What is Linux

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Tux, the Linux mascot
the GNU mascot

So what's this Linux thing all about? What does Linux look like? What software runs on Linux?

What is Linux about?

You can find a good introduction to Linux here, here, and here.

What does Linux look like?

Over the last few years, Linux graphic user interfaces (GUI) have greatly improved. Click to view screenshots of the current desktop environments offered by the Gnome and KDE Project.

How about software?

There is a large selection of software for Linux. For quick selection and comparison, see the fossfor.us site.

According to freshmeat.net (a large index of software for Linux and other Unices), there are currently over 23,000 projects in development. Many of these programs are Open Source and/or free.

Below is an overview of some popular software for Linux. For more software and downloads, check out our Software Downloads section.

Web Browser - Firefox, Chromium

Firefox is a standards-compliant open source web browser developed by the free software community with the cooperation and support of Mozilla Corporation. Firefox provides all essential features of a browser for the modern web, and also a wide variety of add-ons that will undoubtedly satisfy anybody's needs and wants. Firefox respects users' privacy in many ways: 1) it does not provide a means of browser-wide login like Chrome, 2) syncing tabs, settings, and other personal data requires encryption, 3) when Firefox encounters a redirect or an expired SSL certificate, it clearly conveys to the user that his or her privacy could be compromised, and 4) many open source add-ons are available that make your browsing experience even more secure and anonymous (such as NoScript, Adblock Edge, and WebPG).

Chromium Chromium is the open source web browser project from which Google Chrome draws its source code.

Office Suite - LibreOffice, AbiWord

LibreOffice is a free and open source office suite. It includes key desktop applications such as a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation manager, and drawing program, all with a user interface and feature set similar to other office suites.

Sophisticated and flexible, OpenOffice.org also works transparently with a variety of file formats, including those of Microsoft Office.

Localizations of OpenOffice.org are available in 27 languages, with more being constantly added by the community. OpenOffice.org runs stably and natively on Solaris, Linux (including PPC Linux), and Windows. Additional ports, such as for FreeBSD, IRIX, and Mac OS X, are in various stages of completion.

Instant Messaging - Pidgin, Empathy

Pidgin is a messaging program that supports multiple protocols, including XMPP/Jabber (e.g. Google Talk), IRC, MSN, AIM, ICQ, amd Yahoo!. It features many plugins and has a large community surrounding it.

Empathy is a messaging program that supports XMPP/Jabber (e.g. Google Talk), SIP, IRC, MSN, AIM, ICQ, and Yahoo!. It supports voice and video calls (only for XMPP and SIP), and has excellent integration with the GNOME desktop.

Audio Player - Audacious, VLC

Audacious is a multimedia player based on the look of WinAmp. Audacious plays MP3, OGG, WAV, WMA, AAC, and various obscure formats. It also has a plugin system that allows playback of additional formats and full support for WinAmp 2 skins.

VLC is famously known as the player that "plays everything." It can handle DVDs, (S)VCDs, Audio CDs, web streams, TV cards and much more. You don't need to keep track of a dozen codec packs you need to have installed. VLC has all codecs built-in. It comes with support for nearly all codec there is. And what is more it can even play back the file or media if it is damaged!

Movie Player - MPlayer, VLC

MPlayer is a movie player for Linux. It plays most MPEG, VOB, AVI, VIVO, ASF/WMV, QT/MOV, FLI, NuppelVideo, yuv4mpeg, FILM, RoQ, and OGG files, and some files for RealMedia. You can watch VideoCD, SVCD, DVD, 3ivx, FLI, and even DivX movies too.

Another big feature of MPlayer is the wide range of supported output drivers. MPlayer supports displaying through a number of hardware MPEG decoder boards such as the DVB and DXR3/Hollywood+ . And what about nice, big anti-aliased shaded subtitles (9 supported types!!!) with european/ISO 8859-1,2 (hungarian, english, czech, etc), cyrillic, korean fonts, and OSD.

Graphics Software - GIMP, Inkscape

The GIMP is our answer to the current lack of free -- or at least reasonably priced -- image manipulation software for Linux (and UNIX in general). GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed piece of software suitable for tasks such as photo retouching, image composition, and image authoring.

Programming - Gcc, Eclipse, Qt

The GNU Compiler Collection contains frontends for C, C++, Objective C, Chill, Fortran, and Java, as well as libraries for these languages. It is a full-featured ANSI C compiler, with support for K&R C as well.

GCC provides many levels of source code error checking traditionally provided by other tools (such as lint), produces debugging information, and can perform many different optimizations to the resulting object code.

Database - MySQL, PostgreSQL

MySQL is the most popular Open Source database server in the world with more than 2 million installations powering websites, data warehouses, business applications, logging systems, and more. Customers such as Yahoo! Finance, MP3.com, Motorola, NASA, Silicon Graphics, and Texas Instruments use the MySQL server in mission-critical applications.

Web Server - Apache, nginx

Apache is the world's most popular HTTP server, being quite possibly the best available in terms of functionality, efficiency, security, and speed. Apache is currently running on well over half the web servers worldwide.


A quick list of popular games that have been ported to Linux:

  • Civilization: Call to Power
  • Descent 3
  • Never Winter Nights
  • Quake 1/2/3 (see ioquake3-based projects, such as OpenArena)
  • Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
  • Simcity 3000 Unlimited
  • Soldier Of Fortune
  • Tribes 2
  • Unreal Tournament

Getting Linux

Interested in trying out a Linux distribution? Read our Getting started article to decide which one's right for you!