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Xanda - /dev/project - HOWTO Page on Linux

Linux is a Unix-like computer operating system. Linux is one of the most prominent examples of free software and open source development; its underlying source code can be freely modified, used, and redistributed by anyone.

The Linux kernel was first released to the public on 17 September 1991, for the Intel x86 PC architecture. The kernel was augmented with system utilities and libraries from the GNU project to create a usable operating system, which later led to the alternate term GNU/Linux. Linux is now packaged for different uses in Linux distributions, which contain the sometimes modified kernel along with a variety of other software packages tailored to different requirements.

Predominantly known for its use in servers, Linux has gained the support of corporations such as IBM, Sun Microsystems, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Novell, and is used as an operating system for a wide variety of computer hardware, including desktop computers, supercomputers, and embedded devices such as mobile phones and routers.


The Unix operating system was conceived and implemented in the 1960s and first released in 1970. Its wide availability and portability meant that it was widely adopted, copied and modified by academic institutions and businesses, with its design being influential on authors of other systems. One so-called Unix-like system was the GNU Project, started in 1984, had the goal of creating a POSIX-compatible operating system from entirely free software. In 1985, Richard Stallman created the Free Software Foundation and developed the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL), in order to spread the software freely. Many of the programs required in an OS (such as libraries, compilers, text editors, a Unix shell, and a GUI) were developed by the early 1990s, so that most of the requirements for an operating system were complete, although low level elements such as device drivers, daemons, and the kernel were stalled and incomplete. Linus Torvalds has said that if the GNU kernel had been available at the time, he would not have decided to write his own.

MINIX, a Unix-like system intended for academic use, was released by Andrew S. Tanenbaum in 1987. While source code for the system was available, modification and redistribution were restricted. In addition, MINIX's 16-bit design was not well adapted to the 32-bit design of the increasingly cheap and popular Intel 386 architecture for personal computers.

In 1991, Linus Torvalds began to work on a non-commercial replacement for MINIX while he was attending the University of Helsinki. This eventually became the Linux kernel.

Linux was dependent on the Minix userspace at first. With code from the GNU system freely available, it was advantageous if this could be used with the fledgling OS. Code licensed under the GNU GPL can be used in other projects, so long as they also are released under the same or a compatible license. In order to make the Linux kernel compatible with the components from the GNU Project, Torvalds initiated a switch from his original license (which prohibited commercial redistribution) to the GNU GPL. Linux and GNU developers worked to integrate GNU components with Linux to make a fully functional and free operating system.

Today Linux is used in numerous domains, from embedded systems to supercomputers, and has secured a place in server installations with the popular LAMP application stack. Torvalds continues to direct the development of the kernel. Stallman heads the Free Software Foundation, which in turn develops the GNU components. Finally, individuals and corporations develop third-party non-GNU components. These third-party components comprise a vast body of work and may include both kernel modules and user applications and libraries. Linux vendors combine and distribute the kernel, GNU components, and non-GNU components, with additional package management software in the form of Linux distributions.