Your questions on Linux answered
Linux is the kernel of
operating systems that look like and perform as well or better than the famous
operating system from AT&T Bell Labs. Linus Torvalds and a loosely knit team of
volunteer hackers from across the Internet wrote (and still are writing) Linux from
scratch.It has all of the features of a modern, fully fledged operating system: true
multitasking, virtual memory, shared libraries, demand loading, shared,
copy-on-write executables, proper memory management, and TCP/IP networking.
Most people, however, refer to
the operating system kernel, system software, and application software, collectively, as
``Linux,'' and the convention is used in this FAQ as well.
Linux ran originally on
386/486/586-based PC's, using the hardware facilities of the 80386 processor family (TSS
segments, et al.) to implement its features. There are now many ports to other hardware
Linus Torvalds is working on a
Linux distribution specifically designed for mobile computers and the Crusoe Smart
Microprocessor developed by Transmeta. n at The Crusoe is a microprocessor chip that
provides low power consumption, power management features, workstation performance, and
in-software configuration, but it's not a complete system, so it's probably mostly
Where does one start?
There are a handful of major
Linux distributions. For information about them, and how they are installed, see Matthew
Welsh's Installation and Getting Started, or IGS for short. It's located at the
Linux Documentation Project Home Page,
The information in IGS is
somewhat dated now. More up-to-date information about first-time Linux installation is
located in the LDP's Installation HOWTO, also located at the LDP Home Page.
Commercial distributions have
begun to appear on the shelves of many book and electronics stores in the last six months,
at least in the U.S., and some hardware vendors now ship systems with Linux pre-installed.
There is a very thorough
installation guide on line at
Some distributions can still be
installed via anonymous FTP from various Linux archive sites, but in many cases, the size
of the distribution makes this impractical. There are also a large number of other
releases which are distributed less globally that suit special local and national needs.
What software does
Linux supports GCC, Emacs, the X
Window System, all the standard Unix utilities, TCP/IP (including SLIP and PPP), and all
of the hundreds of programs that people have compiled or ported to it.
There is a DOS emulator, called
DOSEMU. The latest stable release is 0.98.3. The FTP archives are at
ftp://.dosmu.org/dosmu. The Web site is
The emulator can run DOS itself
and some (but not all) DOS applications. Be sure to look at the
to determine which version you should get. Also, see the
(slightly dated at this point--it doesn't cover the most recent version of the program),
Work has been progressing on an
emulator for Microsoft Windows binaries.
iBCS2 (Intel Binary Compatibility
Standard) emulator code for SVR4 ELF and SVR3.2 COFF binaries can be included in the
kernel as a compile-time option. There is information at
Some companies have commercial
software available, including Motif, WordPerfect, and Framemaker. They often announce
their availability in comp.os.linux.announce--try searching the archives.
What hardware is supported? Does Linux run on my
Giving Linux a try requires a
machine with an Intel '386, '486, or '586 processor with at least 2Mb of RAM and a single
floppy drive. To do anything useful, more RAM and disk space is needed.
VESA Local Bus and PCI are
MCA (IBM's proprietary bus) and
ESDI hard drives are mostly supported. There is further information on the MCA bus and
what cards Linux supports on the Micro Channel Linux Web page, htpp://www.dgmicro.com/mca
Linux runs on most current
laptops, with a decent X display.
There is a port of Linux to the
8086, known as the Embeddable Linux Kernel Subset (ELKS). This is a 16-bit subset of the
Linux kernel which will mainly be used for embedded systems. See
htpp://linux.org.uk/linux8086.html for more information. Linux will never run fully on an
8086 or '286, because it requires task-switching and memory management facilities not
found on these processors.
Linux supports multiprocessing
with Intel MP architecture. See the file
Documentation/smp.tex in the Linux
kernel source code distribution.
See the question below for a
(probably incomplete) list of hardware platforms Linux has been ported to.
What ports to other processors are there?
There is a reasonably complete
list of Linux ports at hypp;//www.ctv.es/USER/xose/linux/linuxports.html and at
A project has been underway for a
while to port Linux to suitable 68000-series based systems like Amigas and Ataris. The
Linux/m68K FAQ is located at www.clark.nef/pub/lawrence/linux/faq/faq.html. The URL of the
Linux/m68k home page iswww.linux-m68k.org/
There is a m68k port for the
Amiga by Jes Sorensen, which is located at ftp://sunsite.auc.dk/pub/os/linux/680x0/redhat.
The installation FAQ for the package, by Ron Flory, is at www.feist.com.
Debian GNU/Linux is being ported
to Alpha, Sparc, PowerPC, and ARM platforms. There are mailing lists for all of them. See
One of the Linux-PPC project
pages has moved recently. Its location is www.linuxppc,org, and the archive site is
There is a Linux-PPC support page
at www.cs.nmt.edu. There you will find the kernel that is distributed with Linux.
Apple now supports MkLinux
development on Power Macs, based on OSF and the Mach microkernel. See
There is a site for the Linux
iMac port: www.imaclinux.net:8080/content/index.html.
How much hard disk space does Linux
About 10Mb for a very minimal
installation, suitable for trying Linux, and not much else.
You can fit an installation that
includes X into 80Mb. Installing Debian GNU/Linux takes 500Mb--1GB, including kernel
source code, some space for user files, and spool areas.
Installing a commercial
distribution that has a desktop GUI environment, commercial word processor, and
front-office productivity suite, will claim an additional 1 Gb of disk space,
memory does Linux need?
At least 4MB, and then you will
need to use special installation procedures until the disk swap space is installed. Linux
will run comfortably in 4MB of RAM, although X Apps will run slowly because they need to
swap out to disk.
Some recent applications, like
the later versions of Netscape, require as much as 64MB of physical memory.
How much memory can
A number of people have asked how to address more than
64 MB of memory, which is the default upper limit. Place the following in your lilo.conf
Where "XX" is the amount of memory, specified
as megabytes; for example, '128M'.
Does Linux support the
Linux supports a few dozen USB devices at present, and work is
underway to develop device drivers for additional hardware devices. There is a Web page
devoted to the subject, at www.linux-usb.org. In addition, there is a LDP HOWTO.
Is Linux public domain?
The Linux trademark belongs to
Linus Torvalds. He has placed the Linux kernel under the GNU General Public License, which
basically means that you may freely copy, change, and distribute it, but you may not
impose any restrictions on further distribution, and you must make the source code
This is not the same as Public
The licenses of the utilities and
programs which come with the installations vary. Much of the code is from the GNU Project
at the Free Software Foundation, and is also under the GPL.
Note that discussion about the
merits or otherwise of the GPL should be posted to the news group
and not to the
Is Linux *nix?
Not officially, until it passes
the Open Group's certification tests, and supports the necessary API's. Even very few of
the commercial operating systems have passed the Open Group tests.