a collection of highly sophisticated parts, is really just ... well, a collection of highly sophisticated parts. On its own, it can do nothing other than switch on and off and spin a disk or two. For it to do anything truly useful, it needs an operating system (OS) to guide it. The OS takes a well-endowed but completely uneducated hunk of a machine and educates it, at least enough so that it will understand what you want it to do.

You already know of and have probably used at least one of the many operating systems that exist today, or did in the past. Windows and Mac OS are such operating systems, as is Unix, the commercial-grade operating system behind many Internet sites and databases. And don't think that computers are the only place you run into operating systems. Those of you with smart phones, which are themselves miniature computers, are probably interacting daily with the Android operating system or iOS, the operating system on iPhones and iPads.

Linux is yet another operating system. It is however, different from other operating systems in terms of both its capabilities and its heritage. Linux was not created by a corporation or by some corporate wannabe out to make money. The Linux core, referred to as the kernel, was created by computer enthusiast Linus Torvalds, a member of Finland's Swedish ethnic minority, who wanted to create a Unix-like system that would work on home computers - particularly his.

Rather than keeping his creation to himself, Torvalds opened it up to the world, so to speak, and compu-geeks around the globe worked to make it better and more powerful. It is this combination of applications built around the core of the Linux kernel that is the essence of all Linux distributions today.

Linux has acquired many fans and followers since its creation in 1991. Such devotees praise Linux for its many features, as well as for being robust, reliable, free, and open. Despite these positive characteristics, however, Linux is on its own, just a text-based system. There is no pretty desktop, and there are no windows or charming little icons to make you feel safe and comfy once you are behind the keyboard. Powerful though it may be, Linux is still strictly a black-screen command line-driven operating system. I guess you could think of it as DOS on steroids, though a Linux purist will surely cringe at the thought. Sorry.

Although you can use Linux by itself, accomplishing all your tasks by typing commands on a black screen (the most common way of doing things when Linux is used as a server), you don't have to do that. It is fair to say that with the advent in 1984 of the Macintosh and its easy-to-use graphical user interface (GUI, pronounced "goo-ee"), DOS users began suffering something akin to GUI envy. They began clamoring for a GUI to call their own. The final result was Windows, which gave DOS a GUI and eased many command-wary users into the Microsoft world.

Similarly, many members of the Linux world felt the need and desire to go graphical. The community at large developed various GUIs (called window managers and desktop environments) and a subsystem with which to handle them (somewhat confusingly referred to as the Window System). The graphical desktop environment that is included in your Ubuntu distribution - Unity - is one example of the fruit of that development.

The above is an excerpt from Ubuntu Made Easy: A Project-Based Introduction to Linux.

Reader R. Lauon says, "Clear and concise. The illustrations are good and very helpful to one who is just learning a new operating system. The book takes a project or task by task format to help you learn Ubuntu. As an aside, Ubuntu is a great operating system so have fun with it and this book is a great resource."

Reader Glaspellon says, "I found this book to be especially helpful. The focus is on getting Ubuntu up and running. There is significant attention on Linux equivalents to Windows programs."

Reader Josh L McCulloughon says, "A very down-to-earth, non-tech friendly text for starting out with Ubuntu. I purchased the Official Ubuntu Handbook a while ago, but found this much easier to follow and more practical; it truly lives up to the "project-based" title. I highly recommend this to anyone who's thinking about making the leap to Ubuntu as a home operating system or even just test it out, it takes the fear factor out of the equation. A copy of Ubuntu 12.04 is included with the text so you can get started right away, a win-win purchase all around. (Yes, I know Ubuntu is free to download online, but it's nice to have that barrier removed."

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