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Linux (often pronounced LIH-nuhks with a short "i") is a UNIX-like operating system that was designed to provide personal computer users a free or very low-cost operating system comparable to traditional and usually more expensive UNIX systems. Linux has a reputation as a very efficient and fast-performing system. Linux's kernel (the central part of the operating system) was developed by Linus Torvalds at the University of Helsinki in Finland. To complete the operating system, Torvalds and other team members made use of system components developed by members of the Free Software Foundation for the GNU project.

Linux is a remarkably complete operating system, including a graphical user interface, an X Window System, TCP/IP, the Emacs editor, and other components usually found in a comprehensive UNIX system. Although copyrights are held by various creators of Linux's components, Linux is distributed using the Free Software Foundation's copyleft stipulations that mean any modified version that is redistributed must in turn be freely available.

Unlike Windows and other proprietary systems, Linux is publicly open and extendible by contributors. Because it conforms to the Portable Operating System Interface standard user and programming interfaces, developers can write programs that can be ported to other operating systems. Linux comes in versions for all the major microprocessor platforms including the Intel, PowerPC, Sparc, and Alpha platforms. It's also available on IBM's S/390. Linux is distributed commercially by a number of companies. A magazine, Linux Journal, is published as well as a number of books and pocket references.

Linux is sometimes suggested as a possible publicly-developed alternative to the desktop predominance of Microsoft Windows. Although Linux is popular among users already familiar with UNIX, it remains far behind Windows in numbers of users.

From Linux Online:

Linux is an operating system that was initially created as a hobby by a young student, Linus Torvalds, at the University of Helsinki in Finland. Linus had an interest in Minix, a small UNIX system, and decided to develop a system that exceeded the Minix standards. He began his work in 1991 when he released version 0.02 and worked steadily until 1994 when version 1.0 of the Linux Kernel was released.
This information can be found here.

The Linux kernel is a UNIX-like operating system. It knows how to read and write to disk drives, allocate memory, and do other very basic manipulations of your computer's hardware.

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