Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What exactly is Linux? The History of Ubuntu

Linux is an operating system in much the same way that Windows is an operating system (and there any similarities between Linux and Windows end). The term operating system is used to describe the software that acts as a layer between the hardware in a computer and the applications that we all run on a daily basis. When programmers write applications, they interface with the operating system to perform such tasks as writing files to the hard disk drive and displaying information on the screen.

Without an operating system, every programmer would have to write code to directly access the hardware of the system. In addition, the programmer would have to be able to support every single piece of hardware ever created to be sure the application would work on every possible hardware configuration. Because the operating system handles all of this hardware complexity, application development becomes a much easier task. Linux is just one of a number of different operating systems available today.
[edit] Who Created Linux?

The origins of Linux can be traced back to the work and philosophies of two people. At the heart of the Linux operating system is something called the kernel. This is the core set of functions necessary for the operating system to function. The kernel manages the system's resources and handles communication between the hardware and the applications. The Linux kernel was developed by Linus Torvalds who needed an operating system but didn't want to have to buy one. When he had finished the first version of the kernel he released it under an open source license that enabled anyone to download the source code and freely use and modify it without having to pay Linus any money.

Around the same time Richard Stallman at the Free Software Foundation, a strong advocate of free and open source software, was working on an open source operating system of his own. Rather than focusing initially on the kernel, Stallman decided to begin by developing all the tools, utilities and compilers necessary to use and maintain an operating system. By the time he had finished developing this infrastructure it seemed like the obvious solution was to combine his work with the kernel Linus had written to create a full operating system. This combination became known as GNU/Linux. Purists insist that Linux always be referred to as GNU/Linux (in fact Richard Stallman refuses to give press interviews to any publication which fails to refer to Linux as GNU/Linux). This is not unreasonable given that the GNU tools developed by the Free Software Foundation make up a significant and vital part of GNU/Linux. Unfortunately, most people and publications simply refer to Linux as Linux and this will probably always continue to be the case.

The History of Ubuntu

As mentioned previously, Ubuntu is one of a number of Linux distributions. The source code that makes up the Ubuntu distribution originates from another, much older Linux distribution known as Debian (so called because it was started by two people named Debra and Ian). Debian is still a widely respected operating system but came under criticism for infrequent updates and less than user friendly installation and maintenance (though these areas have shown improvement recently).

A South African internet mogul (who made his fortune selling his company to VeriSign for around $500 million) decided it was time for a more user friendly Linux. He took the Debian distribution and worked to make it a more human friendly distribution which he called Ubuntu. He subsequently formed a company called Canonical Ltd to promote and provide support for Ubuntu. In addition Shuttleworth has formed and funded (to the tune of $10 million) a foundation to guarantee the future of Ubuntu.

The rest, as they say, is history. Ubuntu has since gone from strength to strength. Dell and other hardware vendors now ship computers pre-loaded with Ubuntu and Ubuntu usually tops the chart at (a web site that tracks the popularity of the various Linux distributions).

If you are new to Linux, or already use Linux and want to try a different Linux distro it is unlikely you will find a better option than Ubuntu.
[edit] What does the word "Ubuntu" Mean?

The word "Ubuntu" is an ancient Zulu and Xhosa word that means "humanity to others". Ubuntu also means "I am what I am because of who we all are". It was chosen because these sentiments precisely describe the spirit of the Ubuntu distribution.



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