Many years ago, after I first got Linux working, it took a long time to understand what it was all about and what held the operating system together. I remember, after some struggling, seeing KDE for the first time and wondering why I couldn't just download an executable and run it. I couldn't believe that USB devices didn’t simply work, or Windows drivers couldn't be installed, or that the CD-ROM wouldn't automatically mount itself.
All of those specific problems have gone, but the questions they raise are just as important today. And despite being used everywhere, from tiny black boxes and Android phones to the multiplicity of servers run by Google, Linux is still difficult to understand.
Many people have got used to the idea that operating systems are supposed to be transparent. But Linux is different, and to get the most out of it, it really does help to know your way around. This is the motivation behind this month’s main feature – What is Linux?
As a magazine, we've covered all the various components that come together to make Linux, but we've never before covered exactly how they come together. We've approached the subject in a way that we’re hoping will be easy enough for beginners to understand, but there are plenty of gory details for everyone – I never understood what those wretched dynamic kernel modules were until now, for example; and because Linux is always changing, it’s a good way of putting those changes in context.