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Hey! I've been wondering about this a lot lately, and last night (in one of my insomniatic moods) I did some reading that solidified the question. What is the difference ...
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  1. #1
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    Question: Difference between "kernel" and OS


    Hey! I've been wondering about this a lot lately, and last night (in one of my insomniatic moods) I did some reading that solidified the question. What is the difference between a very basic Linux OS and the kernel itself? I mean, to my understanding the kernel is what where the user or other programs input stuff into the system... so isn't the kernel more or less an OS by itself and the rest of "Linux" just makes it more... friendly?

  2. #2
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    To tell you the truth, Linux == kernel.

    The kernel is the part of the OS that controls the hardware; I/O, CPU, hard drive, memory, allocation of resources, power management, etcetera. If you plug in a device and type >dmesg | tail< the output you get is the kernels response to a change in state so to speak.

    The Operating System on the other hand is everything else that makes your computer work. In a nutshell, the Operating System allows you to interact with the machine. So if you move files from one drive to the next, you actually order the kernel to move some bits around.

    And usually it's the applications you run that provide an extra layer between you and the OS, so that it's pretty to look at and easy to operate 'cuz the kids today just don't know how to manage their financial administration in column separated text files
    Can't tell an OS by it's GUI

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    Quote Originally Posted by ryokimball View Post
    Hey! I've been wondering about this a lot lately, and last night (in one of my insomniatic moods) I did some reading that solidified the question. What is the difference between a very basic Linux OS and the kernel itself? I mean, to my understanding the kernel is what where the user or other programs input stuff into the system... so isn't the kernel more or less an OS by itself and the rest of "Linux" just makes it more... friendly?
    The kernel is the system core. It usually takes care of the machinery internals. It make the hardware available to the rest of the programs and is the one that administrates resources, like cpu time and virtual memory management, disk i/o (or rather, i/o in general), multitasking, etc.

    An OS is a superset. It is a kernel + userland tools. Without the basic stuff to actually get some work done, the kernel would be completely useless. It would definitively be non-operative

    So, a lot of people like to say "Linux" when talking about a kernel, and GNU/Linux when they want to mean "the OS that is formed by a Linux kernel and GNU userland tools".

    It is a layered approach. And most general purpose machines do it this way.

    Other kind of machines with a very specific purpose might not use this kind of model. For example, an electronic clock doesn't need a kernel separated from an OS, and a program on top of that just to count seconds and minutes. The whole thing can fit into a simple microchip.

    Things are evolving, however. Nowadays, even cellular phones have an embedded OS working on framebuffer to launch lots of different applications, games and stuff.

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    it's kinda strange, but even though I know it, it seems strange for a phone to use an OS. I like what you said about "Linux" versus "GNU/Linux." The only thing is, to my understanding, you actually can use just the kernel, but the operations are generally so complex (or at least not user friendly) that it seems less than practical.

    Either way, thank you both for the replies. I'm pretty sure they answered my questions (they satisfied me, at least).

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