Linux is, in simplest terms, an operating system. It is the software on a computer that enables applications and the computer operator to access the devices on the computer to perform desired functions. The operating system (OS) relays instructions from an application to, for instance, the computer's processor. The processor performs the instructed task, then sends the results back to the application via the operating system.
Explained in these terms, Linux is very similar to other operating systems, such as Windows and OS X.
But something sets Linux apart from these operating systems. The Linux operating system represented a $25 billion ecosystem in 2008. Since its inception in 1991, Linux has grown to become a force in computing, powering everything from the New York Stock Exchange to mobile phones to supercomputers to consumer devices.
As an open operating system, Linux is developed collaboratively, meaning no one company is solely responsible for its development or ongoing support. Companies participating in the Linux economy share research and development costs with their partners and competitors. This spreading of development burden amongst individuals and companies has resulted in a large and efficient ecosystem and unheralded software innovation.
Over 1,000 developers, from at least 100 different companies, contribute to every kernel release. In the past two years alone, over 3,200 developers from 200 companies have contributed to the kernel--which is just one small piece of a Linux distribution.
This article will explore the various components of the Linux operating system, how they are created and work together, the communities of Linux, and Linux's incredible impact on the IT ecosystem.
Where is Linux?
One of the most noted properties of Linux is where it can be used. Windows and OS X are predominantly found on personal computing devices such as desktop and laptop computers. Other operating systems, such as Symbian, are found on small devices such as phones and PDAs, while mainframes and supercomputers found in major academic and corporate labs use specialized operating systems such as AS/400 and the Cray OS.
Linux, which began its existence as a server OS and Has become useful as a desktop OS, can also be used on all of these devices. “From wristwatches to supercomputers,” is the popular description of Linux' capabilities.
The Future of Linux
Linux is already successful on many different kinds of devices, but there are also many technological areas where Linux is moving towards, even as desktop and server development continues to grow faster than any other operating system today.
Linux is being installed on the system BIOS of laptop and notebook computers, which will enable users to turn their devices on in a matter of seconds, bringing up a streamlined Linux environment. This environment will have Internet connectivity tools such as a web browser and an e-mail client, allowing users to work on the Internet without having to boot all the way into their device's primary operating system--even if that operating system is Windows.
At the same time, Linux is showing up on mobile Internet devices (MIDs). This includes embedded devices such as smartphones and PDAs, as well as netbook devices--small laptop-type machines that feature the core functionality of their larger counterparts in a smaller, more energy-efficient package.
The growth of cloud computing is a natural fit for Linux, which already runs many of the Internet's web servers. Linux enables cloud services such as Amazon's A3 to work with superior capability to deliver online applications and information to users.
Related to Linux' growth in cloud computing is the well-known success of Linux on supercomputers, both in the high-performance computing (HPC) and high-availability (HA) areas, where academic research in physics and bioengineering, and firms in the financial and energy industries need reliable and scalable computing power to accomplish their goals.
Many of the popular Web 2.0 services on the Internet, such as Twitter, Linked In, YouTube, and Google all rely on Linux as their operating system. As new web services arrive in the future, Linux will increasingly be the platform that drives these new technologies.