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Linux is an operating system, just as Microsoft Windows or Apple’s MacOS are operating systems. Operating systems are the software that control the operation of a computer and provide a consistent interface, or API, that programs use to access the features and functionality of the operating system and computer.
Linux was actually written from scratch, originally by Linus Torvalds. It was modeled extremely closely after the Unix operating system, a proprietary system developed by Bell Labs. Linux is free and open source software.
There is no “generic” Linux; rather, it’s made available via various “distributions,” each tailored to meet specific criteria. Each distribution is Linux, but they are not necessarily binary compatible with each other (i.e. programs that run on one distribution may or may not run on another), and often differ greatly in the user interface and software selection presented to the user.
Popular distributions include Ubuntu (which itself is based on the Debian distribution,) Mint, Fedora, openSUSE, and more. Puppy Linux is an example of a distribution specifically designed to minimize system requirements. Even the Android OS used in many phones and tablets is based on Linux.« Back to Glossary Index