Some of the newer cyber-jutsu practitioners among you may wonder, "Whatever are Operating Systems?".
I will tell you. The words you read here will be a reflection of the truth, but true enough to start you on your path or keep you from falling off the edge. An Operating System (OS) is an interface to the hardware which makes up the physical portion of a computer system. The physical portion of the system includes, but is not limited to: the housing or case of the system, the fans that help maintain the temperature of the system, the random access memory (RAM) - or 'memory' of the system, the hard drive - or long term storage, the central processing unit (CPU), and every other printed circuit board, chip, microprocessor, graphics card, etc. It is what you would see if you took a sledge hammer to your computer. (Not recommended until the rank of black-belt)
The Operating System (OS) interfaces with the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System), which is itself a piece of hardware that facilitates communications with all the other hardware assembled within your computer housing or case. The BIOS is really the piece of hardware that pulls it all together. In fact, it was the only proprietary component of the original IBM Personal Computer. Compaq reverse-engineered the IBM BIOS, and started the PC Clone Revolution. Some might argue that the BIOS is a hybrid component composed of part hardware (the actual chip) and part software (the programmed Read Only Memory). The Operating System allows other computer programs or 'applications' that you use on a daily basis to function in concert with each other and the system as a whole. To try and give you a dependency mapping, think of it like this: Hardware -> BIOS -> OS -> Applications. Or, to think about it in the reverse order: Applications require an Operating System, which requires a BIOS, which requires hardware to function.
Microsoft Windows is an Operating System. Apple Macintosh is an Operating System. Microsoft Windows 7 would be a particular release (the current release) or version of the Microsoft Windows Operating System, just as Mac OSX Snow Leopard is the current release of Apple's Macintosh Operating System. A striking difference between the Microsoft Windows Operating System and the Apple Mac OSX Operating System, is that with each new release, the Microsoft Operating System gets larger, and requires more hardware resources (such as RAM and Hard Drive space) to run effectively; while, this most recent Apple OSX release improved performance while actually using less space. But this post isn't about which OS is better between the Microsoft and Apple brand of commercial Operating Systems. This post is about Ubuntu Linux, which just released version 9.10 of their free, open source software.
Before we can effectively talk about Ubuntu, we needed to understand what an OS was in terms that most computer users would understand. Now that you understand what an OS is, you can contemplate how much that OS costs you, when you purchase a new computer. Then you can also think about how much you have to spend every few years to upgrade to the latest version. While the recent Apple upgrade from Leopard to Snow Leopard was insanely inexpensive, most Microsoft upgrades are not. Even after paying the piper (Micro$oft), often times the casual computer user comes to find that upgrading the OS isn't a simple process, and worse, they come to find that the hardware they currently own can't operate the new OS with the same level of performance that the previous OS maintained. This leaves many users "behind the times" as new OSs are rolled out to feed the cyber-economy. Eventually, the old OS is no longer supported, and the user has no choice but to operate a system riddled with security holes, or pay to upgrade.
Enter Linux. Linux might better be termed GNU/Linux; but, Linus Torvalds, the father of the monolithic Linux Kernel, isn't a fan of that notion. Yet without the GNU Project's developed software that was a direct result of the efforts of Richard Stallman and the Free Software Movement, Linux wouldn't be of much value to the average computer user. In fact, Linux came along at just the right moment to take advantage of a large amount of software developed as a part of the GNU Project which was waiting on the completion and refinement of their own kernel (called Herd).
GNU, which is a recursive acronym that stands for "GNU Not Unix", was working on a more complex kernel type called a micro-kernel, which differs fundamentally from a monolithic kernel in its structure and functioning. As fortune would have it, the GNU Project's micro-kernel (Herd) wasn't ready for prime-time - so the Linux monolithic kernel filled the gap.
There are subtle differences between the Free Software Movement, and the Open Source Movement - but for the average person, they both mean powerful, maintained software, that doesn't have a cost associated with its acquisition or redistribution. Luckily the two camps are more similar than not, and continue to produce and promote free, open source software with the benefits of a huge community dedicated to peer-review. However, for a long time, using Linux was not for the casual user. The average Linux user was either a computer hacker, soon to become a computer hacker, or at least a person who would learn the meaning of the phrase: "F-disk, Format, Reinstall".
Enter Ubuntu Linux. Ubuntu Linux is a 'flavor' of linux, or perhaps more clearly stated - a particular distribution of Linux. It happens to be a very easy version of Linux to obtain, install, and use. There are several versions of Ubuntu which have been further customized for groups of people like educators, musicians, and people who like to record their television shows.
There are freely available CD and DVD disk images that one can download and "burn" from what is called an "iso" image or file, which will allow you to boot your computer from the resulting media, run the OS from within RAM, and leave your original OS in tact. This method of "live" CDs or DVDs allows one to explore the power and functionality of Ubuntu Linux without committing to replacing their current OS.
If you have enough free disk space, you can also install a free program such as VMWare Server, and then install Ubuntu as a Virtual Machine. For Macintosh users, a commercial product called VMWare Fusion works very well for this purpose. This option allows you to run your original OS, and simultaneously run Ubuntu Linux within a window on that system. This is a very powerful way to go, and is recommended for all serious cyber-justu practitioners.
For those of you who are inclined to experiment and even program, please go to http://www.ubuntu.com and download the latest version, 9.10. You can burn an installation disk, and run this new Operating System on one of your older systems. Not only are there massive free software resources awaiting you, but some of the best security tools made. For those of you who have no intentions on re-purposing your old computer hardware, I suggest you donate the computer hardware.
As we have stated, Ubuntu is Free Software. It is also Open Source, which means that the "Source Code" or lists of computer instructions that make it function, is available for download, use, and modification. CyberCede.org (the website of which is still under construction) is accepting donations of your old computer hardware. We are taking versions of Linux (Ubuntu when the minimum hardware requirements are met) and installing the Open Source Operating System onto the donated hardware, and making these re-purposed systems available to those in need. For more information about the program, please send an email to metajunkie at my google mail address (gmail dot com) with the subject header of cybercede.org charity division. We are not currently accepting large, CRT monitors; but, will happily accept functional flat screen monitors of all sizes. All donated systems will have their hard drives thoroughly and securely wiped of any and all data prior to the Ubuntu Linux installation.
So, why do we care that Ubuntu 9.10 has been released? Because, unless you are running OSX, or have some real need to run Windows (such as specific games or financial applications) - you can set yourself free through embracing the Open Source Revolution! OSX users can actually already take advantage of many GNU Project applications. OSX, after all, has a Mach Micro-kernel with a BSD subsystem at its core. For those willing to pay, I recommend the Apple line of computers running OSX. For everyone else - it is time you took a look at this Linux thing. It isn't just for computer geeks anymore.
The Ubuntu distribution really is easy to use, and brings the power of Linux to even the less gifted of cyber-jutsu practitioners. Had I not converted my Mom to being a very satisfied OSX user, she would be using Ubuntu Linux this year. She wouldn't be using Ubuntu Linux because her cyber-justsu is ready to take her into the depths of the Bourne Again Shell (BASH) - she would be running it because it is ready for her to use it without her needing to know what BASH is. Likewise, the default shell on OSX is BASH - and my mother is blissfully unaware of this fact too. ;)
If you would like to learn more about the origins of Linux and GNU, you might want to check out a movie called "Revolution OS" which was released in 2002. It is available as a streaming media title on Netflix.
You might also enjoy reading "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" by Eric Steven Raymond.