“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much” – Helen Keller.
For a long time, like most people, I used Windows, the most ubiquitous operating system in the world. My interest in Linux began when I first got into programming, and even then, inertia made switching difficult. It did not help that Mac computers, the mainstream alternative to Windows, were prohibitively expensive.
Over time, I found myself increasingly disappointed with my Windows experience. I wanted a computer I had more control over, one that offered more than just utility. The more I researched, the more apparent it became that Linux was my best option. I loved that it was free and open-source, a cause I passionately admired, which meant there would be little buyer’s remorse should it not work out. It was also lightweight and, depending on the configuration, would have been perfect on my old machine. Its modular nature stood out as well, and I could choose from multiple distributions for a relatively secure and custom experience.
After a couple of uses, I set up a dual-boot of Windows and Linux Mint.
I was intimidated at first. Any issue I had seemed enigmatic until I spent some time on forums, where I found articulated solutions that worked. There was no tech support or a salesperson to call. There was almost always a solution that someone in the community had provided. It became apparent to me that Linux was a lot more forgiving than it is given credit for. It has since become my default daily driver.
It is one of the unique features of Linux and probably the best thing I love about it. Other operating systems do have active communities, but they are mostly centralized around a particular company or product. Linux is different and has been a community-driven operating system since its inception.
Initially, it was developed and released by the Linux Project as a kernel. Around the same time, an open-source project called the GNU was initiated. It was a multi-platform operating system with a set of libraries, utilities, and documentation. The two projects merged under a shared vision of a free, accessible, and open-source operating system. The collaboration would create the GNU/LINUX operating system, which was open-source and received contributions from developers from all over the world.
This was the beginning of the Linux ecosystem, which has now become one of the most popular communities in the world. It is a volunteer-based community with a collective identity of the people who use, develop and distribute Linux and share the goal of creating a better operating system. The developers create a stable, secure, and user-friendly operating system; distributors ensure the best possible version of Linux is available, while the users, through their use of Linux, give feedback that is taken into account in future development. There are also thousands of companies around the world that use Linux as a core part of their systems.
The Linux community is very diverse, partly reflected in the wide range of GNU/LINUX-related software. There are different distributions, philosophies, and ways to use Linux within the community. This diversity is also reflected in its diverse membership. It's an international collaboration of computer programmers, geeks, engineers, artists, companies, and enthusiasts worldwide. This diversity is advantageous as there are a wide variety of ideas and solutions and an increased pool of potential contributors.
While Linux is a community as a whole, there are many smaller communities within it. They can be found within open forums dedicated to their differentiating criteria. Some forums are distribution specific; some focus on tools, while some are educational to help users get acquainted with an aspect of Linux they may be interested in. The forums are created voluntarily and contributed to by the community.
Being a community-driven operating system does create a challenge for Linux. It slows the development of the system due to issues of consensus and variable ideas within the community.
Slow updates or abandoned projects inconvenience those who rely on them. On the other hand, a community faction can revive abandoned projects or start new ones should there be any issues of consensus.
Generally, there are sets of clearly defined and agreed-upon development practices with comprehensive guides for any willing developer within the community. This, for example, is a guide to the Linux Kernel Development Process, while the Linux Mint Developer guide applies to the Linux Mint distribution specifically.
Essentially anyone can participate and influence the direction of the development of Linux as long as they adhere to the defined practices. This streamlines the development process and allows for cohesion in a community where there are thousands of contributors and millions of lines of code.
Without the community, Linux would not be what it is today. It is a community project that has inspired the free and open-source movement and created what is arguably the best open-source operating system in the world.