What is Linux?

Linux is an operating system, a set of instructions that allows computer programs to interact with and access hardware on your computer. You probably have used other operating systems such as Microsoft Windows or Apple OS X on computers in the past. Those operating systems are written in private by software developers, who are creating these products to align with their companies' priorities.

Linux, on the other hand, is written by thousands of people in a collaborative and completely transparent way that allows anyone to observe or participate. Linux is an example of free and open source software, or FOSS.

If you've used software like Mozilla's Firefox web browser, you've used FOSS. Linux in the general sense is an entire set of software for your computer that lets you do useful things without being bound to commercial interests. There is great Linux software available not just for web browsing, but for accessing your email, creating professional office-type documents, working with digital media like photos and music, and chatting with friends and coworkers. That's only a small fraction of what Linux can do.

Linux also allows you to use older hardware for longer, and saves on power usage, and can give old computers new life -- thus making it environmentally friendly too. If you are a technical hobbyist you can even get involved in the creation of the programs you enjoy using.

Think of Linux and FOSS like recipes for cooking. People who like to cook also like to come up with yummy recipes. And they almost always like to share them with family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. They share their recipes partly out of a sense of pride in their accomplishment, but also to spread the joy of eating good food.

If you are a good cook, or even professionally trained (a chef), you can make money from good recipes. You don’t have to write every recipe yourself, but you do have to be good at preparing them. Many chefs share their recipes with the cooking world, and don’t restrict those dishes just to those who live nearby or visit their restaurants. Chefs appreciate that if it weren’t for people sharing recipes, they’d probably never have been able to succeed in their field to begin with.

Computer software is like recipes – sets of instructions for doing something useful, like making blueberry cobbler, or managing a photo library. The people who make software enjoy doing it, just like cooks love making food. Being able to share the results is part of the joy of doing it. If you’re good at doing it, it’s easy to sell the results, or get a job doing it for a living. You’re free to share a good blueberry cobbler recipe with your Aunt Betty, even if you have a bakery business! That’s the way that Linux works, and why it works so well.

The Fredericksburg Linux Users Group is dedicated to the use, promotion, and exploration of Linux technology in every form, from home computer use to small, medium, and large business deployments. We would love to have you join us at an upcoming meeting, or in a discussion online.