Questions and Answers About the Linux Operating System

By Andrea Tessi

The purpose of this article is to give answers to some basic questions common people may have about Linux. Linux is a free operating system whose popularity is increasing day by day and passed from being the toy of a small geek group to a robust and mature piece of code so much as to start challenging Microsoft Windows leadership.

Q. What is exactly Linux?
A. Actually three different things yet belonging to the same environment are named Linux. Originally it was used to name the kernel of the Linux Operating System (whose complete name should be hence “GNU Linux”) and eventually it was used to simply refer to the Linux Operating System. Finally, a lot of application software was added both by spontaneous programming groups and by software companies, creating software collections also known as distributions. So nowadays the name Linux is used for three different things: the kernel, the operating system and the distribution.

Q. Who created Linux?
A. The author of the Linux kernel is basically Linus Torvalds, a finnish computer science expert who developed it as an experiment during his university career. Later, a team of volunteers helped him improving and enhancing it.

Q. Are Unix and Linux the same thing?
A. No, though Linux has been written from the Unix code. Anyway, it is so similar to the operating system family known as “Unix” to the point that experts use to refer to Linux as “Unix like”

Q. How much does it cost?
A. Linux is free and it comes with a licence known as “GNU GPL”, which grants free use, free access to the source code (Linux distributions often come with both binaries and the source code), freedom to copy, modify and distribute it.

Q. Are there many people using Linux?
A. Nowadays Linux is becoming very popular. There are many people that neither are geeks nor computer experts turning to Linux every day. During the last 5 years Linux evolved to become very user friendly, and for some tasks even more than Microsoft Windows.

Q. Can I run a Windows program on Linux?
A. Basically no. Linux and Windows are so different that a program written and compiled for Windows won’t run on Linux and vice versa. An exception may be done for Java programs, provided that the Java Virtual Machine is installed in the system. However, a few developer groups and software companies are committed in developing emulators that make possible, under certain circumstances, to run some Windows programs on Linux.

Q. Are there programs for linux similar to those running on windows?
A. Yes. For the most common tasks we can say that every Windows program has its free equivalent on Linux. In many cases Linux offers more than one alternative. The most famous are Firefox for internet surfing, Open Office for office automation (wordprocessing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, html pages, database and more), Evolution as an e-mail client, The Gimp for photo and image manipulation.

Q. Can I run Microsoft Office on linux?
A. No. Microsoft announced that they will never port (i.e. make it compatible) Microsoft Office to Linux. However, it is possible to run the original code (with some limitations, I guess) using a Windows emulator.

Q. Is Linux easy to learn?
A. Linux has become very user friendly nowadays. For a normal user the learning curve is not steeper then for learning Windows or MacOs.

These are some basic answers to questions people ask me when I tell them I use Linux. It still seems strange to most of them that somebody nowadays can use an operating system that neither is Windows nor MacOs.

Andrea is a software developer and writes articles online about computers, software and other interesting topics. Come to visit his new website that helps people find the best cappuccino machine and discusses the 10 top selling cappuccino machines available in the market.