TITOLO The Complete Concise History of GNU/Linux
OGGETTO Linux history

The Complete Concise History of GNU/Linux

There are reams and reams written about the history of Linux umpteen times by many. So why another post on the history of Linux? I felt that I wouldn't be doing justice if this site dedicated to Linux didn't have atleast one post telling how Linux evolved from a project started by a university student to the robust OS it is now. But as the title indicates, I have kept it really short so that any one can come up-to-date by just glancing through it. To actually know the whole history, you have to go all the way back to 1971.
  • In June 1971, Richard Matthew Stallman joined MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory as a programmer where he gained popularity with the hacker community and came to be known by his now popular name RMS. At that time, all the programmers used to share their code freely among each other cutting across various institutions.

Fig: Richard Mathew Stallman - The Father of GNU Movement
  • In 1980, with the advent of portable software - ie software that can be compiled to run on different computers, a business model emerged where in, the companies developing the code refused to share the code with their clients and began restricting copying and redistribution of their software by copyrighting it.
  • In response to this trend, Stallman, who believed in the principle that software has to be free always, founded the Free Software Foundation and in 1985, published the GNU Manifesto. This manifesto outlined his motivation for creating a free OS called GNU, which would be compatible with Unix. By the way, GNU is a recursive acronym for GNU is Not Unix. He along with a group of like minded programmers started work in developing the tools needed to make a complete OS - like an editor (Emacs), a C compiler (GCC), libraries and all associated generic Unix tools like cat,ls, chmod etc.
  • In the same year (1985), a professor by name Andy Tanenbaum wrote a Unix like Operating system from scratch based on System V standards POSIX and IEEE for the Intel i386 platform. He named it Minix.
Fig: Prof. Andy Tanenbaum - Creator of Minix OS
  • In 1989, Stallman released the first program independent GNU General Public Licence now popularly known as GPL or copyleft. Not only that, he published all his work under this licence. Now the only thing that GNU lacked was a completely free OS kernel. Even though work was going on in developing HURD which was to fill that gap, the progress was slow.
  • In 1990, A finnish student by name Linus Torvalds studying in the University of Helsinki came into contact with Andy Tanenbaum's OS, Minix. Linus wanted to upgrade Minix by putting in more features and improvements. But he was prohibited by Tanenbaum to do so. Then Linus decided to write his own kernel and released it under GPL. This kernel is now popularly known as Linux.
Fig: Linus Torvald - Father of Linux
  • After 1997, a programming model other than the GPLed model emerged which is now popularly known as the Open Source Initiative. Eric.S.Raymond another hacker became one of the prominent voice in this movement. But he is more known for his very popular essay "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" which has since been published as a hard cover book by O'Reilly.
Fig: Eric S Raymond

Fig: Alan Cox - Has made major contributions in coding the Linux Kernel.

Fig: Jon Maddog Hall - Another leader of the Open Source movement.

Popular Linus Speak
  • If you want to travel around the world and be invited to speak at a lot of different places, just write a Unix operating system.
  • An infinite number of monkeys typing into GNU emacs would never make a good program.
  • Making Linux GPL'd was definitely the best thing I ever did.
  • Really, I'm not out to destroy Microsoft. That will just be a completely unintentional side effect. (NewYork Times Interview)
Popular Richard Stallman Speak
  • When you are talking about Linux as a OS, you should refer to it as GNU/Linux. Linux is just the kernel. All the tools that make Linux an OS has been contributed by GNU movement and hence the name GNU/Linux.
  • I could have made money this way, and perhaps amused myself writing code. But I knew that at the end of my career, I would look back on years of building walls to divide people, and feel I had spent my life making the world a worse place. (On why he decided against writing propritery software).
  • Fighting patents one by one will never eliminate the danger of software patents, any more than swatting mosquitoes will eliminate malaria. (While talking on how to fight software patents - singly and together).
  • If anything deserves a reward, it is social contribution. Creativity can be a social contribution, but only in so far as society is free to use the results.
  • If you want to accomplish something in the world, idealism is not enough--you need to choose a method that works to achieve the goal. In other words, you need to be "pragmatic."
  • We don't think of the Open Source movement as an enemy. The enemy is proprietary software.
  • I consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it.
  • People sometimes ask me if it is a sin in the Church of Emacs to use vi. Using a free version of vi is not a sin; it is a penance. So happy hacking.
  • Value your freedom or you will lose it, teaches history. 'Don't bother us with politics', respond those who don't want to learn.
Popular Raymond speak
  • Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.
Popular Tanenbaum speak
  • LINUX is obsolete (In a Usenet message in 1992)
  • Be thankful you are not my student. You would not get a high grade for such a design. Writing a new OS only for the 386 in 1991 gets you your second 'F' for this term. (To Linus Torvalds).
  • Microkernels are not a pipe dream. They represent proven technology.
  • While most people can talk rationally about kernel design and portability, the issue of free-ness is 100% emotional.
Little known facts about Linus Torvalds
  • Linus wanted to name his OS Freax instead of Linux.
  • Linus is known as the 'Benevolent dictator for life' of Linux kernel.
  • Linus's parents were both left wing campus radicals. His father was a communist who spent a year studying in Moscow.
You and Me - We all form a part of the Linux history.
As you can see from the figure above, the ordinary users of Linux form the base of the Linux pyramid. If the user base disappears, the whole pyramid crumbles. So if you are a linux user, then you can boast to your kids, grandkids and great grandkids (if you are still alive ;) ) about the role you played in shaping the history of this wonderful OS.