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Is Linux Free or Paid?

Linux is a free, open source operating system that can be used, modified and distributed freely by anyone. However, there are paid enterprise Linux offerings that provide commercial support. So is Linux completely free or are there paid versions? Let‘s take a deeper look at the Linux landscape.

Brief History of Linux

Linux was created in 1991 by Linus Torvalds as a free, open source alternative to Unix. The source code could be modified and redistributed freely based on Torvalds‘ vision of software freedom. Linux is distributed under the GNU GPL license that enforces source code availability.

Thousands of developers worldwide contribute to improving the Linux kernel and open source projects. Many different Linux distributions have emerged for desktops, servers, mobile devices etc. Some prominent examples are Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora, Linux Mint, Arch Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux etc.

Is the Linux Kernel Free?

Yes, the Linux kernel is free and open source software. Anyone can download, use, study, modify and redistribute the source code for free. There are no license fees or royalties involved. The kernel is developed and maintained by the community on a voluntary basis.

According to the Linux Foundation, over 19,000 contributors from over 1,300 companies have participated in Linux kernel development. Most kernel development is done by developers who are paid by their employers to work on Linux.

Are All Linux Distributions Free?

The vast majority of Linux distributions like Ubuntu, Debian, Arch Linux, Gentoo etc. are entirely free to download and use. However, there are some paid enterprise distributions aimed at commercial customers:

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux – A commercial distribution focused on stability and support for enterprise customers. Subscription costs provide access to software updates and technical support.

  • SUSE Linux Enterprise – Developed by SUSE and aimed at servers, mainframes and cloud computing. Paid subscriptions include support and maintenance.

  • Oracle Linux – Developed by Oracle for use on servers and cloud infrastructure. Subscriptions provide support and Oracle VM.

These enterprise distributions are not freely downloadable but customers pay for stable releases, patches, technical support and certification. The source code is still available though.

How Do Linux Companies Make Money?

Given most Linux distributions are free, how do the companies behind them make money? Here are some common business models:

  • Support & Services – Providing technical support, consulting, training and custom development for commercial clients. E.g. Red Hat, Canonical

  • Enterprise Offerings – Paid subscriptions for enterprise features, support and certifications for commercial use.

  • Cloud Services – Offering Linux virtual machines, containers, storage and other services on the cloud.

  • Hardware – Pre-installing Linux distributions on servers, mainframes, laptops and selling hardware support. E.g System76, Purism.

  • Donations – Community donated money to non-profit distros like Debian and Arch Linux.

So the core Linux OS is free but companies provide paid offerings for commercial use-cases. This allows them to profit while keeping Linux freely available.

How Much Does Linux Cost?

For individual home users, Linux costs nothing to download, install and use on desktops, laptops or even servers for personal use. The license permits unlimited installs.

For commercial use, enterprise Linux subscriptions typically cost $99 – $349 per year per system depending on support level. Cloud and hardware support packages cost more. Training, consulting and custom development are additional services.

Overall, using Linux will likely cost nothing for personal use but enterprises may spend thousands of dollars annually for support from vendors like Red Hat, SUSE etc.

Is Linux Better Than Windows and MacOS?

Linux has some advantages over Windows and macOS:

  • Free and open source – Linux can be used at no cost and modified as needed.

  • Security – Less prone to viruses and malware compared to Windows.

  • Stability – Linux systems are known to be very stable with less crashes.

  • Customizable – Highly customizable by power users and developers.

  • Efficient – Lightweight and can run fast on old hardware.

However, Windows and macOS are easier to use for non-technical users. They have a much wider selection of user-friendly commercial software and games. Graphics and multimedia capabilities are sometimes better too.

So Linux may be preferable for developers, programmers, enterprises and tech enthusiasts. But Windows and macOS can be better for casual home users, students, gamers etc.

Linux Software Availability

Thousands of free, open source software are available for Linux covering most common needs – web browsers, media players, office suites etc. However, availability of proprietary, commercial software is a weak area, especially games.

Software availability on Linux has improved with web apps, ported apps like Chrome and Android emulation layers. But niche proprietary apps are still missing compared to Windows and macOS.

Is Linux Immune to Viruses and Malware?

Linux has an inherent advantage against malware due to its architecture. But it is not completely immune to viruses and malware, especially as it gains more desktop adoption. Security exploits have occurred and antivirus software is available for Linux.

But linux malware remains relatively rare compared to the massive Windows virus ecosystem. Linux systems are less likely to get compromised if users avoid risky behavior and keep systems updated.


In summary:

  • The Linux kernel and most distributions are entirely free and open source.

  • Paid enterprise Linux offerings provide support and services for commercial use.

  • Linux is highly customizable, efficient, stable and secure compared to rivals.

  • Lack of commercial apps is a disadvantage, especially for non-technical users.

  • Malware threats exist but are less common on Linux currently.

So Linux offers excellent flexibility and security, though it requires some technical skill. For personal use, Linux is free but enterprises pay vendors for production support. Overall, Linux provides an open and cost-efficient computing platform, though it has yet to rival proprietary systems in user-friendliness and app availability.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.