What is Linux?

This is the beginning of my Linux for beginners series. In it , I try to give a high level answer to the question, "What is Linux?"

What is Linux?

Video Script (actual video may vary slightly where I ad-libbed)

“What is Linux?” a friend asked as we were driving back from jiu jitsu. While I gave them an answer, this got me to thinking about this video. How do I answer the question for someone that is interested in learning more about Linux, but isn’t familiar with it?

Let’s answer the initial question then dig a little deeper into some of what it means

Linux most often refers to an alternate operating system, which means you can use it in place of Windows or Mac. It is released in different flavors or distributions, often shortened to distros, we will touch more on distros in another video. Linux is free to use, high customizable, and open source

One key word in that sentence you may not be familiar with is open source. What is open source?

We will touch more on what this means in a practical sense later in this series. But one of the key defining factors of open source software is that the source code is freely available to be inspected and modified.

How did we get Linux?

Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux.
Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux.

So another question you may have is: How did we get Linux, where did it come from?

  • Linus, no not that Linus, Linus Torvalds made a Usenet post on August 26th 1991
  • https://groups.google.com/g/comp.os.minix/c/dlNtH7RRrGA/m/SwRavCzVE7gJ
  • As you can see by a few parts I’ve highlighted above, Linus had no idea what Linux would become.
  • As a side note, if you think you’ve heard the name Linus Torvalds before, he not only created Linux, he also created Git, no, that’s not Github
  • So Linux is started in 1991, to put this in perspective, Windows 3.0 launched that year, while Macintosh computer’s were running System 7, which also launched that year.
  • I would start using computers a few years later with Windows 3.1, just a bit before Windows 95 came out.

Linux isn't Linux?

So I’ve been keeping a secret here so far, Linux Isn’t Linux?

  • Well more precisely, a Linux distribution contains more than just Linux. As an OS Linux is made up of multiple parts, two of the big ones are the Linux Kernel and GNU.
  • GNU stands for GNU’s Not Unix. GNU is part of the actual operating system component of a Linux distribution.
  • Meanwhile the Linux Kernel contains things like drivers and ends up connecting everything together.
  • Due to this, you'll see some people (or even dstros) say GNU/Linux and sometimes you’ll see this meme comment:
  • https://stallman-copypasta.github.io/
  • I understand the argument being made, but for the most part, I find this just confuses people.

How difficult is it to install Linux?

We will go over the full process in a future video, but it’s actually very simple. All you need is a USB drive and a machine you want to use. It generally only takes 5 to 10 minutes, maybe 15 if it needs to download more apps to complete the install process.

Where is Linux used?

Linux is used in a lot more places than you think:

  • Standard computers - the PC I’m using to record this right now is running an offshoot of Fedora which is a Linux distribution
  • Single Board computers like the raspberry pi and many other SBCs are running a version of Linux
  • There are developers out there working to create versions of Linux that can run on Tablets and Cell Phones. Android even has some roots with the Linux kernel.
  • Appliances and other stand alone systems like Point of Sale and kiosks often run Linux
  • The vast majority of the internet is running on Linux


Linux is a complex topic with many areas to explore. If you want to know more about getting started with Linux, be sure to subscribe to the channel. I plan to keep adding to the Linux for Beginners series and try to answer some questions like: Why use Linux? What is the difference between Windows, Mac and Linux As well as other common questions people may have. Have questions you think this series should address? Sound off in the comments below