Linux is an extensive operating system that was created firstly as a hobby by a young student, Linus Torvalds, at the University of Helsinki. Linus was fascinated by 'Minix', a small UNIX system, and proceeded to develop a system that improved upon the Minix standards. He began work in 1991, releasing version 0.02, and worked diligently until 1994 when he released version 1.0 of the Linux kernel. The kernel, at the centre of all Linux systems, is developed and released under the GNU General Public License, with the source code being freely available to all. The kernel forms the basis around which all flavours of the Linux OS (operating system) are developed. There are hundreds of companies and organisations and a large number of individuals that have released their own versions of an OS based on the Linux kernel. Redhat offer many distributions of the OS.
Apart from the free distribution model, Linux's functionality, adaptability and reliability has made it a real alternative to commercial Unix and Microsoft OS's. IBM, Hewlett-Packard and other behemoths of the computing world have adopted Linux and support its continued development. Now into its second decade of life, Linux has been taken up worldwide primarily as a server platform. Its adoption as a SOHO desktop operating system is also on the increase. The OS can also be 'burned' directly into microchips in a process called "embedding" and is used in a plethora of appliances and devices.
Since it's inception and subsequently throughout the 1990's, tech 'gurus'; largely unaware of Linux's power, dismissed it as a hacker's hobby project, unsuitable for the computing requirements of the public. As a result of the sterling work of developers of desktop management systems such as KDE and GNOME, OpenOffice and the Mozilla web browser project, to name just a few, there are now a huge range of applications that run on Linux and it can be used by anyone regardless of his or her knowledge of computing. A huge industry has now been built around Linux security, software, training and support.