Before we can start talking about Ubuntu, we'll have to talk about Linux.

What is an Operating System?

An operating system (usually appreviated to OS, pronounced “oh-ess”) is a very specialized type of computer application. It's the first thing the computer runs1, when it starts up, and every other application that runs on the computer runs with the assistance of the OS.

The OS is responsible for “core activities” such as capturing input from the keyboard/mouse, sending output to the computer's monitor, etc. Other applications communicate with the OS for these functions. i.e. when I'm typing in Microsoft Word, the OS captures the response from the keyboard, and passes that information to Word, which then figures out what to show in the screen, and tells the OS, which puts the appropriate image on the display.

That's a very dumbed-down version of what an OS is, but I'm trying to be brief.

Probably the most common operating system, for most computer users in the early 21st century, is Microsoft Windows. Some other operating systems you might have heard of — even if you've never used them — could be Mac OS X, Unix, DOS, GNU, Multics, and, of course, Linux.

What is Linux?

Linux is an open source operating system. This means that there are developers all around the world who contribute to the building and maintenance of Linux, rather than one central company or organization. It is similar to the Unix operating system, which is why you'll often hear Linux being described as “Unix-like.”


I won't go too much into the history of Linux, because I don't care, and you probably don't either. But it was first created by Linus Torvalds, in 1991, as a hobby. Since that time, Linus has made the OS open-source, and it has gained in popularity ever since.


Linux is pronounced various ways, by various people. According to Linus (from the Wikipedia Linux entry):

`li' is pronounced with a short [ee] sound: compare prInt, mInImal etc. ‘nux’ is also short, non-diphthong, like in pUt {IPA /ʊ/}. It's partly due to minix: linux was just my working name for the thing, and as I wrote it to replace minix on my system, the result is what it is… linus' minix became linux.

In other words, it would be pronounced something like “linn-ux.” However, because of Linus' accent, many people who have heard him pronounce it pronounce it “leen-ux.” And people who have never heard it pronounced, nor looked into how it should be pronounced, often pronounce it “line-ux.”

Personally, I don't care how you pronounce it, but if you encounter a Linux nerd who corrects you, don't be surprised.

What is a Distro?

Ubuntu is a Linux distro. See the distro page for more information.

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