It all began in 1991, during the time of monumental computing development. DOS had been bought from a Seattle hacker by Bill Gates for a sum of $50,000, a small price for an operating system that had managed to sneak its way across the globe due to a clever marketing strategy. Apple’s OS and UNIX were both available, though the cost of running either was far greater than that of running DOS. Enter MINIX, an operating system that was built from the ground up by a college professor named Andrew S. Tanenbaum. The MINIX was part of a lesson plan used to teach students the inner workings of an operating system. Tanenbaum had written a book on MINIX called “Operating System,” and anyone who had picked up a copy would find the 12,000 lines of code that comprised MINIX itself. This was a big issue due to the fact that all known (well-published) operating systems to that point had been well-guarded by software developers, thus making it difficult for people to truly expand on operating system mechanics.
Then came Linus Benedict Torvalds. At the time, he was a sophomore majoring in Computer Science at the University of Helsinki. His hobbies also included computer programming. At 21, he found himself spending most of his time toying with computer systems, trying to see what he could do in order to push their limits and increase their functionality. The most important thing that was missing from his tests was an operating system with the flexibility that professionals want. A MINIX was available, though it was still just a study tool and not meant for heavy workloads.
With the current spreading trend of open-source and tools readily available, Linus began developing an operating system that was a deviation from MINIX. He used resources made available through the GNU project (known as GNU’s Not Linux), which was a developmental stage of a UNIX-type operating system that was open source. He kept the file system structure, and ported bash(1.08) as well as gcc(1.40), for “practical reasons”. Once a small compilation was completed, he released it on the web, labeling it simply as “0.01” and asking for testing from MINIX users. A few months later, after receiving numerous tweaks from other users, Linus released “0.02” in the month of October. A few weeks later after even more testing version “0.03” was released, and by December of that year, “0.10” was released. With the advent of “0.11” more support for device drivers had been made available (e.g. Multilingual Keyboards / VGA). Today version numbers reach up towards “0.95” and “0.96”, due to the fact that code has been made readily available to the public for tweaking, much as it was in its early stages.
Now that development was out of the way (to an extent), it was then on Linus to distribute. The confrontation arose when, months after his OS had been distributed; Linus received an email from Tanenbaum, quoting “I still maintain the point that designing a monolithic kernel in 1991 is a fundamental error. Be thankful you are not my student. You would not get a high grade for such a design :-)”. Linus had later admitted that this was not one of the high points in his O.S.’ design, however, he replied to Tanenbaum “Your job is being a professor and researcher: That’s one hell of a good excuse for some of the brain damages of MINIX”. Around this time Linus and his fellow testers had agreed it was time to appropriately name the operating system (something other than MINIX v.XX). The name “Linux” was chosen, after the name of its creator Linus. The name stuck, and is now extremely popular amongst tech wizards and students alike.
Time passed, and as Linux’s popularity grew, commercial vendors began to snatch up the code. Many companies such as Caldera, Red-Hat, SuSE (which is now owned by Novell), and Debian took the code and put it in an easily distributable format. They also gave it multiple GUI’s such as GNOME, X-Windows, and KDE, making it much easier to use and attracting less tech-oriented customers. Linux has remained open-source however now that commercial vendors own their own “Distros” or distributions of Linux, some pieces of code (at least for individual distros) are being kept under wraps.
Many interesting things have happened with Linux since its beginning days. It has been developed now to be portable (able to transfer systems) with palm pilots, and other chipsets. One distro was even designed with multi-processor computing in mind, and was used to link 68 computers together to create a parallel processing machine, used to compute shock waves from atomic blasts. It cost one around one tenth of a commercial super-computer (minus time and effort) and is extremely stable (it was said to run for at least 4 months before it needed a reboot.)
The most notable thing about Linux today is its following. Linux is well known as one of the best open-source operating systems available, and many people swear by its name. There are Linux fan clubs, websites, and research organizations simply devoted to making Linux better, and more widely available for use. As for Linus Torvalds, not much has changed since he developed the operating system itself. He is not rich like Bill Gates, a fact he is proud of. He is happy being one (if not the) best-known programmer of his time, for forwarding progress in the field of computing and operating system mechanics. Since Linux’s debut, he has attended multiple workshops and traveled all around the globe to speak on his operating system. It is a true substitute for Windows and is rock solid in terms of core programming.