Ode to Open Source: Brief History of Linux

| linux | foss | tech |

To kick off the Ode to Open source I am going to begin with a brief history of linux, and I do mean brief. :) There is tons of great information about linux posted online so you can read up on it as you see fit, but I just want to hit on the main events that occurred that led to the creation of Linux.

In the 1960’s UNIX was created and extensively used in government, universities, and businesses. It was (and still is) a wonderful operating system.

Unix continued to evolve, but the major issue with it in the eyes of some pioneers was the fact that the software was expensive, and closed source. The difference between closed and open source software is that open source software displays its source code proudly for anyone to edit and make better, while closed source software is just that - closed. Closed source software is not necessarily bad, but intuitively you can imagine how much easier it is to work on an issue in an open source environment with thousands of contributors from all over the world, rather than just the development team, as is the case in closed source.

In 1983, Richard Stallman quit his job at MIT and started GNU. It is a recursive acronym which basically means “GNU is Not UNIX”. The goal of GNU was to provide free software - that anyone could work on and contribute to in order to benefit the field of computing as a whole.

GNU was a great idea, and took off quickly. All sorts of wonderful software started off in GNU and is still in use today. GNU is an operating system - this is important to remember. Every operating system needs a Kernel in order to function.

kernel definition

(Note: NOT "kernal"). 
1.  The essential part of Unix or other operating systems,responsible for resource allocation, low-level hardware interfaces,security etc. See also microkernel. 
2.  An essential subset of a programming language, in terms of which other constructs are (or could be) defined. Also known as a core language. 

GNU tried to use a Kernel called Hurd, which never really took off and still has not had a 1.0 version to this day.

In 1991, Linus Torvalds created the Linux Kernel which he essentially made as a hobby in order to use for his own computer. As he wrote in a Usenet group:

From: [email protected] (Linus Benedict Torvalds)
Newsgroups: comp.os.minix
Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?
Summary: small poll for my new operating system
Message-ID: <[email protected]>
Date: 25 Aug 91 20:57:08 GMT
Organization: University of Helsinki

Hello everybody out there using minix -

I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and
professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.  This has been brewing
since april, and is starting to get ready.  I'd like any feedback on
things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat
(same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons)
among other things).

I've currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work.
This implies that I'll get something practical within a few months, and
I'd like to know what features most people would want.  Any suggestions
are welcome, but I won't promise I'll implement them :-)

                Linus ([email protected])

PS.  Yes - it's free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs.
It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never
will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that's all I have :-(.

It is kind of funny to read this now because as we all know - this project exploded ever since then and today has evolved into one of the most advanced operating systems! As we go along on our journey through the world of linux and open source, it will be interesting to see how much things have changed since the early days. The initial steep learning curve, command line usage, hardware issues, etc… to todays multiple powerful distributions that “just work” I hope you will come along for the ride!

Tomorrow we will step into the various linux distributions and trace their history from the “Big 3” to the thousands that we have available today.

Further Resource:

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