FAQ for Beginners (Volume-I)

What is meant by FREE software?
By free software we do not mean free of charge, by FREE we mean FREE to use or FREEDOM. We may refer it by two terms ‘free beer’ and ‘free speech’. Free software does not always mean free of charge (though most of them are free of charge). By FREE we mean that you have the freedom to USE, copy, modify and redistribute the software. It’s perfectly legal to do the above.

What is meant by OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE?
Open source software refers to those types for softwares of which the source code if freely available. You can see the source code and understand how the software works. Open source software is not always a FREE one. There are some software which releases their source code. You can compile them for your use by changing the code is not allowed. These types of software fall under NON-FREE software category even though they may be available free of charge. Thus all FREE softwares are OPEN SOURCE but the reverse is not true.

Is Linux an Operating System or just the Kernel?
Strictly speaking Linux is just the kernel. Linus Torvalds-who wrote the kernel called it Linux. The proper name for the Operating System is GNU/Linux. GNU movement started in 1984 and was started by Richard Stallman for developing a completely FREE (mark the word FREE) operating system. By 1991 the GNU project created a lot of stuffs and excellent tools and softwares, but the kernel was missing, this gap was bridged by Linus Torvalds, a Finnish student at the University of Helsinki aged 21. So we should properly call this Operating System GNU/Linux to pay some acknowledgement to Richard Stallman-The founder of GNU Project.

What is a kernel by the way?
Literary speaking a kernel is a heart. In GNU/Linux the core of the Operating system is the kernel. It is the work of the kernel to communicate with the hardware. Think it as an interface between the software and hardware. You know computer is dumb enough to understand even English.
Linus Torvalds first designed a monolithic kernel in Sep 1991 as a small project and put it up on FTP servers with the source code of course. Soon people liked and its popularity rose. Though he got some stiff resistant from some people like Andy Tanenbaum, the noted Professor for Networks, Operating Systems and the creator of Operating System MINIX. Linus damn cared about this and went ahead to achieve his mission.

What is GCC? Is it better than my Turbo Compiler?
GCC is the C compiler developed by the GNU project. It was developed by Richard Stallman with the help of his community members. It is the most robust and reliable C compiler till date. It strictly compiles with the ANSI and C standards. If you have heard the name g++, it’s the GNU C++ compiler. The GNU C and C++ compiler are better than Turbo Compiler, though some people might not agree.

Can I know about the history of GNU/Linux? What led to its creation?
Earlier when computers were not so widespread, Operating systems we not as user-friendly at all as it’s nowadays. At that time computers users had to be programmers themselves. All the software’s source codes were included with the shipment. That was the era of Open Source softwares. At that time computers hardware were very costly, and softwares were bundled by default.
As the time advanced, the price of hardware dropped significantly. Now manufactures saw a scope of profit in software itself. They started unbundling the source code of the softwares and drivers with the system.
UNIX was developed by AT&T at the famous Bell Labs, initially it was free to be used and taught in the universities and its source was also open for everyone. When AT&T started facing bad days, it looked up at its creation UNIX to survive, it forced universities to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Thus UNIX turned into a so called proprietary OS. And GNU/Linus is a clone of UNIX but written entirely from scratch by Linus.

What is GNU? Why was it started?
Richard Stallman was not very much impressed by the happenings there at AT&T. He wanted that the source code should be freely available. His movement was called GNU which is a recursive acronym for GNU Not Unix. His movement brought radical changes there in the computer world.
Stallman was working in MIT. The printer provided to him by Xerox Corporation through MIT frequently jammed. He wanted to have the source code to improve the driver so as to improve the performance. He contacted Xerox for the same which was refused. This annoyed him a lot. Closed source and proprietary softwares and drivers were hindering the development and advancement of technology. This led to the GNU movement.

Can I get some examples where Open Source and Free Software have succeeded?
Surely! We can point out a lot of examples.
1) Take for example GNU/Linux. According to a rough estimate around 80% of the web servers run on Linux, this is all due to reliability, robustness and security for which Linux is known for.
2) Second example is Apache web server. This is an excellent piece of software used to run web servers. It is extremely light, robust and highly reliable. 80% of the websites run on Apache web server.
3) Third Example is Mozilla Firefox, this award winning, lightweight and loved by all Web browser has won acclaims of people all over the world. It came as a rescue to people from the sick Microsoft Internet Explorer. Millions of copy of this browser was downloaded. People liked it and got attached to it with their heart.
4) Fourth example is VLC Media Player. Sick of downloading codecs again and again only to find that your video clip doesn’t play because some codec is missing. VLC Media Player gives you the solution. I never had to download another codec desperately after I got VLC. It plays all audio and video formats. Not a single audio and video format I have come to know which it does not play! Amazing enough!!!
Can’t we end the explanation here? Otherwise the list would be too long.

What is this Mozilla Firefox! Is it really great?
Mozilla Firefox is an award winning Web Browser known a lot for its features. In such a short time span it has become the most acclaimed web browser. Most people there out use Internet Explorer not because they like it but due to the fact that it comes packed by default with every version of Windows. All those who tried out Firefox properly with open minds would surely like it.
The Source code of Firefox is open. If you have great programming skills you are invited to see the code, modify and pass it on. This is the faith of Free Software.
You might have usually experienced many times your Internet Explorer (IE) behaving strangely. This is usually due to spyware and malwares. If IE can’t protect itself from malwares how dumb browser would it be? Just think! In contrast Firefox is a very intelligent browser. Its anti-phishing features are really marvelous. It had introduced tabbed browsing even before it was implemented in IE7! (Microsoft acted too swiftly).
When you try to install IE7, you would be asked to validate your copy of windows, turn off anti-virus and all that crap and after installing you will be asked to restart your system. What the hell is this all? It consumes so much time! In sharp contrast, installing Firefox is just a matter of clicks. For default installation it needs you to press Next and Next until you encountered Finish. Voila! Installation did take some 5-10 seconds. Is it a magic? No man! It’s Mozilla Firefox.

What is that that Penguin which shows up with Linux?
Dear! That’s the mascot of Linux! It’s really a cute and sweet logo. There are some stories relating why penguin is the mascot. Actually this mascot was given by Linus himself. Once he was bitten by a penguin in his hand. He developed a light disease called penguinista. It’s a disease in which you start having a lot of love for penguins. Though there are many other small variations of this story, it does not matter much.

11 thoughts on “FAQ for Beginners (Volume-I)

  1. kool n perfect answers

    tyhank you very much

    i think i got the same disease i.e. disease called penguinista

    i m in love wid linux i mean

  2. Completely Disagree with your definition of Open Source. Open Source Definition(http://opensource.org/docs/osd) clearly states the the OSS License must allow modifications and derived works and that it should be distributed as the same license as the original.

    Also an OSS Software has to be free in terms that no royalty fee can be charged for it. You need to get certain peices of knowledge right and from proper sources.

    Also if Linux should be called GNU/Linux just because Linux filled GNU’s missing Gap, then i think it should be better called as GNU/Apache/Perl/Python/PHP/Mysql/Sendmail/Linux just because all the other projects mentioned have equally contributed to the success of Linux and they should even be given the same respect. Note that none of the other tools are from GNU nor do they use the GNU GPL license. Terms like LAMP much better describe them. The GNU/Linux argument seems more like RMS’s frustration at Linux’s success at what he was trying to acheive for over 12 years. Linus did that in a shorter timeframe.

    This may be an interesting thing to read: http://linux4u.jinr.ru/usoft/WWW/LJ/issue30/issue30.html#ftp30

  3. What is see is a GNU and Linux war. It was due to the GNU tools that Linus and his team was able to build this top quality kernel.
    It was Linux kernel which filled up the gap in 1991 when all tools were ready but kernel was still missing. Atleast some credits. After all its personal belief not to call it.

    This GNU/Apache/Perl/Python/PHP/Mysql/Sendmail/Linux doesnt make sense! I can add more, we are talking of low level system softwares. Interpreters and new languages may be a good candidate to be included in this / separated list still they all depend on the kernel and even those interpreters need a compiler to be compiled.

    RMS may be a frustated guy for you, but it was he who made a kickstart. He was a strong advocate of Free Software, due to which I use all software’s so freely. Am a free bird!

  4. GNU was not required to build the kernel, the kernel was independant of the GNU, the gnu tools were used only for compilation.

    GNU/Linux is agreeable if the distribution is made by GNU else it is just stupid. there are embedded distributions of Linux that do not use any GNU tool. would you still call them GNU Linux? These distribuions only live on the kernel, busybox and usually some tool made by someone.. None of them comes from GNU.

    I know this is stupid GNU-Linux war started by RMS almost as soon as Linux started gaining fame. But the point is we and he should probably realise that trying to force everyone to think like him doesnot gain either GNU or Linux or the Open Source Moment as a whole. Instead of spending more time trying to justify what is what, we should try to develop better tools rather than play catchup with the other big shots.. we should realise the long war is only going to benefit our enemies.

  5. Manish, that was a really good article..

    I am fed with all that bullshit covering GNU Linux naming controversies.I too think GNU should be given credit, but regarding name, its just waste of time.For me Linux just works fine.The arguments of fork.daemon are quite right to some extent.But I have no problems calling it by alternative name GNU/Linux, as GNU people too should be given some credit , they rightly deserve.For general distros GNU/Linux is fine.

  6. Vikas,

    I too understand we don’t gain anything by these naming controversies. That time can be used constructively for even better purposes.

    BTW Torvals used the GNU tools for building Linux, so in that sense, GNU project deserves credit.

  7. Why don’t you tell your friend anomit to see this page of yours. You’re also copy pasting information that is available at several tech sites.

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