I've recently fallen in love with the Linux system and I'm wondering: is Ubuntu an OS & Linux its kernel?

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  • Linux is the kernel in my samsung galaxy phone.. the GUI/Desktop is Android, it's got a Qt stack (like KDE/LXQt).... It's missing the GNU so I'm not sure I'd call it an operating system, but technically it is too (just as many self-drive cards also running Ubuntu are... let alone Linux on TVs, microwaves, refrigerators etc -- what Ubuntu Core was designed for; IoT appliances...) – guiverc Dec 19 '20 at 21:10
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    Does this answer your question? What Is A kernel and how do I remove unused Kernels? – karel Dec 20 '20 at 3:31
  • yes, you got it right. Nothing more to be said – Hrisip Dec 20 '20 at 18:27
  • Looking for info, came across that Linux kernel is by default in any Android gadget. That's te main reason Linux is that marvellous ! – user1135218 Dec 21 '20 at 8:43

Linux is not a complete operating system; it is, as you correctly described, a kernel. The default software suite since the beginning has been the GNU system, and the name "GNU/Linux" has been used for this combination. Ubuntu is based on GNU and Linux. (Linux has also been used, notably, in a number of embedded systems such as network devices and as the basis of Android, which uses an entirely different "userland" model and is not compatible with "traditional" Unix/Linux applications.)

In addition to all of the software packages, there have always been a variety of different "bundles" with installers (or manual installation), package management, configuration tools, etc. These are called distributions, and Ubuntu is a Linux (or GNU/Linux) distribution. In general, a Linux distribution comprises what most people would consider an "operating system" (technical base, user interface) as well as a wide variety of other available software packages that go beyond just an operating system.

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    Wrong! Linux is an OS. The GNU tools, and the XWindows system, various display mangers, "desktops", and so on are simply applications that the operating system runs. You can, for instance, get most of the basic GNU utilities to run on Android ("busybox", IIRC), and probably Windows & other operating systems. – jamesqf Dec 20 '20 at 17:38
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    @jamesqf Wrong! Linux is not an OS, but just the kernel. We say "Linux is an OS" colloquially because there are many distros that uses the Linux kernel. Similarly, GNU/Linux refers to Linux distros that use GNU software, like GNU C Library (glibc) GNU Core Utilities and others. Notably, Alpine Linux is not a GNU/Linux distro because it doesn't use GNU software by default. – iBug Dec 20 '20 at 18:10
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    @iBug: You obviously don't know what an OS is. Linux is the OS. Kernel and OS are the same thing. The GNU utilities are a set of programs that run on an OS, which may or may not be Linux. Ubuntu is a distribution which also adds another set of programs - mostly a user interface, I think. But the Ubuntu user interface could be made to run on top of a different OS. Indeed, from what I've seen, it's pretty much a Windows look-alike. – jamesqf Dec 20 '20 at 19:40
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    Well, Red Hat thinks it is an Operating System – kanehekili Dec 22 '20 at 16:01
  • @kanehekili Red Hat is objectively wrong in this case and technically committing trademark infringement. (Note also that they talk about "open sources software".) – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- Dec 22 '20 at 19:02

Well Linux is an operating system, by default it comes with a kernel and a lot of tools (provided by a "distro" which is based on it). So you could build your own Linux by compiling all those libraries and programs you think that are important for you. That makes Linux very flexible. The Linux Kernel is the most basic part of it - it communicates with the hardware and is mandatory

If you do not want to put together all these small and bigger apps you could select a "Distro". A list of many distros can be found here.

So Ubuntu is one of the many distros that are around - probably one of the most used ones. Ubuntu comes as server - without any UI features - or as a desktop with an UI (Gnome) or in other desktop flavors like Xubuntu (with lightweight XFCE desktop) or Kubuntu (with an elegant QT5 Widgetkit).

So the standard Ubuntu 20.04 is a Distro that compiled the Linux Operating System with a Gnome/GTK Desktop Environment and many drivers and tools. If something is missing, you can install that software easily.

Linux runs on many different platforms, so you could get yourself a Raspberry Pi and install a special Ubuntu ARM Edition, a Debian (which is the base of Ubuntu btw) or an Arch Linux on that hardware.


Since a lot of discussion has taken place I'd like to provide an opinion from Red Hat that states that Linux is an operating system. So I get the impression that linux can be both - depending from where you look. If someone asks me, what operation system I have, I'll always answer "Linux". (Because I run different "distros" on a daily base).

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    "by default it comes with a kernel and a lot of tools": your distro comes by default with lots of tools. Linux itself doesn't even include a shell. – lights0123 Dec 20 '20 at 4:04
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    In fact, if Linux doesn't have anything to run (the init process, whatever it is), it'll simply halt in a kernel panic. – Ruslan Dec 20 '20 at 16:21
  • @lights0123 you are right. I've changed my answer. – kanehekili Dec 22 '20 at 16:12