What is Linux all about?

Many people know of, or have at least heard of, Unix. Unix is both one of the oldest and one of the most powerful operating systems available today. "How can Unix be old and yet powerful by today's standards?", you ask. The answer to this question lies in the history of Unix; Unix is a sort of subset of a much larger and more complex operating system called Multics. Both Unix and Multics were developed decades ago for very large computers; only now, decades later are personal computers finally powerful enough to tackle these multitasking, multiuser systems with advanced features. Getting back to the crux of our first fact, Linux looks like Unix. Linux is not officially Unix simply because it wasn't written by the same programmers as was the original Unix system. However, Linux runs Unix programs and shares the Unix command set. Linux is, for all general intents and purposes, a full-featured Unix-type operating system.

Linux, that is, an entire Linux installation, can be as large as 300 Megabytes before installation, in compressed form. An entire Linux distribution can contain tens of thousands of separate files which oversee and control various parts of the system, provide various kinds of program or application functionality, and outline the data structure of the environment. Because of this complexity, it is imperative that prospective Linux users be able to read and to effectively use the Internet and usenet (newsgroups). Installing Linux is not a simple process, and new users will, in all likelihood, need to consult the Linux newsgroups (such as comp.os.linux.setup or comp.os.linux.help) often.

Even after installation, you must not expect a miracle. Do not believe that you are some sort of computer guru who just doesn't know Unix yet. You aren't. These may seem like harsh words to you, but far too many users with little or no Unix experience feel that they can jump in and crack Linux in ten minutes simply because they have been using MS-DOS, OS/2, Windows 95, or (listen up, you nerds) Windows NT for years. These other operating systems do not provide any meaningful background for Unix use. Unix is a much larger and more involved system than any of these, with a completely new (and extremely large) set of commands. You will require a Unix reference book (of several hundred pages, at least), no matter how smart you think yourself to be. Luckily, these are available at many public libraries, and almost always apply to Linux.

The philosophy behind most other modern operating systems (Windows, OS/2, etc.) says that the system should take control whenever it can, hiding the complex "internal workings" of the system from the user and preventing undue complexity. Unfortunately, simple systems can only provide correspondingly simple functionality. In short, there are a limited number of things which you are allowed to do, and there is no way to change things which are part of "the system". The user must simply adapt to the computer.

Linux and Unix, however, are different. You must master the computer, and the computer must adapt to service your needs. You become the system administrator, and Linux assumes that you know what you are doing.

This kind of flexibility is very, very powerful; you'll have no idea just how powerful it can be until you've used and mastered a system of this kind effectively. However, if you tell Linux to erase your hard drive, Linux will do it; this functionality is not hidden from the computer's owner, and Linux will not ask you to reconsider your rash decision. You are the boss, and you gave the command.
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