Key Characteristics of the Linux Operating System


As more user-friendly versions of Linux develop, the free operating system gains more consideration as an alternative to Windows. But Linux isn't a Windows clone; it has characteristics that set it apart from the proprietary Microsoft system. These characteristics extend beyond software choices or appearance and are part of the Linux framework.


  • Linux, like the Macintosh operating system, has its roots in UNIX to give it a solid base. It's solid enough that you can leave the system running for weeks, even months at a time without rebooting. The way Linux handles files prevents much of the fragmentation that often slows down Windows systems.


  • Unlike Windows, viruses aren't an issue with Linux. Part of this is because of the UNIX base, and part is because its root/user account structure protects system files. Also, Linux isn't nearly as prevalent as Windows, so it's not as attractive a target for those who create and distribute malware. While several virus protection programs are ported to Linux, they're really not all that necessary. In fact, they're most useful in checking any Windows partitions on your computer.

Customizable and Scalable

  • Rather than the one-size-fits-all graphical interface you get with Windows or Mac, you get to choose the look and feel of your computer with Linux. While most Linux distributions are shipped with a specific interface -- Ubuntu favors Gnome, for example -- you can easily change that. Choosing a lightweight interface such as Openbox or Fluxbox increases overall speed and makes your Linux system better suited for older computers, while Gnome or KDE creates a more pleasing user experience. Software can also be added, subtracted or changed, allowing you to build your system your way.

Free Software

  • Linux is built around software that's free in two ways -- free of cost and free to use any way you want via the General Public License. Most software is open so you can inspect the source code, learn from it, or modify it. Some proprietary software is available for Linux users, and many Windows applications can be run via emulators or the open-source WINE, but the emphasis is on free.


  • While many Linux distributions are packaged as user-ready systems, Linux is still an experimenter's system. New software is beta-tested on this platform, and you can download programs under development and test them out. Debian Linux caters to several different types of users by releasing its operating system and software in the stable, testing, and unstable branches.

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