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What is Linux?

One term that a web master may see when researching web hosting companies is that the server uses the Linux operating system. This may be unfamiliar to those new to web hosting, and so a brief explanation may be needed.

Linux was created by Linus Torvalds in 1991, while studying at the University of Helsinki, Finland, as a hobby. Although originally intended as nothing more than a way for Torvalds to use his new Intel 80386-based computer, he decided to release the source code under an open license, allowing anyone that wished to contribute to its development. This freedom allowed many developers to extend the capabilities of Linux. Version 0.01 was the first version released, and the latest current version is 2.6.23.16.

Linux was originally issued under Torvalds own license, but he decided in 1992 to switch to the GNU General Public License. This allowed developers to use pre-existing code from the GNU library to extend the capabilities of Linux. Although considered to be free software, the terms of license do allow developers to charge for copies of the Linux operating system, as long as the source code is issued with it. Today, Linux is available from many sources, ranging from the commercial distributions from companies such as RedHat and SUSE to free distributions available from Debian and Gentoo. Linux is able to run on almost all computer platforms, and this portability has enhanced its appeal to the computing community.

Linux today is used in many ways. Although it is possible to use Linux as an operating system for a desk-top computer, this is still relatively uncommon. However, more and more people are adopting Linux in preference to Windows. Linux is far more common in the commercial field, being used not only in most of the world's supercomputers but also, in a modified form, in devices ranging from mobile phones to the TiVo digital video recorder. It is also an option available for the Sony Playstation 3.

However, by far the most common use of Linux has been as a server operating system. Typically Linux is used as part of the so-called LAMP software bundle. LAMP comes from the initials of the software making up the bundle, i.e. Linux, Apache (web server software), MySQL (database software) and PHP (a programming language). One thing that all of these programs have in common is that they are all available as open-source software. This means that they are available at a relatively low cost, or even at no charge, making the combination very attractive to web hosting companies.

Linux is seen as a stable low-cost alternative to using either Windows or UNIX. It is also considered to be more secure than Windows, although that is arguable. Because of this, Linux is the operating system of choice for most web hosting companies, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

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