A Look at History of Linux as It Turns 20The Linux kernel was conceived and created by Linus Torvalds, then a Finnish computer science student, and first introduced on August 25, 1991 – around twenty years ago. Back then, Torvalds considered the project just a “hobby” and said that it would never be much more than that.
The Linux kernel ended up developing into one of the most significant pieces of open source software ever created. Over the last twenty years it has grown to encompass everything from e-readers to supercomputers.
Choosing a Name
Early CompetitorsOther promising UNIX clones were already under way by the time Linux was born, including some that were available in source code for the use of academics and hobbyists. The Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) was one such competitor. BSD showed extreme promise and had a loyal fan base but was crippled by a lawsuit brought on by AT&T’s Unix System Laboratories subsidiary, which held the rights to the proprietary System V UNIX operating system.
Richard Stallman, the brilliant mind behind the Free Software movement, launched the GNU project in 1983 with the goal of building a UNIX clone under a Free Software license. The project focused on building on top of the Mach microkernel, which was being developed by Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).
At the beginning of 1991, GNU was waiting for CMU to see if it could release Mach under a suitable software license. The development of GNU’s Hurd kernel eventually began in late 1991. Hurd development never picked up much momentum and was eventually dropped.
GNU and MINIX both played key roles in the development of Linux. The earliest versions of Linux were bootstrapped on MINIX and drew early inspiration from the MINIX kernel. The earliest Linux users also relied heavily on GNU’s tools and its C compiler.
Torvalds said it best in the original Linux 0.01 release notes:"Sadly, a kernel by itself gets you nowhere. To get a working system you need a shell, compilers, a library etc. These are separate parts and may be under a stricter (or even looser) copyright. Most of the tools used with linux are GNU software and are under the GNU copyleft.
The linux kernel has been made under minix, and it was my original idea to make it binary compatible with minix. That was dropped, as the differences got bigger, but the system still resembles minix a great deal." Thus, through a humble and uncertain beginning, Linux has become a very powerful and heavily used operating system.