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015: What is Linux?


Linux is an operating system used in various capacities on the Mines campus. Many Mines computer servers supplying basic services run Linux. In certain departments, notably Applied Mathematics and Statistics, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, and Physics, student and faculty commonly use Linux on their desktop computers and laptops. In addition, there are several Linux computer labs throughout campus, accessible to authorized users with their MultiPass credentials.

Linux is made available by many companies, most of which provide their own flavor (“distribution”) of Linux with extensive customization. Most campus servers use distributions associated with Red Hat ( Most individual Linux computers on campus use one of the Ubuntu ( distributions. While less common at Mines, other distributions will be supported by ITS as able, on a case-by-case basis.



What else is Linux?

“Linux is a Unix-like computer operating system. Linux is one of the most prominent examples of free software and open source development: typically all underlying source code can be freely modified, used, and redistributed by anyone.” Wikipedia (

Linux is a collaborative effort by tens of thousands of programmers worldwide, who freely provide their expertise for the good of the computing community. Linux and its associated software is an attractive alternative to other common computer operating systems such as Windows, Mac OSX, and Unix for use in servers and desktop computers.

Linux is “open source” software. Its license allows anyone to see the original source code and to modify that code for any use, while agreeing to keep any programs derived from the original code “open” for others to modify. Thus Linux is often said to be “free” as in “free speech.” This philosophy is embodied in Linux’s use of the GNU General Public License ( that guarantees its “open” nature in perpetuity. 

Linux is available at little or no cost. Linux distributions, which are large collections of software programs, the Linux kernel, and an installer program may be downloaded without charge from the makers of the various Linux distributions. Each copy of the operating system may be installed on as many computers as desired; there is no “per-machine” license fee as with other operating systems. For these reasons it is often said that Linux is also “free” as in “free beer.” 

Though it may seem almost invisible, Linux is perhaps the most commonly used operating system in the world today. Since it is highly scalable it runs on wristwatches, PDA’s, phones, embedded devices, tablets, laptops, and servers. Linux runs on many kinds of hardware, not just processors from Intel. It can be used on an individual desktop computer or power the world’s fastest supercomputers. (Currently, 95 percent of the 500 fastest supercomputers in the world run some variety of Linux.) Laptops running ChromeOS are using an operating systems based on Linux. And Google receives almost two million request to activate Android phones each day. Android is based on Linux.