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What is Linux?

Linux is a FOSS Unix-like kernel. It is the basis of several complete operating systems, most of which are Unix-like and include "Linux" in their names, but which also includes Android and ChromeOS.

Linux began as a hobby project by Linus Torvalds, a Finnish computer-science student, and version 0.01 was released in 1991. The project was later named after Torvalds by Ari Lemmke, the administrator of the university server that hosted the kernel project's source code.

Linux was initially built on Dr Andrew Tanenbaum's minimalist microkernel-based educational Minix OS. At that time, the licence conditions on Minix prevented distributing modified versions. Linux had no such restrictions, and rapidly attracted contributions and enhancements.

Linux was developed with tools from the Free Software movement's GNU project, many of which are incorporated into operating systems based on the Linux kernel. For this reason, some people prefer to call it GNU/Linux rather than just Linux. The project quickly grew larger and more capable than its original host environment, and version 0.99 was released under the GNU Public License (GPL) at the end of 1992.

Although Linux's conservative monolithic design attracted some criticism in its early days, its traditional approach made it easier to understand, modify, and optimize, which helped to drive its development.

Version 1.0 appeared in 1994, and version 2.0 with multiprocessor support in 1996. By the end of the 20th Century, it rivaled the abilities of any proprietary Unix, and formed the basis of a very capable family of OSes, able to run on multiple processor architectures, as a server system, a graphical desktop OS, or embedded into various devices.

Although it is not unique – several other FOSS Unix-like OSes exist – Linux is larger, has more features, and is compatible with more hardware and software. By the time it was 30 years old, it had driven most proprietary Unixes into obsolescence or extinction. It is now by far the largest single FOSS project, and its success has suppressed development of more ambitious successor designs, including the GNU Project's own kernel the HURD, and Minix 3.