The birth of Linux, giant killer of the Open Source world

A while ago, I published a post on the start of the open source operating system revolution. As mentioned there, Linus Torvalds did not ‘invent’ the open source operating system with Linux, but there’s no denying that he is one of the true superstars of the open source world, and that Linux is, without a doubt, one of the few open source operating systems that have managed to make the big commercial players sit up and take notice.

From cellphones to supercomputers – Linux is a popular operating system across a wide range of platforms.
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There is some debate around the date that should be considered the ‘official’ birthday of Linux – there are three early emails from Torvalds making reference to his operating system – but the general consensus seems to be that his email of 25 August 1991 best represents Linux’s inception:

From:torvalds@klaava.Helsinki.FI (Linus Benedict Torvalds)
Newsgroup: comp.os.minix
Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?
Summary: small poll for my new operating system
Message-ID: 1991Aug25, 20578.9541@klaava.Helsinki.FI
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-sytem due to practical reasons) among other things.

I’ve currently ported bash (1.08) an 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 want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won’t promise I’ll implement them 🙂

Linus Torvalds

Originally developed for Intel x86 personal computers, the Linux operating system has since been ported to a wider range of platforms than any other operating system, ranging from servers to supercomputers to embedded systems. The Android operating system, used by a wide range of mobile devices, is built on a Linux kernel. Quite amazing for a system that it’s creator described as “just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu”.

The Linux story really is a feel-good tale of how a non-commercial product, based on a free and open community-based development model, can match and exceed its multi-million dollar commercial competition.

Happy birthday, Linux, and power to you, Linus Torvalds – may you long continue to steer the ship, and take others along on your quest for the open and the free.

Celebrating the start of the Open Source Operating System revolution

When mentioning Open Source Operating Systems, Linux is often the first to spring to mind. However, the real pioneer in the Open Source revolution was 386BSD, an operating system released as open source on this day 20 years ago.

Open source software is typically created as a collaborative effort where programmers improve upon the code and share the changes within the community.
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386BSD (sometimes called “Jolix”, after the names of its developers) was developed mainly by Berkeley alumni Lynne Jolitz and William Jolitz. While a first version (0.0) was made public in March 1992, the version released on 14 July 1992 (0.1) was the first usable version, and became the basis of further development. The first completely free BSD, it ran on PC compatible computer systems based on the Intel 80386 microprocessor.

After the Jolitzes released 386BSD 0.1, a user group formed, developing and collecting bug fixes and enhancements to the system. However, differences of opinion developed between the Jolitzes and the maintainers of the patchkits. The Jolitzes tried to maintain quality-control by doing most of the development on 386BSD themselves, leading to frustratingly slow release cycles. This eventually lead to the splitting off of two subsequent BSD-based open operating systems, FreeBSD and NetBSD.

While 386BSD ended up being a rather short-lived project in itself, both FreeBSD and NetBSD went on to become critical players in the Open Source revolution, with versions of both these operating systems still being used and developed to this day.

The Jolitzes’ insight that the world needed an open-source Unix-like operating system running on Intel’s x86 microprocessors has been triumphantly borne out by history, with the success of open source operating systems like FreeBSD and Linux playing a key role in many computing developments and innovations over the past two decades.