Linux celebrates 30th anniversary; find out how the project came about | Applications and Software

It was August 25, 1991 when the Finn Linus Torvalds sent a message to a group on Usenet asking for suggestions for software he developed as a hobby. Unbeknownst to him, one of the most important open source projects of all time was born there: the kernel Linux.


Tux on Ubuntu Linux (image: Emerson Alecrim/Tecnoblog)

At the time, Torvalds was in his early 20s and a computer science student at the University of Helsinki, Finland. His concern, at that time, was to create a terminal-based operating system capable of running satisfactorily on computers equipped with the 80386 processor.

The project had its similarities with the Minix, an operating system that, in turn, has roots in Unix (as well as Linux itself, obviously). Minix was developed by a name well known to students and faculty of computer science or related courses: Andrew S. Tanenbaum.

Tanenbaum is a professor and a renowned author of books that are references in computer courses around the world. Among his works are Structured Computer Organization and Operating Systems: Design and Implementation.

It’s no surprise that Minix has been the target of Linus Torvalds’ interest for some time. This operating system was developed by Tanenbaum with the purpose of serving as an academic support tool, that is, to facilitate the understanding of the fundamentals of an operating system by students.

With no great pretensions, Torvalds started working on his operating system and, some time later, sent a message to the group comp.os.minix on Usenet (basically a message-based communication network) asking for suggestions for the project.

Linus Torvalds (image: Krd/Wikimedia)
Linus Torvalds (image: Krd/Wikimedia)

Torvalds’ full message can be found here, but here’s the beginning of it (in free translation):

Hi everyone who uses Minix –

I’m creating a (free) operating system (it’s just a hobby, it won’t be something big and professional like GNU) for AT 386 machines (486). It’s been working since April, and it’s starting to get done. I wanted to ask for opinions about things people like/dislike about Minix, as my OS somewhat resembles it (same physical layout of the file system (for practical reasons) among other things).

Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds not only received opinions but also saw the project attract a growing number of interested parties. He later admitted that he didn’t realize the dimensions Linux was gaining until late 1991 and early 1992, when members he didn’t know began to participate in the group’s discussion of the project.

Interestingly, Linux was not well received by Tanenbaum at that time. The professor noted that the kernel was monolithic (an approach in which all major features and services share the same space) and considered it obsolete because of that.

There was an argument between them, but everything indicates that Tanenbaum and Torvalds have come to terms with each other over the years.

Linux Foundation celebrates anniversary

Also in 1992, Torvalds adopted the GPL-2.0 license in the project. The decision was essential for the first Linux-based systems to emerge.

In fact, in 1993, distributions that are well known to this day began to appear, such as Debian, Red Hat and Slackware. In the following years, the project gained scale, both in use and in collaboration. Today, in addition to the distributions themselves, Linux is the basis for a great diversity of systems.

It is only fair, therefore, that the date of publication of the first message is a reason for celebration, including by the Linux Foundation. Among the actions for the moment, the organization created a page where users can download commemorative (and fun) images.

100% of the 500 biggest supercomputers in the world run Linux. Not bad for 30 years. (image: disclosure/Linux Foundation)
100% of the 500 biggest supercomputers in the world run Linux. Not bad for 30 years. (image: disclosure/Linux Foundation)

T-shirts and other items to celebrate the occasion can also be found at the Linux Foundation’s online store.

Happy 30th birthday, Linux!

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