Happy Birthday Linux!

I remember one day when Richard Stallman, a nobody, was featured on a local news story. Since I was living in Cambridge, some local news stories were about work being done by Harvard or MIT researchers, and in this case, Stallman was an MIT Hacker who had just started to talk about this strange idea: Writing computer programs for free.

Here’s the thing: At the time, I was looking at the idea of working as a computer programmer to make money in order to fund a career of studying evolution and teaching and stuff. Then this Stallman guy gets on the TV and says, essentially, that writing computer programs should be done for free, and that he personally picks up the occasional teaching gig to cover his expenses.

What a jerk, I thought. You’re doin’ it rong!!!

And the rest is history. Mainly his history. And GNU history.

Anyway, a few years after that, in 1991, somebody tweeted this:

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-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).

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

Linus (torvalds@kruuna.helsinki.fi)

PS. Yes – it’s free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. It is NOT portable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that’s all I have :-(.

–Linus Torvalds

I'll be celebrating 20 years of Linux with The Linux Foundation!

Looking back it is rather funny that Linux Torvalds was sad because he only had AT harddisks. Last I heard from him he was finishing his dive certification in some tropical place while 8 gazilibilion lines of the latest Linux kernel were being compiled on a computer with more power than all NASA computers that ever existed prior to Apollo 13 combined. Linus and Linux have come a long long way!

Anyway, that “tweet” (and yes, I’m only joking about it being a tweet) was sent out on this day 20 years ago. Happy birthday Linux!!!!

Here’s a little video from the Linux Foundation for you to enjoy.

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16 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Linux!

  1. Can we also celebrate a decade or two of “Is Linux ready for the desktop” articles from the technology media where the stories are never much more than lists of where Linux needs to catchup?

  2. I’ve been using Linux for most of those years, and I do remember when it was mostly unusable by less-technical folk like me. I don’t keep track of the way the big biz OSs do things, so tell me, If I wanted to install a new mouse on a Windows or Apple machine, would I still have to waste time with drivers and reboots and whatnot? A couple of days ago I installed a new cordless and ball-less mouse by plugging its receiver dongle into a USB port. No waiting, no driver disk, no hassle. It worked immediately. Linux has been ready for the desktop for a while now. It must have happened while the technology media were looking the other way.

  3. It depends on the distro, but the major ones have no problems with mice. I have a pretty exotic thing (Wacom Graphire II, a Pad with a Puck and a Pen) and AFAIK it works with all Debian derivatives out-of-the-box, and probably most non-Debians too. It helps that it works with USB.

    There are still some peripherals that don’t work. They require serious processing at the PC end, and use an unpublished protocol to pass the raw data. Typically the cheapest of printers and scanners. Better to stay away from them.

    And if I may drop names, I happened to shake hands with Linus on his graduation day. His professor lamented that the kid was good at writing code, but not so good at writing long prose, like a Master’s thesis. It delayed his graduation quite a lot.

  4. John: When I plug my mouse dongle into the obligatory Windows machine it discovers the new hardware with only two or three dialog boxes and only requests a reboot once! Meanwhile, Linux says and does nothing (other than that the mouse works fine) which makes me feel like my computer does not love me.

  5. I’d really like to see Linux make inroads into the home PC market. I’ve been using Ubuntu on discarded computer from my brother’s company since my aged iMac G3 that I modded the hell out of died a few months ago.

    I’m impressed at how easy it all is, though you do have to sometimes download some weird hacks to get old printers to work and to decompress winrar files. I can even screw around a little with the prompt by hitting escape before Ubuntu boots, and it boots fast so you’ve got to watch closely.

    And it’s cheap. You can run Ubuntu on a crappy machine about as well as Windows works on a top of the line machine. Let’s give cheap stripped down laptops running Ubuntu to poor kids and train them in Open Office. There will never be any disputes about licensing fees because there are no fees.

  6. Funny, when I plugged my wireless mouse dongle into a freshly installed Windows 7 box, it also just worked. Although, if you’re running Win2k or earlier, I could see a reboot being necessary when you plug in a USB device. I also just had to reboot after plugging my Webcam into the same Win7 box for the first time.

    The windows kernel has only recently been able to do things the linux kernel was doing almost all along. It can do most of what the linux kernel can do, but I suspect a lot of developers either don’t know that it can now load and unload most drivers on the fly, or don’t trust it to. So you still get installers that insist on a reboot even though it isn’t necessary.

  7. You know, it’s funny to me how bad a bet “Linux will probably never X” has been historically. With one exception: “Linux will probably never overtake Windows in marketshare” is likely true as long as Microsoft has an advertising budget and a lock on business desktops. There’s a lot of inertia there. Linux MIGHT overcome it, but until Microsoft folds, I hate to say it, but it’s unlikely.

  8. I think whether Linux surpasses Windows in market share depends on how one counts. Windows revenue share is a LOT bigger than that of Linux. In contrast, I’m willing to bet that more units of Linux will ship this quarter.

    Some sources indicate that about Android smart phones are shipping at about 200 million units per year. That is probably near the volume of Windows shipments. A lot of other devices, such as the Kindle, have Linux hidden inside. Many HP laptops have a “quick boot” capability that runs a version of Linux. Various industrial systems are based on Linux.

  9. Yeah, I’ve written about that somewhere. If you ask the question, what is the distribution of processor cycles associated with computer users, Linux may well beat everything hands down because so much of what our (well, their) windows computers do is to blindly pass along and occassionally muck up the output of LAMP servers which are doing quite a bit of work, as well as numerous network devices along the way running Linux. etc. Think of all those people sitting there checking their LAMP based email via a linux-powered router while answering their smart phones and reading their kindle. If you count *NIX systems in total (and thus include OS X) the number goes up even further!

  10. Yeah, you’re right — I was counting only desktops. As soon as you include servers and non-desktop devices (especially mobile ones), Linux wins hands-down. I shouldn’t undercut our cause like that!

    One thing I won’t compromise on though is including Mac OS X. It may be FreeBSD and thus *NIX, but it’s got so much proprietary stuff grafted on top that it can’t rightly be considered an open platform.

  11. Jason, yes, it needs to be considered separately, but not totally unconsidered. Any time *nix is at the base, it counts for something, because it is there because of its qualities, not its marketing appeal.

  12. I have just had trouble figuring out how to get Linux mint to recognize that my daughter’s laptop has a built-in webcam.

    Other than that I have been very happy with the way that Linux works.

  13. i’m sorry. i love Gnome, i can’t really get used to KDE, but syniag that they’re more straightforward or easy to use for the complete beginner than OS X is just hilarious.i wouldn’t give neither of them to my mom. and not because they are unintuitive or bad. no. because they’re not organised well enough. i’m not a fan of Apple’s recent innovations’, but OS X is the only OS that can please both a UNIX geek and a 5 year old child. too bad Apple tries restricts everything and alienates devs.

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