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GQ-06: History of Linux

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GQ-06: History of Linux


Linux is an OS (operating system) kernel created by Linus Torvalds when he was a student at the University of Helsinki. To say that Linux is an OS kernel means that it's meant to be used as an alternative to other OS's like MS-DOS or the various versions of Windows.


When Linus Torvalds was studying at the University of Helsinki, he was using a version of the UNIX OS called "Minix". Linus and other users sent requests for modifications and improvements to Minix's creator, Andrew Tanenbaum, but he felt that they weren't necessary. That's when Linus decided to create his own OS that would take into account users' comments and suggestions for improvements.


This philosophy of asking for users comments and suggestions and using them to improve computer programs was not new. Richard Stallman, who worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had been advocating just such an approach to computer programming and use since the early 1970's. He was a pioneer in the concept of "free software", always pointing out that 'free' means 'freedom', not zero cost. Finding it difficult to continue working under conditions that he felt went against his concept of 'free software' he left MIT in 1984 and founded GNU (which stands for "GNU's Not UNIX"). The goal of GNU was to produce software that was free to use, distribute and modify; so they wrote the GPL (General Public License), which protects software licensed under it. The GPL basically states that any sourcecode licensed under the GPL is freely available (open) and allowed to be modified by anyone, so long as the software's derived sourcecode is also open and licensed under the GPL. This OSS (Open-Source Software) is therefore protected from being taken and used for closed source, proprietary software.


Linus Torvalds' goal 6 years later was to produce an OS that not only took into account its' users' feedback, but allowed them to help eliminate bugs (errors in the code). So, in 1991, we had the ideal conditions that would create Linux. To make a long story short, Linus Torvalds had a kernel but no programs of his own; Richard Stallman and GNU had programs but no working kernel.


So, combining the necessary programs provided by GNU in Cambridge, Massachusetts and a kernel, developed by Linus Torvalds in Helsinki, Finland, Linux was born. Due to the physical distances involved, the means used to get Linus' kernel together with the GNU programs was the Internet, then in its' infancy. We can say then that Linux is an OS that came to life on the Internet. The Internet would also be crucial in Linuxs' subsequent development as the means of coordinating the work of all the developers that have made Linux into what is is today.


By late 1991, Linus Torvalds had his kernel and a few GNU programs wrapped around it so it would work well enough to show other people what he had done. And that's what he did. The first people to see Linux knew that Linus was on to something. At this point, though, he needed more people to help him. Here's what Linus had to say back in 1991.

"Are you without a nice project and dying to cut your teeth on an OS you can try to modify for your needs?... This post might just be for you."

People all over the world decided to take him up on it. At first, only people with extensive computer programming knowledge would be able to do anything with that early Linux. These people started to offer their help. The version numbers of Linux were getting higher and higher. People began writing programs specifically to be run under Linux. Developers began writing drivers so different video cards, sound cards and other gadgets inside and outside your computer could use Linux. Nevertheless, throughout most of the early 90's Linux did not get out of the 'GURU' stage. For some reason, though, Linux hasn't yet completely shaken off that 'Gurus only' image that it took on at the beginning. That is mostly the result of articles in the popular, non-technical press written by people who have not kept up to date with recent versions of Linux.


As mentioned before, Linux is in the UNIX family of operating systems. UNIX is primarily designed to be used by multiple users, and often professionals. You will have to learn some UNIX concepts, but that doesn't mean that Linux is a professionals-only operating system. Quite the contrary; Most major versions of Linux are designed to be as user-friendly and as easy to install as any other operating system on the market today.

Edited by Tuxiscool

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