Technical Skills

What Is Linux? Inside Open Source’s Crown Jewel

Written By April Bohnert | October 24, 2023

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When Linus Torvalds introduced Linux to the world in the early ’90s, he might not have imagined the colossal footprint it would leave on the tech world. Fast forward to today, Linux isn’t just an enthusiast’s project — it’s the silent engine powering global tech giants, devices in our pockets, and the infrastructure of the internet itself.

Linux’s rise isn’t just a tale of an operating system’s success but also a testament to the power of open-source collaboration. Its ability to adapt, innovate, and stay relevant in the fast-paced tech world is what sets it apart. For those navigating the tech hiring realm, be it seasoned developers or decision-makers, understanding Linux is key. 

Today, we’re diving deep into the world of Linux, exploring its key features, diverse applications, and the competencies required to harness its full potential. 

What is Linux?

At its core, Linux is an operating system. But its entrance onto the tech stage marked a distinct shift in how software was perceived and developed. Before Linux, the software world was largely ruled by proprietary operating systems. These systems, while powerful, restricted users from viewing, modifying, or distributing their source code. This made customization, troubleshooting, and innovation largely dependent on the whims and timelines of the corporations that controlled them.

In 1991, Linux burst onto the scene with its open-source operating system and changed the development landscape for good. Suddenly, developers worldwide had the freedom to peek under the hood, innovate, and contribute. This wasn’t just a new OS; it was a paradigm shift. With Linux, the power returned to the hands of the users and developers, democratizing software development and fostering a community-driven approach that was unprecedented.

Open Source and the Birth of Linux

An operating system acts as an intermediary between computer hardware and the computer user, providing an interface and controlling the hardware so software can function. While several operating systems exist, Linux sets itself apart by being open source. This means that its code is free for anyone to view, modify, and distribute. Linus Torvalds started this as a personal project inspired by Minix, a small UNIX system. But what truly fueled Linux’s growth was the community of developers and enthusiasts who contributed to it and shared improvements.

Linux vs. Unix: The Distinction

It’s common to hear Linux and Unix used interchangeably, but they aren’t identical. UNIX was developed in the late 1960s and served as an inspiration for many subsequent operating systems, Linux included. While Linux is UNIX-like, it doesn’t derive directly from the UNIX codebase. Instead, it emulates its design principles. And, unlike UNIX, which has various proprietary versions, Linux steadfastly remains open source.

The Anatomy of Linux: Kernel and Distributions

When people refer to Linux, they often mean the entire OS. However, strictly speaking, Linux is the kernel — the core that manages resources, such as CPU, memory, and disk drives. But a kernel alone doesn’t make an operating system functional for the average user. This is where distributions come in.

Distributions, or distros, bundle together the Linux kernel with a variety of software packages to create a full-fledged OS. Think of popular names like Ubuntu, Fedora, or Debian. Each offers a unique flavor of Linux, tailored for different user needs, whether it’s server management and desktop usage, or specialized tasks like digital forensics.

By understanding the components and the philosophy behind Linux, one starts to grasp its transformative role in the tech world. It’s not just software; it’s a collaborative ethos that continually drives innovation forward.

Key Features of Linux

Distinguishing Linux from its peers are a handful of pivotal features that have cemented its reputation as a powerhouse in the OS arena. From its inception, Linux promised a different approach, and over the years, it has consistently delivered on that promise. Let’s explore some of these hallmark features.

Open-Source Nature and Community Collaboration

At the heart of Linux is its open-source DNA. This means not only is it free to use, but its source code is available for anyone to make their own. This openness has fostered a global community of developers and enthusiasts who continually contribute to its enhancement. And because of this massive collaboration, Linux evolves at a pace unmatched by proprietary systems.

Stability and Security  

Linux boasts a robust architecture. Its design principle ensures that even if an application fails, it doesn’t bring down the entire system with it. Additionally, Linux offers a strong security framework — from permission-based file systems to a wide array of tools for securing data, monitoring system access, and tackling threats.


Linux embodies adaptability. It can run on a plethora of hardware types: personal computers, servers, mainframes, mobile devices, and even something as compact as a Raspberry Pi. This versatility ensures that with minimal adjustments, applications written for one type of hardware can run on another.

Customizability and Flexibility  

Not every user has the same needs, and Linux celebrates this diversity. With numerous distributions available, users can select or even craft an environment that’s tailor-made for their requirements, be it for desktop computing, server management, or specialized tasks.

Robust Performance and Multitasking 

Linux is adept at managing multiple tasks simultaneously without a hitch. Its efficient memory management and ability to run multiple applications concurrently make it a top choice for environments where high performance is non-negotiable.

This suite of features doesn’t just make Linux an operating system; it makes it a formidable tool in the arsenal of businesses, developers, and tech aficionados alike. But beyond these technical aspects, the overarching theme of Linux has always been empowerment — empowerment of users, developers, and businesses to drive innovation without constraints.

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The Versatile Uses of Linux

Linux’s reach extends far beyond the confines of a developer’s workstation or a tech enthusiast’s setup. Whether we’re sending an email, streaming a movie, or adjusting our smart thermostat, there’s a good chance Linux is behind the scenes. This operating system’s adaptability and robustness have made it the preferred choice across a spectrum of applications, from massive data centers to the devices we use daily.

Servers and Supercomputers  

The web pages you browse, the emails you send, and the online services you access often rely on servers. Guess what’s running on a massive chunk of these servers? That’s right, Linux. In fact, 96.3% of the top million web servers run Linux. Owing to its stability, security, and performance-driven design, Linux has become the go-to choice for web servers, database servers, and more. Furthermore, if you look at the world’s top supercomputers, a majority run on Linux, handling complex computations, simulations, and large-scale data processing.

Personal Computers and Daily Use  

While Linux might be lesser-known on the desktop front compared to giants like Windows or macOS, it’s steadily gaining traction. Distributions like Ubuntu, Mint, and Fedora offer user-friendly interfaces and a rich suite of applications, making Linux a viable choice for daily computing tasks, from web browsing to multimedia editing.

Embedded Systems and IoT Devices  

Embedded systems are specialized computing systems doing dedicated tasks, often with real-time constraints. From digital watches and traffic lights to advanced medical equipment, Linux is increasingly becoming the backbone of these devices. Similarly, in the burgeoning realm of the Internet of Things (IoT), where devices from refrigerators to thermostats are getting smarter and connected, Linux’s lightweight and customizable nature makes it a preferred choice.

Android OS and Mobile Computing  

Your smartphone? It’s more closely related to Linux than you might think. Android, the dominant mobile operating system worldwide, is built on the Linux kernel. This ties back to Linux’s adaptability, allowing it to power devices as diverse as supercomputers and smartphones with equal aplomb.

Cloud Computing and Containerization  

The cloud revolution is reshaping how businesses operate, and at the heart of many cloud platforms is, unsurprisingly, Linux. Platforms like Amazon’s AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft’s Azure extensively utilize Linux. Additionally, with the rise of container technologies like Docker that allow for efficient, scalable deployments, Linux’s influence in the modern DevOps and cloud-centric landscape is undeniable.

Key Skills and Competencies for Linux Professionals

With the expansive presence of Linux across multiple domains, there’s an ever-growing demand for professionals skilled in this technology. But what exactly should one focus on when aiming to become proficient in Linux or when hiring for Linux-related roles?

Command-Line Proficiency  

Linux’s true power is often harnessed via its command line interface (CLI). Beyond basic commands, professionals should be adept at shell scripting, process management, and file system operations. The CLI provides granular control over the system and is invaluable for troubleshooting and automation.

System Administration  

Linux system administrators wear many hats. They’re responsible for installing, configuring, and maintaining systems, ensuring smooth operations. Skills here range from user management and and backup strategies to performance monitoring and security hardening.


Given Linux’s prominence in server environments, a solid grasp of networking concepts is crucial. This includes understanding network configurations, firewalls (like iptables and nftables), VPNs, and various network protocols.


With cyber threats becoming increasingly sophisticated, Linux professionals must be well-versed in security best practices. This spans user permissions, SELinux configurations, system audits, vulnerability assessments, and implementing security patches.

Kernel and Driver Development  

Understanding the Linux kernel and being able to develop or modify kernel modules can be an asset. This is especially relevant for roles involving hardware interfacing, embedded systems, or performance optimization.

Package Management  

Each Linux distribution has its approach to software installation and management. Being familiar with package managers like APT (Debian/Ubuntu), YUM/DNF (Red Hat/Fedora), and Pacman (Arch) is vital for software deployment and updates.

Virtualization and Containerization  

Modern IT environments heavily rely on virtualization tools like KVM, Xen, and container technologies like Docker and Kubernetes. Mastery in these areas allows professionals to architect scalable, isolated, and efficient systems.

Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD)  

As DevOps practices gain traction, Linux professionals equipped with knowledge of CI/CD tools (like Jenkins, GitLab CI, and Travis CI) and practices will be at an advantage, streamlining software development and deployment processes.

Soft Skills  

Beyond technical prowess, communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills are paramount. The collaborative nature of the Linux community implies that professionals often work in tandem, share knowledge, and jointly troubleshoot challenges.

The Undeniable Impact of Linux

As we wrap up our exploration of Linux, it’s essential to step back and recognize the transformative effect this operating system has had on the tech industry. Its inception wasn’t just about creating another tool for developers or offering an alternative to mainstream OS options. Linux has been, and continues to be, a testament to the power of collaboration, innovation, and open access.

Its success is a shining example of what can be achieved when barriers are removed and knowledge is shared openly. By championing the principles of open source, Linux has democratized software development, allowing individuals from diverse backgrounds and regions to contribute, innovate, and make a difference. This spirit of collective growth and sharing has had a ripple effect, inspiring other open-source movements and challenging the traditional norms of software development and distribution.

For businesses, Linux presents opportunities and advantages that are hard to overlook. Its adaptability means it can be tailored to specific needs, providing a reliable and efficient platform irrespective of the domain or scale of operations. Moreover, its robust community ensures a continuous stream of updates, enhancements, and security patches, ensuring systems remain current and resilient against emerging threats.

But beyond its technical merits, Linux reminds us of a fundamental truth: that when we come together, free from constraints and with a shared vision, remarkable things can happen. As the next chapter of technology unfolds — with AI, quantum computing, and new frontiers of digital innovation — Linux is poised to continue playing a pivotal role, ushering in an era of unparalleled growth and discovery.

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