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Your questions on Linux answered


What is Linux?

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 platforms.

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 harmless.


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,
www.linuxdoc.com

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
http://heather.cs.ucdavis.edu/matloff/linux.html.

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 support?


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
http://www.dosemu.org

The emulator can run DOS itself and some (but not all) DOS applications. Be sure to look at the README file to determine which version you should get. Also, see the DOSEMU-HOWTO (slightly dated at this point--it doesn't cover the most recent version of the program), at metalab.unc.edu/pub/linux/docs/HOWTO

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 tsx-11.mit.edu/pub/linux/BETA/ibds2/README.

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 computer?


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 supported.

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 htpp://www.linuxhq.com/dist-index.html.

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 www.debian.org

One of the Linux-PPC project pages has moved recently. Its location is www.linuxppc,org, and the archive site is ftp.linuxppc.org/linucppc.

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 www.mklinux.apple,com

There is a site for the Linux iMac port: www.imaclinux.net:8080/content/index.html.


How much hard disk space does Linux need?


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, approximately.


How much 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 Linux use?


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 file:

append="mem=XXM"    

Where "XX" is the amount of memory, specified as megabytes; for example, '128M'.


Does Linux support the USB Bus?


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 available.

This is not the same as Public Domain.

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 gnu.misc.discuss, and not to the comp.os.linux hierarchy.


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.