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What is GNU/Linux?

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GNU
Linux

Most consumers can, with a little effort, name two desktop and laptop operating systems: Microsoft Windows and Apple's macOS. Few have ever considered any of the open-source alternatives found under the umbrella of GNU/Linux, though some may have done so without even knowing it—Google's Chrome OS uses the Linux kernel. To be honest, aside from the Chromebook platform, GNU/Linux systems are typically not best for people who rely on big-name software or don't like dabbling with a customizable, hands-on interface. However, if you're looking for a change of pace, don't want to pay for your software, and don't mind rolling up your sleeves, switching to GNU/Linux may not only be worthwhile, but make you a convert for life. This guide for nontechnical users will show you how.

Before diving headfirst into the wonky world of GNU/Linux systems, it's important to understand how they came about and some of the terms you may encounter while researching and using them. I'll start with a brief history of the big three: UNIX, Linux, and GNU.

UNIX is a proprietary, command-line-based operating system originally developed by Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson (among others) at AT&T's Bell Labs in the late 1960s and early 1970s. UNIX is coded almost entirely in the C programming language (also invented by Ritchie) and was originally intended to be used as a portable and convenient OS for programmers and researchers. As a result of a long and complicated legal history involving AT&T, Bell Labs, and the federal government, UNIX and UNIX-like operating systems grew in popularity, as did Thompson's influential philosophy of a modular, minimalist approach to software design.

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