How to Explain to Gramps What a Kernel Is

This Linux thing is a good thing. Good enough to share with our family and friends. In a country rife with piracy I would say that Linux and Open Source Software is a perfect fit. Free, as in free lunch, and free, as in freedom.

The question kept floating. How do I explain to gramps what a kernel is? I went over to Debian forums to ask the gentlemen and ladies over there and surprisingly got humored:

The kernel is the software manager of any operating system! Its tasks include: process scheduling, hardware management, communication between programs, filesystem management...

I think, by using analogies one can help non-technical people understand what a kernel is.
These are some analogies:

  • the principal manager
  • the crankshaft of the software engine
  • the thing that makes a computer behaves like many at the same time
  • the chief of all software running on the same computer: it gives orders and organizes everything to run smoothly
  • the coordinator of all programs
  • the top chef of the software "kitchen"

it's a program that manages computer resources: disks, memory, keyboard, mouse, and tells other programs how and when to use them.

it's like life support

The person leading the soldiers of the software army. Ehm, the "kernel".


the Kernel is the software that gets information about your hardware. Then makes that information available for the other applications you use.

There is nothing extraordinary about the kernel. The kernel is what makes a computer multitask. It can be seen as the coordinator of all running processes. Its most important component is the thread scheduler. There are other important components which include interprocess communication, virtual file system, network management and memory manager.

The kernel is the operating system. In fact, a kernel plus a shell make a computer usable.

Though the last one has been questioned.

So gramps, wanna know what a Kernel is? No, no, no it's not like the KFC guy with the white hair.

I'd say that a kernel is like this