Linux Frequently Asked Questions with Answers: Introduction and General Information

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Linux is the free Unix written from scratch by Linus Torvalds with assistance from a loosely-knit team of hackers from across the Internet. Linux aims towards POSIX compliance, and has all of the features you would expect of a modern, fully-fledged Unix: true multitasking, virtual memory, shared libraries, demand loading, shared, copy-on-write executables, proper memory management, and TCP/IP networking.

Linux runs mainly on 386/486/586-based PCs, using the hardware facilities of the 386 processor family (TSS segments, et al.) to implement these features. Ports to other architectures are underway. (See «  What ports to other processors are there? »)

See the Linux INFO-SHEET for more details. (See «  Where can I get the HOWTOs and other documentation? »)

The Linux kernel is distributed under the GNU General Public License. (See, «  Is Linux public domain? Copyrighted? »)


1.2 What software does Linux support?

Linux has GCC, Emacs, X-Windows, all the standard Unix utilities, TCP/IP (including SLIP and PPP) and all the hundreds of programs that people have compiled or ported for it.

There is a DOS emulator (available at which can run DOS itself and some (but not all) DOS applications. Be sure to look at the README file to determine which version of dosemu you should get. Also, see the DOSEMU-HOWTO (slightly dated at this point — it doesn’t cover the most recent version of the program), which is located at

Work has been progressing on an emulator for Microsoft Windows binaries. (See «  Can I run Microsoft Windows programs under Linux? »)

iBCS2 (Intel Binary Compatibility Standard) emulator code for SVR4 ELF and SVR3.2 COFF binaries can be included in the kernel as a compile-time option. See the file

For more information see the INFO-SHEET, which is one of the the HOWTOs (See «  Where can I get the HOWTOs and other documentation? » See also «  How do I port XXX to Linux?. »

Some companies have commercial software available, including Motif. They announce their availability in comp.os.linux.announce — try searching the archives. (See «  Are the newsgroups archived anywhere? »)


1.3 Does Linux run on my computer? What hardware is supported?

You need a 386, 486 or 586, with at least 2Mb of RAM and a single floppy, to try Linux. To do anything useful, more RAM (4Mb to install most distributions, and 8Mb is highly recommended for running X) and a hard disk are required.

VESA local bus and PCI are supported.

MCA (IBM’s proprietary bus) and ESDI hard drives are mostly supported. There is further information on the MCA bus and what cards Linux supports on the Micro Channel Linux web page,

Linux runs on 386 family based laptops, with X on most of them. There is a relevant Web page at

For details of exactly which PC’s, video cards, disk controllers, etc. work see the INFO-SHEET and the Hardware-HOWTO. (See «  Where can I get the HOWTOs and other documentation? »)

There is a port of Linux to the 8086, known as the Embeddable Linux Kernel Subset (ELKS). This is a 16-bit subset of the Linux kernel which will mainly be used for embedded systems. See for more information. Linux will never run fully on an 8086 or ‘286, because it requires task-switching and memory management facilities not found on these processors.

Linux supports multiprocessing with Intel MP architecture. See the file Documentation/smp.tex in the Linux kernel source code distribution.


1.4 What ports to other processors are there?

A project has been underway for a while to port Linux to suitable 68000-series based systems such as Amigas and Ataris. This has now reached beta-test quality, and there is an X server.

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There is a linux-680×0 mailing list. (See «  What mailing lists are there? »)

The Linux/68k FAQ is located at×0/FAQ, which is also the Linux/68k archive. It is mirrored at×0.

There are several mailing lists for the Linux/68k port — mail <> with a body containing the word « lists » — without the quotes — on a line by itself for a listing, and the word « help » on a line by itself for instructions how to subscribe.

There is also a FTP area on

One of the Linux-PPC project pages has moved recently. Its location is, and the archive site is

There is a Linux-PPC support page at There you will find the kernel that is distributed with Linux.

Apple now supports MkLinux development on Power Macs, based on OSF and the Mach microkernel. See

A port to the 64-bit DEC Alpha/AXP is at There is a mailing list at (See «  What mailing lists are there? »)

Ralf Baechle is working on a port to the MIPS, initially for the R4600 on Deskstation Tyne machines. The Linux-MIPS FTP sites are and Interested people may mail their questions and offers of assistance to <>.

There is also a MIPS channel on the Linux Activists mailserver and a linux-mips mailing list. (See «  What mailing lists are there? »)

There are currently two ports of Linux to the ARM family of processors ongoing; one of these is to the ARM3 as fitted to the Acorn A5000, and includes I/O drivers for the 82710/11 as appropriate, and the other is to the ARM610 as fitted to the Acorn Risc PC. The Risc PC port is currently in its early to middle stages, owing to the need to rewrite much of the memory handling. The A5000 port is in restricted beta testing; a release is likely fairly soon.

For more up-to-date information, watch the newsgroup comp.sys.acorn.misc. There is a FAQ at

The Linux SPARC project is a hotbed of activity. There is a FAQ available from Jim Mintha’s Linux for SPARC Processors page, The SPARC/Linux archives are at


1.5 How much hard disk space does Linux need?

10Mb for a very minimal installation, suitable for trying it out and not much else.

You can squeeze a more complete installation including X Windows into 80Mb. Installating almost all of Debian 0.93R6 takes around 500Mb, including some space for user files and spool areas.


1.6 Is Linux public domain? Copyrighted?

The Linux kernel copyright belongs to Linus Torvalds. He has placed it under the GNU General Public License, which basically means that you may freely copy, change, and distribute it, but you may not impose any restrictions on further distribution, and you must make the source code available.

This is not the same as Public Domain. See the Copyright FAQ,, for details.

Full details are in the file COPYING in the Linux kernel sources (probably in /usr/src/linux on your system).

The licenses of the utilities and programs which come with the installations vary. Much of the code is from the GNU Project at the Free Software Foundation, and is also under the GPL.

Note that discussion about the merits or otherwise of the GPL should be posted to gnu.misc.discuss and not to the comp.os.linux groups.


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