The Linux kernel is an operating system kernel used by the Linux family of Unix-like operating systems. It is one of the most prominent examples of free and open source software.The Linux kernel is released under the GNU General Public License version 2 (GPLv2) (plus some firmware images with various non-free licenses), and is developed by contributors worldwide. Day-to-day development takes place on the Linux kernel mailing list.

The Story So Far…

The Linux kernel project was started in 1991 by Linus Torvalds as a Minix-like Operating System for his 386. (Linus had originally wanted to name the project Freax, but the now-familiar name is the one that stuck.) The first official release of Linux 1.0 was in March 1994, but it supported only single-processor i386 machines. Just a year later, Linux 1.2 was released (March 1995) and was the first version with support for different hardware platforms (specifically: Alpha, Sparc, and Mips), but still only single-processor models. Linux 2.0 arrived in June of 1996 and also included support for a number of new architectures, but more importantly brought Linux into the world of multi-processor machines (SMP). After 2.0, subsequent major releases have been somewhat slower in coming (Linux 2.2 in January 1999 and 2.4 in January 2001), each revision expanding Linux’s support for new hardware and system types as well as boosting scalability. (Linux 2.4 was also notable in being the release that really broke Linux into the desktop space with kernel support for ISA Plug-and-Play, USB, PC Card support, and other additions.) Linux 2.6, released 12/17/03,  stands not only to build on these features, but also to be another “major leap” with improved support for both significantly larger systems and significantly smaller ones (PDAs and other devices.)

Core Hardware Support

One of the most important strengths of Linux-powered operating systems is their flexibility and their ability to support a wide range of hardware platforms. While this document is geared specifically to the uses of Linux on PC-derived hardware types, the Linux 2.6 kernel has made some remarkable improvements in this area that deserve to be pointed out.

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