Linux has certainly accomplished a lot for a 22-year-old. It was 22 years ago this past Sunday that Linus Torvalds announced in a posting to a newsgroup that he was in the process of creating a free operating system. "Just a hobby," he wrote. He added that it “won't be big and professional like" the GNU version of Unix.
On the August 25 anniversary this past weekend, Torvalds similarly announced on Google+ a new kernel release for his now extremely popular OS. In a deliberate echo of his historical posting 22 years ago, he professed it was "just a hobby, even if it's big and professional," and added that it has been brewing since 1991 and "is still not ready."
Two Other ‘Birthdays’
Originally developed for Intel x86-based PCs, Torvalds’ “hobby” has now been released for more hardware platforms than any other OS in history. It is dominant on servers, and more than 90 percent of the 500 fastest supercomputers are Linux-based. The Linux kernel is also the basis for operating systems used in phones, tablets, televisions and video game consoles, such as the most popular operating system for smartphones, Google's Android. Linux distributions also include the commercial Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.
Although August 25 has been highlighted because Torvalds modestly posted the first announcement about what would become one of the most popular pieces of open source software in history, two other “birthdays” are also cited.
On July 3, 1991, Torvalds first posted a newsgroup query for help in finding “a (preferably) machine-readable format of the latest posix rules” to help him with “a project I’m working on”– that project being, of course, Linux. Some Linux-historians consider this a sorta-birthday notice, while others point out that the creator doesn’t actually mention the project he’s working on. Posix, or Portable Operating System Interface, defines the API, command line shells and other interfaces for Unix and other OSs.
Ringing the Bell
August 25 was his first actual posting about what the project was, and, on October 5, 1991, he rang the bell for volunteers for his open source OS.
“Do you pine for the nice days of minix-1.1,” he wrote, “when men were men and wrote their own device drivers?” Without mentioning the golden days of female programmers, he added that, “as I mentioned a month (?) ago, I’m working on a free version of a minix-lookalike for AT-386 computers.” At this point, Linux was at version 0.02, with a “very small” patch available, and he was looking for people to jump in, use and modify his OS. Minix, or “minimal-Unix,” is a Unix-like OS based on a microkernel developed as a teaching tool, and is credited with having inspired the Linux kernel.
Some newborns are awarded with names that they must live down, and Linux could have been one of those if Torvalds’ original moniker had been adopted. The Linux name was created by one Ari Lemke, who obviously based it on the creator’s first name, and was initially used for the subdirectory on nic.funet.fi, at the Finnish University and Research Network, where the source code was made available.
If not for such an act, today we would be referring to the most popular open source OS ever, Freax – “free” plus “freak” plus X as a tribute to its Unix-likeness.