The Third OS: Linux

by Kaleb Lyonnais

One of the most ubiquitous debates about modern technology is which operating system is best. For the average person, the two contenders are Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s macOS (formerly known as OS X). However, there are more options available than these two. The most prevalent third choice is GNU/Linux.

Operating systems manage the computer for the user. They organize files, partition resources, and run programs. The most fundamental part of an operating system is the kernel, which handles something most users take for granted. The kernel enables their computer to be a functional computer, as opposed to well-ordered, inert pieces of silicon.

Linux is a kernel invented by Finish programmer Linus Torvalds in 1991. As a kernel, Linux can make a computer functional, but is not a complete operating system. Many people and organizations have built upon the Linux kernel, developing complete operating systems called Linux distributions or distros.

The most popular Linux distros today include: Ubuntu, which has a setup similar to Windows 7; Debian, which is used in servers; and Gentoo, which allows users to customize everything (more accurately, it waits for the user to customize everything; there are very few default settings). There are a multitude of other distros, ranging from the bare-bones, where everything has to be done manually, to the complex, where everything is automated.

One of the main advantages of Linux is that it is free. Linus Torvalds owns the copyright to the Linux kernel, but purposefully does not enforce it. Many of the distros, including Ubuntu, Debian, and Gentoo, are all available for no charge. They can be downloaded from the Internet and installed on almost any computer (although some computers are uncooperative while doing this).

Another advantage is that Linux is directly controlled by the user. All settings can be changed; if the user does not like, for example, their desktop environment, they can switch it for a different one. Users can also access all of the code of their software; if they know how to code, they can reprogram anything.

A few ‘distros’ are not free, or completely-customizable, but these are not usually called Linux distros. These include Android, the Play Station OS, and lots of special-purpose operating systems. Generally, any computer, that is not Microsoft or Apple, has its OS built on the Linux kernel.

The reason Linux (excluding Android) is not popular for general use is that, because it is free, the people who develop its various distros have no money to advertise it. Also, the more advanced (that is, less automated) distros require knowledge of coding, which is a deterrent to the average consumer.

Linux, in its free distros, is completely controllable for users with coding experience or the ability to learn coding. For many people it would not be worth the effort, but for many other people it could be exactly what they need. People should at least keep Linux in mind when choosing an OS.

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