Unix is based on research done in AT&T and Bell labs to make an environment where people could use a computer without knowing what the 1's and 0's mean. Development grew rapidly from both corporate and private support. The environment was the cradle of the Internet and was used on mainframes for the first few decades. It made interaction on the big computers the same no matter if it was IBM, DEC, or anything. Graphical environments became an interest and Unix developers started a project called X Windows. As AT&T lost control and other companies developed other Unix versions, called flavours, personal computers began to support some of the more powerful commands and even the entire environments.
Public interests were met when in 1991, Linus Torvalds, a 21 year college student from Finland, decided that he wasn't pleased with the Operating System that came with his computer (Microsoft DOS). He decided to write his own. A few months later, with this short and unassuming post to comp.os.minux, Linux was born.
What is Linux? Linux is a free, Unix-like Operating System (fundamental software) that is developed by a loosely knit team of talented programmers working from all over the world. Linux works on almost every kind of computer in existence, and provides a robust platform for a wide variety of applications. Unlike most Operating Systems Linux is free in almost all respects. One can download it off the Internet at no charge, pass on copies to friends, and even modify its internals. This 'freeness' has been one of the most critical reasons for its success, and is turning heads in the industry and mainstream media.
Why the penguin? .... Linus likes them.
It is a fully featured multi-user multi-tasking OS that runs extremely robustly on a wide variety of hardware. Linux can be found not only on Intel Computers (on which it originally ran), but also on Macintoshes and Alphas. Linux takes first place when it comes to the support of diverse hardware.
Simpler system requiring less overhead so less problems occur
The computer operates faster using Linux than MS Windows, even when using X windows
The required computer costs extremely less because of extremely less requirements to perform standard office tasks
New programs are coming out every month to satisfy user's needs
Support is by a network of international programmers, users, and some companies, which is more than can be said for Microsoft's programs
Drivers for new equipment can be developed and integrated into the operating system because Linux is an "open" system - the code for how it was written is available for fixes if any problems occur (as opposed to MS Windows where you have to shell out another $200 for the next release, whenever it shows up
Long file names have been native to the Unix/Linux environment for decades
Networking has been native from the start of the operating system. It can talk to a wide variety of networks. Linux is at home with TCP/IP, Novell Netware, Appletalk and is even comfortable with Microsoft Networking and some of the more obscure protocols.
Not as easy to use as Macintosh, or even MS Windows, but that is as of 1999
Running programs that are supposed to be for a Macintosh, DOS, or Windows environment requires an emulator - sometimes it just doesn't work
People are just not as familiar
with Unix and Linux as they have been with Windows due to marketing schemes