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You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. I don't know the intimate secrets of the Linux kernel. Such gory details are probably best seen in the kernel source, followed by the Linux Programmers' Guide, Linux-FAQ, Network Administrators Guide, System Adminstrators Guide, the Linux Administration Made Easy (that's LPG, FAQ, NAG, SAG, and LAME), and maybe a few of the HOW-TOs. And this lifetime's pile of reading is all available at http://www.linuxdoc.org/. From the LPG, "The kernel contains device drivers, memory management, process management and communication management."
This is where it is correct to say Linux is simpler than Windows 9x+. The kernel is simpler, allowing the system in operation to be more complex. It does not have to deal with the intricacies of the user interface, for example. X deals with that and calls on the kernel when necessary. Moving such things outside the kernel frees the kernel to manage traffic for more ongoing processes.
Consider an orchestra with a conductor versus a one-man band. The conductor doesn't work up a sweat managing a great number of artists and instruments. The poor one-man-band who looks like a walking pawn shop is using both hands, feet, elbows, and almost everything else he has available trying to keep his limited number of instruments sounding like music instead of sounding like a train wreck. Yeah, I know it's an extreme and prejudicial analogy, but it is illustrative of the point.
If a violin in the orchestra skips a beat, few will notice. If the conductor sneezes, most of the artists will keep smoothly going and it would be really weird if *any* completely stopped. For the guy being a one-man band, even a slight shift of the bass drum can ruin the work. Let him hiccup and the whole movement comes apart.
Grab a Linux distribution and unleash the symphony locked in your PC.