What is Linux?

Linux is a completely free re-implementation of the Unix operating system. Like Unix, Linux is a robust multi-tasking, multi-user, networked operating system that boasts a long list of standard features. Linux fully supports both 32 and 64-bit platforms, multiple CPUs and high performance networking and other peripherals.


Most vendors today support a variety of standards. But do they really try to make software work as well as possible? Linux conforms to the X/Open and POSIX standards for Unix-like operating systems and comes configured with an extensive array of system utilities and general software, if the user chooses to install them (unlike Solaris, SCO or OSF/1). Programs intended for the SCO and SVR4 Unix systems will run unaltered, for example Corel Draw! for SCO, or the Dataflex database system. The DOS emulator will run Lotus 1-2-3 and Wordperfect 6. The X Window System is a complete implementation, able to utilise the huge library of existing X applications.


As is expected of today's Unix systems, one of Linux's greatest strengths is its advanced modular networking capabilities. Linux is developed as a collaborative effort of the Internet, so it is not suprising that its support for Internet-standard networking is as good - or better - than anything else around. Linux supports Internet TCP/IP via ethernet, fast ethernet, ATM (real soon now), modems, packet radio X.25, ISDN, token ring, or even just a modified printer cable. As a World Wide Web server or client, Linux is capable of outperforming most single and multi processor Windows NT, Novell and Unix systems on the same hardware. Linux has been chosen by large Internet service providers, by University computing labs, by geographic survey teams in the Antartic - people who need reliable network performance under severe conditions.

Support readily exists for all the standard networking services you know and love. Services such as ftp, telnet, email, gopher, WWW, WAIS, DCE/DFS, network news, talk, pop, finger, ntp, irc, NFS, DNS, NIS, SNMP, Kerberos and much more. Linux is capable of acting as both a client and a server for each of these services and has already been widely deployed in both roles with all of these services.

Linux fits seamlessly into local area networks. Macintoshes and DOS/Windows PCs work best when using their native networking formats. Linux can oblige, whether it be NetBIOS or AppleTalk, System 7, OS/2, Windows for Workgroups and Windows 95. These clients can all share the same files and printers on a Linux machine, all in 16MB or less memory than an equivalent Windows NT Server, with full source code available.

The Future

In a period of less than three years, Linux has become a hugely popular phenomenon, and its capabilities increase by the month. Few version 1.0 operating systems have had the testing and success that Linux has had, but what next? Some existing projects are pointing the way: Linux is already working on 680x0 machines such as the Amiga, and is in early stages on the DEC Alpha, the PowerPC, and MIPS platforms. A lot of work has been done on making the kernel multithreaded. Novell networking is expected to be fully released within a few months. The language-independent modules of Linux are also being improved. General utilities are in a constant state of development.

Linus Torvalds, the original and still central architect of Linux, has said that version 2.0 of Linux will be the first official and full release of a cross-platform, 64-bit kernel. It might have multithreading. It will certainly have better networking. Based on the performance to date, you can expect to get more than what is promised, not less. And all for free!

Copyright Status

The Linux kernel is copyrighted by Linus B. Torvalds (Linus.Torvalds@helsinki.fi) and many other contributors. It has been licensed to users under the terms of the GNU Public License (GPL). The GPL maintains that the software can be freely redistributed provided that the source code for the software is readily available. A copy of the GPL can be obtained via ftp from *prep.ai.mit.edu in the file */pub/gnu/COPYING. While Linux itself is freely available, software developed using Linux is independent of Linux's licensing terms (but a lot of software is available under the terms of the GPL). Linux's GPL'ed status does not affect the copyright or licensing status of third-party software.

Linux - does your operating system work as well?

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Last modified May 11, 1996. Maintained by *Martin Michlmayr <tbm@cyrius.com>.