Welcome to the Linux universe, one and all! Welcome also to this, the second edition of MOVING TO LINUX: KISS THE BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH GOODBYE!
Trying to pin down when something finally hits the mainstream is a crazy kind of game, fraught with danger. Linux has definitely hit the proverbial mainstream, and I'll explain shortly how I came to that conclusion. These days, the first question I get from people is no longer "What is Linux?" but, rather, "What do I have to do to get Linux on my system?" You can finally buy PCs with Linux preinstalled from Wal-Mart. The big names HP, IBM, and Dell all offer systems with Linux, and yet there is a better marker out there. Recently, my game-crazy 13-year-old nephew Paul asked me to switch his Windows XP system over to Linux. I, of course, happily did just that. While the infamous Blue Screen of the title is less of a problem in later Windows incarnations, viruses and spyware abound, thereby making Linux an intelligent choice, even for a 13-year-old gamer.
For those who may nevertheless want some clarification, Linux is a fully multitasking operating system based on UNIX, although, technically, Linux is the kernel, the master program that makes running a Linux system possible. That kernel, by the way, was written by a young Finnish student named Linus Torvalds. On August 25, 1991, Torvalds posted this now-famous (perhaps legendary) message to the Usenet group comp.os.minix:
Much has happened since then. Linus somehow captured the imagination of scores of talented programmers around the world. Joined together through the magic of the Internet, they collaborated, coded, tweaked, and gave birth to the operating system that is now revolutionizing the world of computing.
These days, Linux is a powerful, reliable (rock-solid, in fact), expandable, flexible, configurable, multiuser, multitasking, and completely free operating system that runs on many different platforms. These include Intel PCs, DEC Alphas, Macintosh systems, PowerPCs, and a growing number of embedded processors. You can find Linux in PDA organizers, digital watches, golf carts, and cell phones. In fact, Linux has a greater support base (in terms of platforms) than any other operating system in the world.
What we call the Linux operating system is not the work of just one man alone. Linus Torvalds is the original architect of Linux its father, if you will but his is not the only effort behind it. Perhaps Linus Torvalds' greatest genius lay in knowing when to share the load. For no other pay but satisfaction, he employed people around the world, delegated to them, worked with them, and asked for and accepted feedback in a next generation of the model that began with the GNU project.
GNU, by the way, is a recursive acronym that stands for "GNUs not UNIX," a project of the Free Software Foundation. This project was started in 1984 with the intention of creating a free, UNIX-like operating system. Over the years, many GNU tools were written and widely used by many commercial UNIX vendors and, of course, system administrators trying to get a job done. The appearance of Linus Torvalds' Linux kernel has made the GNU dream of a completely free, UNIX-like operating system a reality at last.