Welcome to Linux!
Linux is a true 32-bit operating system that runs on a variety of different platforms, including Intel, Sparc, Alpha, and Power-PC (on some of these platforms, such as Alpha, Linux is actually 64-bit). There are other ports available as well, but I do not have any experience with them.
Linux was first developed back in the early 1990s, by a young Finnish then-university student named Linus Torvalds. Linus had a “state-of-the-art” 386 box at home and decided to write an alternative to the 286-based Minix system (a small unix-like implementation primarily used in operating systems classes), to take advantage of the extra instruction set available on the then-new chip, and began to write a small bare-bones kernel.
Eventually he announced his little project in the USENET group comp.os.minix, asking for interested parties to take a look and perhaps contribute to the project. The results have been phenomenal!
The interesting thing about Linux is, it is completely free! Linus decided to adopt the GNU Copyleft license of the Free Software Foundation, which means that the code is protected by a copyright -- but protected in that it must always be available to others.
Free means free -- you can get it for free, use it for free, and you are even free to sell it for a profit (this isn't as strange as it sounds; several organizations, including Red Hat, have packaged up the standard Linux kernel, a collection of GNU utilities, and put their own “flavour” of included applications, and sell them as distributions. Some common and popular distributions are Slackware, Red Hat, SuSe, and Debian)! The great thing is, you have access to source code which means you can customize the operating systems to your own needs, not those of the “target market” of most commercial vendors.
Linux can and should be considered a full-blown implementation of unix. However, it can not be called “Unix”; not because of incompatibilities or lack of functionality, but because the word “Unix” is a registered trademark owned by AT&T, and the use of the word is only allowable by license agreement.
Linux is every bit as supported, as reliable, and as viable as any other operating system solution (well, in my opinion, quite a bit more so!). However, due to its origin, the philosophy behind it, and the lack of a multi-million dollar marketing campaign promoting it, there are lot of myths about it. People have a lot to learn about this wonderful OS!