The Linux GUI Experience

The Linux GUI Experience

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What Is Linux

Learning objective: Explain what Linux is

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Linux refers to the family of Unix-like computer operating systems using the Linux kernel. Linux can be installed on a wide variety of computer hardware, ranging from mobile phones, tablet computers and video game consoles, to mainframes and supercomputers. Linux is the leading server OS, accounting for more than 50% of installations and runs the top 10 fastest supercomputers in the world. Desktop use of Linux has increased in recent years, partly owing to the popular Ubuntu, Fedora, and openSUSE distributions and the emergence of netbooks and smartphones running an embedded Linux. [Wikipedia]

Linux is a widely ported operating system kernel. The Linux kernel runs on a highly diverse range of computer architectures: in the hand-held ARM-based iPAQ and the mainframe IBM System z9, System z10 in devices ranging from mobile phones to supercomputers. The name "Linux" comes from the Linux kernel, originally written in 1991 by Linus Torvalds. The main supporting user space system tools and libraries from the GNU Project (announced in 1983 by Richard Stallman) are the basis for the Free Software Foundation's preferred name GNU/Linux. [Wikipedia]

Linux is a kernel, not an operating system. An operating system is comprised of a kernel *and* the shell. Linux is used in many computing solutions. The success of Linux is that it is an open source project that invites world wide participation in the development of the kernel. We will be using PuppyLinux to demonstrate basic Linux GUI features. PuppyLinux is an ultra-lightweight Linux that can be run without having it installed on a hard drive. PuppyLinux is the "VW Bug" of operating systems. Linux is not Microsoft Windows. It will be natural for you if you are new to the Linux environment to expect it to behave like Windows. But Linux is not Windows. It is different. A major goal of this unit is to introduce you to basic aspects of the Linux GUI environment based on the feedback of the CIS Advisory Board.

Open Source

Linux is an open source project. To understand Linux, you need to understand the role of open source development in the development of Linux. Since its inception, the source code for Linux has been freely shared over the Internet. The developer and owner, Linus Torvalds, invites users to make suggestions to the Linux source code and to update the code periodically based on peer review. Thus, Linux is one of most vetted applications in the world.

The largest part of the work on Linux is performed by the community: the thousands of programmers around the world that use Linux and send their suggested improvements to the maintainers. Various companies have also helped not only with the development of the Kernels, but also with the writing of the body of auxiliary software, which is distributed with Linux. Despite being open-source, a few companies profit from Linux. These companies, most of which are also members of the Open Source Development Lab, invest substantial resources into the advancement and development of Linux, in order to make it suited for various application areas. This includes hardware donations for driver developers, cash donations for people who develop Linux software, and the employment of Linux programmers at the company. Some examples are IBM and HP, which use Linux on their own servers, and Red Hat, which maintains its own distribution. Likewise Nokia supports Linux by the development and LGPL licensing of Qt, which makes the development of KDE possible, and by employing some of the X and KDE developers. [Wikipedia]

Open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product's source materials. Some consider open source a philosophy, others consider it a pragmatic methodology. Before the term open source became widely adopted, developers and producers used a variety of phrases to describe the concept; open source gained hold with the rise of the Internet, and the attendant need for massive retooling of the computing source code. Opening the source code enabled a self-enhancing diversity of production models, communication paths, and interactive communities. Subsequently, a new, three-word phrase "open source software" was born to describe the environment that the new copyright, licensing, domain, and consumer issues created. The open source model includes the concept of concurrent yet different agendas and differing approaches in production, in contrast with more centralized models of development such as those typically used in commercial software companies. A main principle and practice of open source software development is peer production by bartering and collaboration, with the end-product, source-material, "blueprints" and documentation available at no cost to the public. This is increasingly being applied in other fields of endeavor, such as biotechnology. [Wikipedia]


The popularity of Linux on standard desktops (and laptops) has been increasing over the years. Currently most distributions include a graphical user environment. The two most popular such environments are GNOME and KDE, both of which are mature and support a wide variety of languages. Installing new software in Linux is typically done through the use of package managers such as Synaptic Package Manager, PackageKit, and Yum Extender. While major Linux distributions have extensive repositories (tens of thousands of packages), not all the software that can run on Linux is available from the official repositories. Alternatively, users can install packages from unofficial repositories, download pre-compiled packages directly from websites, or compile the source code by themselves. All these methods come with different degrees of difficulty, compiling the source code is in general considered a challenging process for new Linux users, but it's hardly needed in modern distributions. [Wikipedia]

Servers, mainframes and supercomputers

Linux distributions have long been used as server operating systems, and have risen to prominence in that area; Netcraft reported in September 2006 that eight of the ten most reliable Internet hosting companies ran Linux distributions on their web servers. (since June 2008, Linux distributions represented five of the top ten, FreeBSD three of ten, and Microsoft two of ten; since February 2010, Linux distributions represented six of the top ten, FreeBSD two of ten, and Microsoft one of ten.) Linux distributions have become increasingly popular on mainframes in the last decade due to pricing, compared to other mainframe operating systems. In December 2009, computer giant IBM reported that it would predominantly market and sell mainframe-based Enterprise Linux Server. Linux distributions are also commonly used as operating systems for supercomputers: since June 2010, out of the top 500 systems, 455 (91%) run a Linux distribution. Linux was also selected as the operating system for the world's most powerful supercomputer, IBM's Sequoia which will become operational in 2011. For years Linux has been the platform of choice in the film industry. The first major film produced on Linux servers was 1997's Titanic. Since then major studios including Dreamworks Animation, Pixar and Industrial Light and Magic have migrated to Linux. According to the Linux Movies Group, more than 95% of the servers and desktops at large animation and visual effects companies use Linux. [Wikipedia]

Embedded devices

Due to its low cost and ease of modification, an embedded Linux is often used in embedded systems. Android, which is based on a modified version of the Linux kernel, has become a major competitor of Symbian OS which is used in the majority of smartphones -- 25.5% of smartphones sold worldwide during Q3 2010 were using Android (Linux variations accounted for 27.6% in total) Cell phones or PDAs running on Linux and built on open source platform became a trend from 2007, like Nokia N810, Openmoko's Neo1973, Motorola RAZR2 v8, Motorola ROKR E8, Motorola MING series, Motorola ZINE and Google Android with a modified Linux Kernel . The popular TiVo digital video recorder uses a customized version of Linux. Several network firewall and router standalone products, including several from Cisco/Linksys, use Linux internally, using its advanced firewall and routing capabilities. The Korg OASYS and the Yamaha Motif XS music workstations, Yamaha S90XS/S70XS synthesizers, Yamaha Motif-Rack XS tone generator module, and Roland RD-700GX digital piano also run Linux. Furthermore, Linux is used in the leading stage lighting control system, FlyingPig/HighEnd WholeHogIII Console. [Wikipedia]

Puppy Linux

Puppy Linux is a lightweight Linux distribution that focuses on ease of use. The entire system can be run from RAM, allowing the boot medium to be removed after the operating system has started. Applications such AbiWord a free word processing application, Gnumeric spreadsheet and Gxine a free multimedia player are included, along with a wide choice of web browsers that can be installed. Puppy Linux is a full-fledged operating system bundled with a collection of application suites that cover a wide variety of tasks, allowing Puppy to be used by general users. Puppy is small-sized so it can boot from many media. It is also useful as a rescue disk, a demonstration system, leaving the original/existing operating system unaltered, or as an OS to a system with a blank or missing hard drive, or for keeping old computers useful. [Wikipedia]

The best thing to do with PuppyLinux is to play with it and start the process of comparing and contrasting the look and feel to other operating system you know. Since Puppy is a small "live" 100meg OS that runs entirely in RAM and does *not* need to be installed! Puppy is the VW bug of the Linux OSs. It is *not* representative of other Linux OSs like Ubuntu and Linux Mint. They have a look and feel more resembling Windows since they require a full installation to provide full services.

Thinking: Why focus on just the kernel?

Key terms: desktop, embedded devices, kernel, open source, servers

To maximize your learning, please visit these Web sites and review their content to help reinforce the concepts presented in this section.

Quick links:
Linux @ Wikipedia
Open source @ Wikipedia
History of Linux @ Wikipedia
PuppyLinux @ Wikipedia

Embedded Resources

Notes on navigation: Click inside the frame to navigate the embedded Web page. - Click outside the frame to navigate this page to scroll up/down between the embedded Web pages. - Click on the frame title to open that page in a new tab in most browsers. - Click on the the "Reload page" link to reload the original page for that frame.

Linux @ Wikipedia | Reload page | If frame is empty, click on the link to view the page in a new tab or window

Open source @ Wikipedia | Reload page | If frame is empty, click on the link to view the page in a new tab or window

History of Linux @ Wikipedia | Reload page | If frame is empty, click on the link to view the page in a new tab or window

PuppyLinux @ Wikipedia | Reload page | If frame is empty, click on the link to view the page in a new tab or window | Reload page | If frame is empty, click on the link to view the page in a new tab or window

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