What is Linux? If you have to ask this question now, you haven't been paying due attention to the computer world. Short answer: It's a full-spec no compromise PC-UNIX, POSIX (an industry standard) compliant and freeware. Freeware doesn't mean it's cost-less (although it is priceless, literally). It means that you can freely re-distribute and/or change it. Linux itself is just the kernel, which is the core of an Operating System (OS). In order to make it usable at all, you need to add many programs from the GNU project, which is THE freeware project. Therefore, it is common to refer it as GNU/Linux system.
It started out as just a study project of Linus Torvalds in Finland. It was released on the Net, volunteer hackers swarmed onto it, and before you know it, it achieved a frightening level of perfection like no other commercial OS. So small that it still fits on a single floppy, so robust and immortal that users tend to forget how to restart a system, so quick in its response to bugs and security holes (typically less than a day). Huge pack of friendly users and volunteers (us) that supports it. Initial cost that is often less than zero. Last but not least, it comes with the source code, which means that you can do something about whatever trouble that may arise. As a result, users are increasing at an enormous rate, and the total number is estimated to be a couple of millions.
You should, however be careful with this user number figure. One
of the biggest mistakes that you see with articles on Linux is that they
tend to apply the idea of market share all too easily. User head count
is already knee deep into that mistake. Once you get caught, there's no
way you can get the right picture of things.
One stupid question that often arise from this mistake goes like this: "Can Linux beat Win95/NT?"
......Now, what kind of a question is that? If you're talking about performance, yeah, we beat Win95 hands down. But, that's not what you want to talk about, is it? You want to talk about market shares. However, Linux is freely distributable. Nobody knows how many copies there are. So, without this figure, it*s hard to talk about "market shares" to begin with.
Besides, what's the point? We never wanted to increase "shares." There's no marketing involved, no "business strategy" (we're not "business" to begin with, you know). If someone wants to use Linux, fine, we will help you. We will even give you the installation CD (if we have one handy.) Where we had trouble, we will make documentation and packages to cope with them, so that the next guy has less of it. And after several years, what do you know, there are so many of us! Great! But, we are not competing with anything/anyone. Yeah, yeah, we occasionally have who's-the-best argument with other PC-Unices like FreeBSD and OpenBSD, but nothing serious.
Besides, many Linux users are notorious flirts. It is not uncommon for us to be simultaneously engaged in hot and steamy relationships with four or five OS at any given night or day. We even use Microsoft stuff daily if we have to, although we do frown upon some of their "features." Market share, on the other hand, is based upon the idea of a monogamous and exclusive relationship between a user and an OS. It simply doesn't apply to us. The point is, our purpose is not to compete or dominate (although we just might, in the end.) Besides, what do we get if we "beat Win95," anyway? Why people want to make these stupid analyst type smart ass comment, we never had any idea. Leave that kind of worrying to Bill Gates. He gets paid enough to do that. For us, it's just computers, you know.
"It's nerd stuff, it will never become mainstream." So? Since when do we have to become "mainstream" (whatever that is)? We never begged or forced anyone to use it. We use it because we want to. It's refreshing to know that your antiquated PC had the power of a Workstation. Some people simply got fed up with unstable Mac and Windows. Some people need the same UNIX environment at home. Some people want to play jokes with xeyes and fvwm95 (this looks just like Win95). Would being mainstream have any meaning to these people? Sidestream is OK by me, as long as the server doesn't crash.
"Can Linux survive?" Another idiotic question based on the market share idea. First, Linux hardly ever crashes, so it doesn't give you a chance to kill and get rid of it. If you're using it as a server, yes, the odds are that it will survive, along with your happy LAN. Commercial software may die, because lower sales may lead to less development. Linux, however, is done by volunteers. Since the source code is available, someone may resume development long after you thought its dead. So, "can it survive?" Wrong question. "Do I want this to survive?" is the correct way to put it. If you do, write codes. Make documents. Help people. You don't have to stand and watch it die like the Mac.
To sum it up, we're different. Our origin, development, community
growth, improvement, goals, distribution, way of thinking, in short, everything.
We are something GNU. Classic industrial models and organization models
are simply irrelevant. Even newer incentive models have limited power on
us. This is because we are very disorganized. We are so disorganized that
we can't even decide on how to pronounce Linux (and we hardly ever care).
No theory or model can even remotely describe this sort of wretched chaos
that is us. In spite of (or because of) that, we reproduce and multiply.
How? Well, as we often say, "we have sex but we also have Linux."
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