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The President's Message

March 2020

by Ed Lynch

Established 1987

A computer works because of an “operating system.” Operating systems are low level code that takes code from a program and interprets it to perform all the processes the program code requires that involve access to the mother board, processor, storage devices, printing devices, and display devices.

As computer users we experience operating systems on desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. We don’t pay too much attention because they do their job so well. It wasn’t always so.

When computers were only lab devices, scientists and engineers coded their own operating systems that were primarily specific to the hardware they were building. One of the more widely used OSs came out of the AT&T Bell Labs, and was named UNIX. It was based on an earlier OS named GNU. Later the Unix OS was modified to run on many more hardware platforms and became widely adopted for many purposes, it was named LINUX.

Linux is the best-known and most-used open source operating system. As an operating system, Linux is software that sits underneath all of the other software on a computer, receiving requests from those programs and relaying these requests to the computer’s hardware.

For the purposes of this page, we use the term “Linux” to refer to the Linux kernel, but also the set of programs, tools, and services that are typically bundled together with the Linux kernel to provide all of the necessary components of a fully functional operating system. Some people, particularly members of the Free Software Foundation, refer to this collection as GNU/Linux, because many of the tools included are GNU components. However, not all Linux installations use GNU components as a part of their operating system. Android, for example, uses a Linux kernel but relies very little on GNU tools.

How does Linux differ from other operating systems?

In many ways, Linux is similar to other operating systems you may have used before, such as Windows, OS X, or iOS. Like other operating systems, Linux has a graphical interface, and types of software you are accustomed to using on other operating systems, such as word processing applications, have Linux equivalents. In many cases, the software’s creator may have made a Linux version of the same program you use on other systems. If you can use a computer or other electronic device, you can use Linux.

But Linux also is different from other operating systems in many important ways. First, and perhaps most importantly, Linux is open source software. The code used to create Linux is free and available to the public to view, edit, and —f or users with the appropriate skills — to contribute to.

Linux is also different in that, although the core pieces of the Linux operating system are generally common, there are many distributions of Linux, which include different software options. This means that Linux is incredibly customizable, because not just applications, such as word processors and web browsers, can be swapped out. Linux users also can choose core components, such as which system displays graphics, and other user-interface components.

LINUX became the primary basis for almost all the widely used OSs for most of the huge computer systems that today power most of the computers we use that are not on our desk. We use it when we access the internet, websites, Google, YouTube, Amazon and other huge computer farms behind most corporations. Many versions of LINUX were modified to add more features and services than were provided on the original. Another version of UNIX was developed as the Berkeley Software Distribution, or BSD. Initially, BSD was not an alternative to AT&T's Unix, but an add-on with additional software and capabilities. It has also been widely adopted in academic and corporate environments.

So why isn’t LINUX more widely used on commercially available computers? Simple, Microsoft and Apple did a better marketing job on their version of the OS that they used for the desktop computers that supported their popular application software. LINUX has focused more on the academic and industrial applications.

Microsoft has focused on the consumer market, so most seniors who use a computer for the one program they can't live without — Hallmark Greeting card pro-gram, Family Tree maker, Dragon Naturally speaking, Rosetta Stone, even the AOL desktop that they won't get rid of (even though, yes, you can go to from any browser in Linux) are comfortable with the user friendly features of Windows. The ubiquity of Windows means that grabbing any disk from any store, your greeting card program will run on your computer and print on your printer.

Some people in the tech industry are not looking at Linux but at Chromebooks and Chrome desktops as the future. More about those platforms in future newsletters.

But LINUX is experiencing a rebirth of sorts and being offered on more desktop and laptop computers. It apparently runs faster and is more secure than other popular OSs that we have grown accustomed to. There are many claims that it can easily run along side of or on top of other existing OSs.

Having experienced some of the consequences of the sloppy OS updates from Microsoft lately, I’m ready for something better.

I will keep you posted as I investigate what is available and how it works for me.

    Ed Lynch