Linux Dictionary  

Learn about Linux A to Z in this dictionary for beginners.

A B C D E F G H  I  J K L M

If you are just starting out with Linux, try this step-by-step progression of Linux definitions:    



  • BIOS / Basic Input/Output System
    The BIOS is the first program run when the computer is turned on. Its software (called firmware) is usually stored in a ROM (Read-Only Memory) chip or on flash memory on the motherboard (the main system board of the computer). It checks the hardware on the computer and tries to start another program, usually a Boot Loader. Sometimes it can start an Operating System directly, such as DOS.
  • Boot Loader / GRUB
    A Boot Loader is software which controls which Operating System will be loaded and run. This allows multiple operating systems to be placed on a computer to create a "dual-boot" or "multi-boot" computer. If there is more than one operating system on a computer, the boot loader will usually be set up to give the user a choice of operating system to load. GRUB is the most popular boot loader for Linux.


  • Command Line Interface / CLI / Terminal / Text-Based Interface / Command Line / Command Prompt
    The CLI is a text-based interace between the user and the OS. It is distinguished from a Graphical User Interface (GUI).


  • Debian
    Debian is a distro created in 1993. It is the code base for many distros.
  • Desktop Environment / DE
    A Desktop Environment (DE) is part of a graphical interface which allows the user to use a computer in a productive manner. Basically the DE is how the computer desktop looks and acts. A DE usually includes a Window Manager and several utility programs. These utility programs can help with controlling user preferences, installing new software, managing software updates, managing files, managing network connections, etc.. A DE can provide a system-level menu along with a panel for a task switcher and system tray icons. A DE also controls the desktop and icons placed on the desktop. What a DE includes varies widely from one DE to another.
  • Display Manager / DM / Login Manager
    A Display Manager allows a user to log into a Desktop Environment graphically. Without a DM, a command line login is necessary. The term “display” is historical. It is used rather than “login” since, from the early days of the X Window System, a “display” was defined as a monitor, keyboard and mouse.
  • Distro / Distribution
    A distro (distribution) is a Linux Operating System. Other Unix-like OSes are also called distros. Any knowledgeable technical person can take the Linux kernel along with other programs, add whatever he wishes and create his own distro.
  • DistroWatch / DW
    DistroWatch is a website ( which tracks Linux and other Unix-like distros. It has tracked several hundred distros from its beginnings in 2001. According to DW, there are nearly 300 active distros around today.



  • Fork
    A fork of a program takes the program code and places it in a new project. Usually that project changes the code to achieve goals which are different from the original developers’ goals. Sometimes code is forked from a dead project.
  • FOSS / FLOSS / Free Software / Open Source Software / Libre Software
    FOSS/FLOSS—Free, Libre, Open Source Software—is determined by one of several types of licenses applied to software. FLOSS-based software is usually free of charge. Also, it allows any knowledgeable technical person to reuse and change that software without the traditional copyright restrictions. This allows distros based on Linux and other FLOSS software to proliferate.


  • Graphical User Interface / GUI
    A GUI (pronounced “gooey”) allows the user to communicate with applications and the Operating System through a graphical environment with a mouse and keyboard. It is distinguished from a Text-Based Interface.



  • ISO / ISO file / ISO image
    An ISO file is the usual way a distro is released. After downloading and error-checking the ISO file, one can burn the ISO file to a DVD or copy it to a USB drive.




  • Linux / Operating System / OS
    Linux is an Operating System (OS). Other OSes you may have heard of include Windows and Mac OS X. An OS is the software that controls your hardware. It stands between your hardware and your applications. It allows your applications to access your hardware in a standard way. This allows the same applications to run on many different types of hardware.
    Technically, Linux is the kernel (the core) of the OS, but in common usage, Linux means the whole OS. The kernel along with device drivers, build programs, utility/tool programs, a Boot Loader and other programs comprise the greater OS.
  • Live Version
    Many Linux distros come with the functionality of a Live Version. By booting the media (usually a DVD or USB drive), you can start the Live version of the distro. The Live version allows you to examine a distro before installing it to disk. You can do just about anything on the Live version that you can do with it installed. If the Live version works, it will work when you install to a hard drive. Live versions usually contain a desktop icon you can click to start the installation program.
    You can even use the Live version instead of installing. No system settings that you change or software you install will remain after shutting down the Live version. Each time you boot the Live version, a clean copy of the operating system will be loaded into memory. (The exception to this is a USB with persistence.)
  • Long Term Support / LTS
    LTS releases indicate Long Term Support.


  • Meta Key / Super Key / Windows Key / OS Key
    The Meta Key is a key on a standard keyboard. It is the fourth control-type key—the other three being Shift, Ctrl and Alt. It usually is mapped to Operating System-type functions. For example, on some distros, pressing the left Meta Key toggles the system menu. On a standard 104-key keyboard, the left Meta Key is between the left Ctrl key and left Alt key; the right Meta Key is between the right Alt key and the menu (right-click/context menu) key.




  • Package / Software Package
    Packages contain one or more files. They are managed by your computer so you can easily install and upgrade applications. Packages usually contain applications but can also contain documentation, device drivers, artwork, etc.. A repository for a large, modern distro usually has thousands of packages from which to choose.



  • Release
    A Release of a distro is simply an Operating System offering, usually in the form of an ISO file capable of being downloaded from the Internet.
  • Repository / Repo
    Usually a Linux distro has a Repository. The repository is all the pre-built, pre-packaged software that a distro offers to its users. It is a safe haven for software you know you can trust, and it is usually offered without charge. For large, modern distros, the repository usually has thousands of packages from which to choose.


  • Splash Screen
    A Splash Screen is usually shown during system start up after the Boot Loader and before logging in with the Display Manager. It is a picture or simple graphic usually indicating the distro which is booting up.
    Alternately an application could use a Splash Screen to identify itself when starting.
  • Super Key: See Meta Key.



  • Unix / Unix-like / nix / *nix
    Unix is an Operating System created in 1969. Its operating system philosophies have migrated to Unix-like (nix / *nix) operating systems including Linux distros.
  • USB Drive
    A USB Drive goes by many names. Wikipedia titles their article USB flash drive and defines it as “a data storage device that includes flash memory with an integrated USB interface.”
    Your Dictionary defines a pen-drive as a “small electronic device used to store digital data, more portable and robust than a hard drive.”
    Here are some other names:
    • data stick
    • flash disk
    • flash drive
    • flash drive key ring
    • flash memory stick
    • jump drive
    • key ring flash drive
    • pen drive
    • pen drive disk
    • pocket drive
    • thumb drive
    • USB drive
    • USB flash drive
    • USB flash memory drive
    • USB flash stick
    • USB key
    • USB key drive
    • USB memory
    • USB memory key
    • USB memory stick
    No doubt there are other names and combinations.



  • Window Manager / WM
    A Window Manager controls how windows in a Graphical User Interface are positioned initially, resized, moved, minimized, maximized, closed, etc.. It allows switching from one window (application) to another. It controls how temporary windows such as application menus, popups and tooltips are shown. It controls the drawing of the window borders. A Window Manager is usually incorporated into a Desktop Environment.
  • Windows Key: See Meta Key.




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