What Is This Thing Called Linux?

It should come as no surprise that we at Hackaday love Linux above all others (that should start a nice little flamewar on the internal email list). If you still haven’t given it a whirl yet, don’t fear. Everyone starts from scratch at some point. With each passing year it becomes more and more likely that knowing something about Linux will eventually benefit every hardware hacker. Take part of your time off in the coming weeks to give it a whirl. First thing’s first, check out this quick guide on what Linux actually is.

Adafruit’s offering is pretty low level, so if you’re the kind that likes to argue “kernel” versus “OS” please keep it to yourself. For us the important distinction pointed out here is microcontroller (Arduino) versus Raspberry Pi. The Pi generally runs one flavor or another of Linux for good reasons, while microcontroller-driven systems tend to run use-specific code (with the exception of projects that leverage Real Time Operating Systems). Of course it extends past pre-fab options, Linux is a popular choice on bare-bones roll-your-own machines.

This is the year of Linux! Ha, we’ve heard that one every year for at least a decade. To us it makes no difference, you should know a bit about each OS out there. What are you waiting for? Read the guide then download (for free!) a CD image of our current favorite Linux flavor.

33 thoughts on “What Is This Thing Called Linux?

    1. Netrunner seems to have two different versions with different upstream distros. I can’t see that working well for stability…
      I’ve been using Sabayon for the last year or two, and KDE works great under it. (It’s a bit more bleeding edge than Mint, but not as much as say, Arch)

      1. Mint has two versions as well and it seems to be working just fine for them. I don’t know if the long-term plan is to quit generic Mint altogether and switch all development over to LMDE, but I doubt it as they seem to be developing standard Mint with enthusiasm.

  1. Ladies and gentlemen, is it any surprise that this is what you get with Christmas morning H-a-D?

    Now quit being coy gentlemen, we all know Darwin is the natural choice for a Unix clone, it even has a graphical front end on it that all the newbies like (if they can afford it).

  2. I’ve been using Linux Mint for years and I love it. I switched from Ubuntu when they went to Unity. I try to expose others to Linux whenever possible. The majority of people don’t even know there is anything other than windows (and by ‘majority of people’ I just mean the ones who come to me for help with their computer). I succesfully converted 1 over to linux full time. She’s been very happy with it. I only had to intervene once for support (printer drivers). Other than that, she upgraded through several versions, and applied many updates on her own.

    1. I personally gave up on converting people, because that just gives me extra work. If they have not seen the light already, and are unwilling to learn, let them take whatever MS and Apple cook for them: New GUI that is better suited for 4yr old kids? Take it. Krap support for internationalization after decades? Take it. Paywalled glass garden? Take it. Linux had its bad days, but at least you can chose alt. distro if you don’t like Gnome 3 for example. Tough luck choosing different GUI for MS and Apple. I initially used Mandrake, switched to Debian latter, switched to Lubuntu after Debian 7 printer+etc debacle, and also use Mint on other computer. If Linux went to hell today, I’d rather chose BSD than go back to Windows, which, to be usable, requires you to buy (or steal) thousand of dollars worth of software. Long live Kernighan, Ritchie, Thompson, Stallman,Torvalds, legion of others, and freedom.

      1. Yeah converting people is pretty pointless. I’ve even tried setting up a linux vm for people to do their browsing in to help avoid spyware and they still insist on using IE and running random shit.
        Regarding cost and walled gardens I don’t think thats completely true anymore for microsoft http://www.hanselman.com/blog/OmniSharpMakingCrossplatformNETARealityAndAPleasure.aspx

        Personally I stopped really caring that much about my OS I try to stick to software that’s platform agnostic and use whatever system is handy at the time.

      2. Oh man..You’re trying so hard, but instead of defending Linux you’re actually making it look bad.
        Converting people gives you more work? Maybe because you’re trying to convert them to an OS that is not ready for normal people and requires a lot of hand-holding? You switched multiple times.. may be because a lot of distros suck?
        Some people don’t enjoy “choosing an OS” they don’t even care about what OS is. They just need stuff done. Docs written, music recorded, images photoshopped. They NEED Apple and MS to “cook” things for them so they can spend their time somewhere else.
        It is always like that with any type of product – some provide flexibility for the user to shape the product to their liking, while others provide a “complete solution” where everything has been though through for you already and you just take it and use it. Both have the right to exist, and arguably the latter would always have more fans (unless “shaping the product” is not its only purpose).
        So enough of that Linux>MacOS>MS stuff, it’s so silly and childish. To each its own.

        1. I switched because certain distros stopped supporting certain hardware, or thought that like MS and Apple, they can just force the user into certain compromises. A lot of distros suck for precisely that reason – changing things just for the sake of change, which breaks a lot of things. Debian 6 dropped support for my video card, 7 messed up printers, etc. Why? Apple and MS disease of unwanted change.

          As you pointed out, most people just want something that works, and don’t care or can’t be bothered to find out whether their PC is full of viruses, whether they are on someone zombie network etc. Right to be owned and spied on, and right to pay for that in $. Or steal software. Let them have it.

          Thing that I like more and more about Unix in general as time goes on is consistency in (older) programming languages. If you programmed in C in 1980, your code is mostly the same today. If you followed MS or worse Apple bandwagon, by now you probably changed your code base X times. Let’s see: MS Basic, GW Basic, QuickC, QBasic, VBasic, VisualC, NET… I’m a bit unfamiliar with Apple, but I know that program written for OS 9 in C that was used in 1 lab at work, does not run on OS 10. System had to be replaced at great cost in time and money, because Apple dropped the ball on OS 9 support. Professionalism? Most MSDOS based stuff still works, amazingly.

          With Linux nowadays, many people and distros can drop the ball, yet others will continue where they bombed out. And as you said, to each his own.

  3. Sorry, but even though I disagree in principle with Richard M. Stallman about the semantics, I will have to say that calling Linux an “Operating System” isn’t correct, since a usable system requires much more than just the kernel. That’s what Linus wrote starting back in 1991, and that’s all he focuses on.

    1. Linux kernel + userland utilities = OS, people mean the combination when they say Linux. It really is semantics, so I’m not sure how you disagree with Stallman but then make the exact same complaint. Stallman, who needs to give it a res, wants it called GNU/Linux to make that distinction, but people want a word that’s easy to say, and 5 syllables isn’t going to win out against 2.

        1. Android _is_ Linux. It’s just a different distro. Hell, especially when you’re able to chroot jail a full ubuntu installation alongside your running Android installation all sharing the same kernel.

          1. No. It’s based on linux, it is certainly different. If for no other reason than to differentiate between corporate spyware and a free OS, please do not call it linux. It isn’t, any more than OSX is Darwin.

            A lot of the guts are the same.

  4. At some point you just have to accept that people use what they use and thats that. Debating the pros/cons may be fun but same as other topics ultimately pointless as both sides go in with the preconception they won’t change under any conditions. As for trying th inform the masses that is a pointless task as most os’s these days are only used as glorified twitter / social media / web browsers and (by that definition all are equal).

    Nice write up hope more people do try it if not for any other reason then cos will do.

  5. I’m against anything that abstracts to the point of obfuscation.
    Clean clear open source code helps keep everything transparent and promotes better understanding and growth.
    That said, why am I suddenly hungry for crab???

  6. Well the biggest problem with all these Linux distros you get is that you always come across permission problems . Thats the hardest thing to learn .
    So I recommend Puppy Linux because you are Root , You are the boss. You decide what will run and what will not (Nothing can execute on your machine unless you change the permissions to allow it to do so).
    I have no spy ware destructive stuff coming down onto my machine because it is not worth their time to make them work on Linux.. Get smart .learn it once and save years of wasted time with Microsoft doing whatever it wants and make your machine do only what you want.
    With Puppy it fits on a small USB stick and if you much it up you just make yourself a new copy and have another go.

    1. It must have been a while since you last ran a major distro. For security the first rule is always don’t run as root. Run a program as sudo when you require administration powers, but most of the time this isn’t even needed. If requiring administrator privileges, 99.9% of the time it will automatically realize this, prompt for a password and it all works. If all else fails there’s always the sudo command.

      Puppy linux? seriously, it’s what you recommend? If anyone is going to try a distro, try linux mint, or ubuntu.

    1. Luckly many comments allready clarified that such distinctions are superfluous.
      Only if linux people stop over what a freaking OS is called and start caring how to make it work, will it actually have a chance in the wider market.

  7. Linux is NOT an OS. It’s a kernel. The rest of the OS, or at least a significant majority of it, is GNU. You can run GNU as an OS with different, non-Linux kernels, but you can’t run Linux as an OS without GNU.

      1. You miss the point – this article is supposed to be educational. Just because everyone is incorrect doesn’t mean that sources that purport to teach should also be incorrect.

    1. Frankly my dear, I do not give a fuck. If I need to explain the virtues of gnu/foss/linux/systemd/amp/os whatever to somebody who needs it for the strengths that regular distro’s gladly supply, I’ll simply call it Linux..

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