Where shall I begin? It’s omnipresent. TV, car, stock exchange, hospital, ATM machine, everything, almost everything is backed up by Linux. Its kernel is what everything runs on top of. Android OS is nothing but Linux, 80% of the financial trade is driven by Linux, almost 90% of supercomputers are running on, yes, Linux. Your favorite websites: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter – they all are powered by Linux. Space shuttles, mobile devices, enterprises, web-infrastructures, data centers, the cutting-edge recent buzz Raspberry-Pi wouldn’t have been so sophisticated if it wasn’t for Linux. Even Apple’s Mac OS and iOS are deep down, Linux.
In 2011, Twitter joined Samsung, Intel and IBM by taking up membership of the Linux foundation.
“Linux and its ability to be heavily tweaked is the fundamental to our technology infrastructure,” said Chris Aniszczyk, open source manager at Twitter. Remember the Large Hadron Collider at CERN? The place where scientists were trying to collide proton particles fora better understanding of the origin of the universe? Yes, they too have been using Linux. “We’re a pure Linux shop from the point of view of computing and software,” said Calafiura, chief architect of ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus) software. “Crucially, using Linux allows HEP centers to keep costs down”, he added. Inspired by GNU, sacred UNIX, and the awesome compiler C++, Linux has reached sky heights. Teaming up with the internet, they have together changed the human civilization more rapidly than any pair of invention ever could. It’s certainly ahead of its competition.
For example, in Windows and Mac OS, you have to first buy the OS and still, you are prohibited from altering the source code. Linux is the antithesis of all this. It’s permissive. It’s immediate. It’s insanely fast. And also, it’s freely available to everyone. In the exact words of its founder “The most important thing about Linux is that it’s practical reality.” But when exactly did it become so practical, I mean popular? In the midst of the battle between Apple and Microsoft to rule the OS world, when did Linux signed up for the cruise? From the texty VDU (visual display unit) to the elegant GUI (graphical user interface), we capture the high and low points of their story of evolution.
Late in the 60s, two legends, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, built the C progamming language, which later proved to be the foundation of UNIX. Richard Stallman’s GNU Project, the book Operating Systems: Design and Implementation by Prof. Andrew S Tanenbaum, Berkley Software Distribution (BSD) have had impeccable ideological and philosophical contributions. But it was made possible only by a Finnish student named Linus Torvalds who back in 1991 put all the thing he had learned and made a kernel, a kernel to rule them all, Linux 0.01. Any guesses how many MBs it was consuming? 71 KB! Please note that running a Linux or any other OS wasn’t something for faint of heart. Forget booting off from a hard drive, you were required to keep flipping floppy disks.
The first five years after its inception weren’t too significant though, in 1992, Slackware (It was called Slackware Linux System then) came into existence being amongst the earliest OS that ran on top of a Linux Kernel.
Slackware was very ahead of its time, it was running on Linux 0.99, and its version 1.0 was released over 24 floppy disks. It also had TCP/IP implementation. In the same year, Ian Murdock founded another Linux based distro and named it The Debian Linux Release. Something happened, a commitment which changed everything, Linus licensed Linux under GPL (general public license), which essentially made the OS, open source.
Arrival of Commercial LINUX
In the meantime, they kept tinkering with the kernel, adding one or two new features and to be honest, nothing much was happening, until Marc Ewing in late 94 created the first commercial Linux OS, Red Hat Commercial Linux. By March of 1994, Linux 1.0.0 had come out, it reportedly had around some 175.000 lines of code.
Thing with Linux is as you know, it is free, it has always been this way. Its developers don’t necessarily belong to rich background, there is no such monopoly. In fact, back in those days, if you had enough time, skill and dedication, you could make this OS better. That was enough for you to get in. So, how do they generate revenue? By offering a support system to the users. The Operating System is, of course, free, but when you needed any help or such assistance, you were asked to put some money on the table. Red Hat Linux was the first OS to grow around this motto. It specialized in the distribution and growth of the OS.
1995 witnessed the birth of many crucial Linux distributions, first one to arrive was Jurix Linux. It featured a scriptable installer, which helped the admin to use the same OS on several machines; it was also supporting BOOTP (Bootstrap Protocol) and NFS (Network File System). The reason why it made such a buzz back then lies in the fact that it had the EXT2 file base system (second extended filesystem) which proved to be a key point in shaping today’s SUSE Linux.
Meanwhile, Red Hat Linux was expanding, and so were its competitors. Many OS rose and fell, in the meantime Linux kernel 2.0 was ready. Linux was attracting loyal users, with:
- better memory management
- SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) support
- high compatibility with additional types of processors
- read-only capability for NTFS file system (new technology file system)
- support for the Power PC architecture
PENGUIN BECAME THE OFFICIAL MASCOT (But why?)
Ever wondered why penguin is the mascot of Linux? Well, here is the story. In 1996, the founder of principal Linux, Mr. Linus Torvalds visited a zoo in Australia. Unfortunately, he was bitten by a violent penguin. The second part of the story is weirder – he said, he got infected with penguinitis, which keeps the victim awake at night and uhh…they see penguins in dream! Anyway, he liked penguins, so here’s the mystery of penguin demystified. As far as the name TUX (name of the penguin) goes, according to the magazine Linux Format, this could be taken from (T)orvalds (U)ni(X). It was also the year when the Debian-based system signed up for the cruise. The biggest news, although, was the birth of Kool Desktop Environment (KDE) and Gnome. And people, this is when their war started! In early 1997, Miguel de Icaza and Federico Mena Quintero spoke about the development of a new desktop environment which they called Gnome. Evidently, Red Hat was the first Linux OS to work around Gnome.
THE ENIGMATIC LINUX RISES
Something strange had happened with Linux, explains Eric Raymond, the author of the book, “The Cathedral and The Bazaar”. Eric used to code and was also one of the earliest contributors in this field, when he first got the copy of the first commercial Linux based OS which was distributed over CD ROM. Being a software engineer for 15 years, he said:
I was completely astonished. According to all the rules I knew about controlling complexity and keeping the project group small and have exclusive manageable objects, Linux should have been a disaster and it wasn’t, instead it was something beautiful. In 1998, Oracle and Sun joined the club by providing support for the Linux versions. At 3 PM, on August 10, 1999 in Linux World, Linus Torvalds gave a sensational keynote, and was overwhelmed by the crowd presence and their participation in Q&A section. Stock market value of Linux and Red Hat were shooting skies. By this time, many tech giants had begun supporting Linux.
In 2000, a friendly Debian-based distribution, Knoppix, came out to later become one of the most popular Linux based OS of all times. It was a big step. The reason is, it was among the first Linux based distribution that could boot directly from the CD. This is when the perception of Live CD guided its way to success. It created a mess, at least to its competitor Microsoft. While Microsoft was trying to sell its OS Microsoft Windows 98, SE and 2000, the smart guys at Linux were building communities such as Linux From Scratch (LFS) and writing books telling people how they could build their own Linux system from source.
Later in the same year, Linux Foundation was formed to fund and protect the work of Linus and the developers’ community. In 2001, Linux kernel 2.4 came out, and it was summing up all the essential things a PC user needs to function. It was also supporting PC Cards, later they added Bluetooth capabilities to it, EXT3 file system, RAID (redundant array of independent disks), and most importantly USB. Year 2002 saw the birth, as well as the rise of the remarkable OS CRUX. It was significantly lightweight. This distro later inspired and paved the base for Arch Linux.
LINUX and Web Server
Linux was not left restricted to computers, it went beyond it, and it soon found its way to the web servers. The killer application of Linux was definitely Apache web server.
Let me tell you why it was such a big deal. Numerous institutions, commercial businesses and individuals by then had started developing their own websites, and in those days, to handle traffic and managing and storing the files, the ISP (internet service provider) needed to allocate each user a different server. Apache web server was the solution, because it was powerful enough to support multiple websites on a single machine. And so, ISPs choose Apache web servers over the Windows servers. Linux was becoming more mainstream.
Arrival of UBUNTU
In 2003, Linux kernel 2.6 was released, it was basically aimed for 64-bit support, and till date appreciated EXT4 file file system and 16TB file system memory size. Same year, Linux gained more popularity after IBM ran the famous Linux ad during superbowl. On 20th October 2004, Ubuntu 4.10 was released and 8 years from now, it is undoubtedly the best form of Linux you could have. Ubuntu was neat, simple, and easy-to-install.
In 2005, Linus appeared on the cover of BusinessWeek telling the story of Linux’s success. 2006 witnessed the birth of the fourth most used operating system in the world, Linux Mint. It notably have had massive support for its users. After the criticism of its previous versions, in late 2007 and early 2008 KDE4 was released, and by this time, the elegant Plasma desktop has arrived in the market. And KDE helped users to explore its beauty through it.
The Mobile OS “ANDROID” Launched
Year 2008. The year Linux went mobile. The year in which the most popular Linux based OS was released. Yes, we are talking about Android. Although (understandably) Android was too buggy in its days of inception. HTC Dream coupled this OS with its hardware, and the reaction from the users were for one thing, not overwhelming. But after further development, Android Cupcake (1.5) started making a way to its users’ heart.
POPULAR LINUX BASED OS
Fedora, Open SUSE, Puppy Linux, the infamous hacking OS BackTrack and Ubuntu with several other Linux based OS kept on mounting. Speaking of Ubuntu, when everything was going in favor of them, they redesigned the user interface and called it “Unity”. It failed really badly. But it has really improved through growing pains of rejection and updates. Anyway, it was time for the next kernel release, which was version 3.0. Though, it didn’t had many new things to offer. And then, something stupid happened. Gnome team launched Gnome 3.0, and it only made its existing users to hate it and switch to KDE.
HARDWARE-SOFTWARE COUPLING WITH EASE
Another interesting thing that made all of us awe for Linux is its remarkable hardware experience. The coupling of hardware and software is pretty explicit. There was a time, not many years ago, when you had to find software drivers for your laptop’s manufacturer, get annoyed with testing and hoping something will eventually work. Well, that hasn’t been witnessed in recent times. Why? Because, you don’t essentially need any additional hardware drivers (Graphics card, audio, wireless drivers) for any new Linux distribution such as Ubuntu, Fedora, Open SUSE, or even the OS that only consumes 100 MB in its decompressed state, Puppy Linux.
Just this week, Linux 3.8 was released, codenamed “Unicycling Gorilla”, and it proves to be quite remarkable, so far. For the first time since the inception of the Linux OS, it doesn’t support Intel 386 chip architecture. They have worked to uplift their graphics standard. Also, they have instigated a new file system called F2FS (flash-friendly file system), which has been designed for the adoption of NAND flash memory devices.
In his interview to LXF, Gunnar Hellekson, Chief technology strategist for Red Hat’s US Public Sector group, revealed many unfamiliar facts. He said, “By making SELinux available, it’s improved the security of the country.” He added, “The government has been contributing to the Linux Kernel since 2000.”
I see a bright future of Linux, in a world where everyone is trying to sell you something, Linux seems to me as a savior. While talking to Chip, Chief Research Officer at F-Secure, Mikko Hypponen cited how Linux has reached the dream place they had envisioned 20 years ago. Just last week, Steam made its way to Linux, let’s see if gamers tune into it. Android has already showed its dominance in the smartphone world. Now is the high time for you Windows users to get a piece of Linux. I have been to many forums, and learned that the majority of Windows users are unwilling to even try Linux because they don’t feel like home at Linux, which could be understood because Linux has a pretty dissimilar UI. If that is what has kept you from witnessing the next big thing, there is a Windows alike Linux OS, it’s called Zorin. Feel free to try it. It’s insanely simple.
Now for the bonus, if you want to download the very first version of Linux that Linus created, just for the sake of good old times, you can grab it from here.