Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What's a kernel?

I tried to describe a kernel in jargon-free english today. It was pretty tough.
Welcome to your new Linux Distro. Linux is the word we use to define a collection of software ( programmes ) that you copy on to your hard disk ( that metal thing inside your computer that uses magnetic magic to store a series of ones and zeros otherwise known as binary ) so that when you turn on your computer something useful will happen. The most important part of linux is the kernel. This is the programme and other resources that tell the different parts of your computer to do something. For example when you open your text editor programme, something has to tell the hard disk to start spinning around and then it needs to tell it how to retrieve the specific ones and zeros that define the text editor programme. Then the text editor programme is loaded into memory ( RAM ) which will then take control. The text editor programme will now tell the kernel to display something on the screen. The kernel will then tell the graphics card installed inside the box on the floor to send some information over that wire with the blue ( or more recently white ) plug on the end and into your screen so that the correct dots on the screen are lit up in the correct positions and colour so that you the user can see a white rectangle with some buttons on it. Then when you the user move your mouse around the screen, the kernel will tell the screen where to draw the cursor. That's that small white or black arrow on the screen that you use to point and click on things. Again when you the user click ( push one of the buttons on the mouse down) the kernel will need to tell the text editor programme which button you just pressed on that you did in fact press it. The text editor programme will decide what to do and then ask the kernel to do it...

Could you imagine trying to write a complete how-to / instructional document without jargon for say, Linux From Scratch?

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