In 1984 the GNU Project began to develop an open source version of Unix, an operating system (OS) that had been used on numerous large computers and networks since 1969. The project developed an OS called Hurd, which proved that an open source Unix was possible, but remained very obscure. Then in 1992 Linus Torvalds created the kernel for a new open source version of Unix that he called Linux.
In the last ten years, a growing number of programmers, hobbyists and professionals have developed numerous distributions (distros) of Linux. A distribution consists of some or all of the following components:
While most modern Linux distributions include all of the above, the only essential components are the kernel, a shell, and a few utilities that will allow other programs to be added.
What Does Linux Look Like?
The short answer: Anything you want it to look like. Here's my desktop: 1600 x 1200, 24-bit color, wallpaper blended with desktop pattern, optional background patterns on the panel.