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Linux is technically just the Linux kernel — typical Linux distributions are made up of many pieces of software. In fact, much of this same software on top of Linux is the same software used on the BSDs.

Linux and the BSDs are both Unix-like operating systems.

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The ports system contains software in source form, so your computer has to compile them before they’ll run.

(If you ever used Gentoo when it was popular, it’s a bit like that.) However, packages can also be installed in pre-installed binary form so you don’t have to spend time and system resources compiling them.

Licensing is a significant difference, although it won’t matter to most people. If you modify the Linux kernel and distribute it, you have to release the source code for your modifications. If you modify the BSD kernel or distribution and distribute it, you don’t have to release the source code at all.

BSD stands for “Berkeley Software Distribution,” as it was originally a set of modifications to Bell Unix created at the University of California, Berkeley.

It eventually grew into a complete operating system and now there are multiple different BSDs. Linux distributions have to do the work of bringing together all the software required to create a complete Linux OS and combining it into a Linux distribution like Ubuntu, Mint, Debian, Fedora, Red Hat, or Arch. In contrast, the BSDs are both a kernel and an operating system.

For example, Free BSD provides both the Free BSD kernel and the Free BSD operating system. In other words, if you want to install Free BSD, you just install Free BSD.

If you want to install Linux, you’ll need to choose among the many Linux distributions first. which provides a way of installing software packages.

Both Linux and the BSDs are free and open-source, Unix-like operating systems.

They even use much of the same software — these operating systems have more things in common than they do differences. There are more differences than we can cover here, especially philosophical differences about the way one should build an operating system and license it.

This should help you understand the basics, though.

What most people call “Linux” isn’t actually Linux.

810 Comments

  1. Linux is technically just the Linux kernel — typical Linux distributions are made up of many pieces of software. In fact, much of this same software on top of Linux is the same software used on the BSDs.

  2. Linux and the BSDs are both Unix-like operating systems.

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