What is Linux?

If someone asked you to describe Linux, what would you say? If you're pedantic, perhaps you'd say, "Linux is an operating system kernel." If you're practical, maybe you'd explain, "Linux is an operating system where you can inspect and change any of the components." Or, if you're evangelical, perhaps you'd proffer, "It's like Windows, only there's no blue screen of death, and it's free!"

If someone asked you to describe Linux, what would you say? If you’re pedantic, perhaps you’d say, “Linux is an operating system kernel.” If you’re practical, maybe you’d explain, “Linux is an operating system where you can inspect and change any of the components.” Or, if you’re evangelical, perhaps you’d proffer, “It’s like Windows, only there’s no blue screen of death, and it’s free!”

While all of those denotations are certainly correct, none really capture nor convey the essence of “Linux.” To you and me, “Linux” implicitly and instantly connotes everything from Linus Torvalds to Slashdot to the SCO debacle to the meritocracy of the kernel development team. Of course, you and I also use “Linux” as shorthand for the deployment of a wide variety of open source technologies. The statement, “We run Linux,” generally implies the adoption of Linux and a host of complementary open source software, such as Apache, MySQL, and PHP (the AMP in LAMP).

Certainly, it’s great to see “Linux” spread, especially into enterprises and onto the desktop. However, Linux, the operating system, is only one chapter in the ongoing success story of Open Source. After all, each of the technologies in AMP (among many others) can stand alone, and end-users and commercial sites already combine Windows, Unix, and Mac OS X with open software.

For example, PHP is eminently popular for Web development; PostgreSQL and MySQL dog Oracle; and Apache powers most of the Web. Yes, often those technologies are hosted on Linux, but they don’t have to be.

True to the spirit of Open Source, no one’s locked in to an “all (Linux) or nothing” solution.

And that’s as it should be. Mix Windows with Perl? Solaris with JBoss? Samba on Mac OS X? Go right ahead. Perhaps the Open Source mantra should be “Free as in beer. Free as in speech. Free as in choice.”

Do I think “Linux” is the way to go? Absolutely. No question. Indeed, at the end of 2003, no facet or practical application of computing remains unaffected by it. I merely point out that revolutions come in all shapes and sizes — and in many kinds of programming languages — and sometimes, one module at a time.

Switching from my priestly collar to my blue collar, some changes are afoot here at Linux Magazine.

Welcome to two new Linux Magazine columnists. Ethan McCallum is our new “Compile Time” columnist, and Jeremy Garcia has taken over “Tech Support.”

Welcome back to longtime Linux Magazine contributor Jason Perlow. Jason rejoins to scribe “The Hard Way,” a new column focused on hardware, starting shortly.

And starting next issue, Jason Gilmore and Jon Shoberg present a new, semi-regular column called “Out in the Open” that I hope you’ll enjoy. If you’ve ever wondered how Open Source is used in the “real world,” Jason and Jon have some illuminating answers.

Of course, Randal continues to muster mind-bending Perl magic; Steven is here with an opinion (or three); and Jerry, Rod, Forrest, Zonker, and Jeremy are on-hand to share their hard-earned expertise.

I’m anxious to hear your feedback on the new columns, and am always interested in your opinions, comments, and ideas. Thanks in advance for writing. And thanks for reading.


Martin Streicher, Editor

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