Rehan HoodaAug 26, 2016 19:16:30 IST
25 years ago, one Linus Benedict Torvalds started working on a part-time project. This was not any project like travel, working time, hacking, learning music or anything typical. Instead, this part-time hobby project was to work on an 'Operating System'. Yes, that's right, an operating system.
While mere mortals like us would waste our time gaming or sleeping, Linus Torvalds decided to build an OS. Well, technically not an entire operating system, but an OS Kernel. It's the most crucial part of the operating system anyway.
The kernel is the part of the software layer that talks to the physical hardware and acts as a mediator between user input and hardware response. Above the kernel sits the software that we interact with. This software is what a layman would call an 'Operating System'. But the story goes back beyond 25 years if we have to trace the rise of Linux. Linux rose from something that was existing at the time which. This was the GNU project (GNU's Not Unix), an attempt to rewrite Unix, the grandfather of all the operating systems, created by the former Dennis Ritchie, Ken Thompson, Brian Kernighan, Douglas McIlroy and Joe Ossanna.
The problem with Unix was the fact that it was owned by AT&T and was only available for very high end equipment dedicated for industrial use. The OS was expensive and unsuitable for an enthusiast's day-to-day use. AT&T was not interested in bringing Unix to daily usage on cheaper hardware, which made it impossible to be used on smaller machines by developers and programmers.
This urgent need to have an operating system to perform basic computing tasks prompted Richard Stallman to start the GNU Project in 1983. Just to provide perspective, Microsoft Windows 1.0 was launched on 20 November, 1985, while the first version of the Classic Mac OS was launched on 24 January, 1984. Keeping this in mind, it was a brave initiative on Richard Stallman's part that started this race of Operating Systems, fan-boy debates and discussions on which is the greatest operating system of them all.
Under the GNU project, the main aim of Stallman was to create a UNIX-compatible system based on the idea of free software. He later started the Free Software Foundation on 1985 and fixed the guidelines, writing the GPL (General Public License) in 1989. All other essential things like the Unix shell to provide a command-line interface, text editor and other essential things were available in the GNU Project (basically, all the complex high-end things that are essential for developers) were ready. But the low-level items like device drivers, kernel, and daemon (A Daemon is a background process on any computer that helps the entire system run without any manual oversight. You can consider it to be a script of sorts.)
The absence of a GNU Kernel made Linus start his work on the Linux Kernel in 1991. Nobody, including him, saw the importance of his work at that time. Amusingly, Torvalds' first post on his project describes his work as "just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu."
Soon after Linus released the Kernel, developers took to it like moths to a flame; they started working on it, modifying (modding) the code according to their needs and (porting) the code of the kernel to work on their devices. Another factor was MINIX. MINIX was created to work like a minimal Unix-like Operating system only available for students. The licensing issues with MINIX and the absence of 386BSD (a Unix-like operating system) made it impossible for Linus to use MINIX. After looking around, he turned to GNU, working on his Kernel for GNU. Little did he know that his creation would end up replacing all the MINIX components.
Soon after the release of the Linux Kernel, the developer community took the kernel and ran with it. They started using his kernel, which was based on the concept of open-source software, which meant that anyone could download the kernel, look at the code of the kernel and make changes or improvements to the code. This and the Free Software Foundation gave rise to the concept of Open Source which meant the same. Open Source and Free Software Foundation have a basic concept in place, where the source code of the software is provided online free with a license where the rights to study, make changes and distribute remains with the author of the software.
Developers started their work on top of the Linux Kernel made by Linus and started distributing their operating systems from the software collection. The applications of the Linux distributions vary massively, right from a pocket assistant to supercomputers in the contemporary world. This lead to the popularity of Linux, in general, giving birth to Linux distros like Debian, Fedora, Ubuntu, Red Hat, Oracle Linux, PCLinuxOS, among the latest, ChromeOS.
This popularity was, however, limited to experienced software developers who loved to tinker with their software setups. This popularity earned Linux the bad name of being a very high maintenance OS where the users needed to be programmers with in-depth knowledge of the workings of the hardware and the software. The popularity did not grow much on the main stats as the consumer space was overrun by Windows. This made the Linux loyalists claim every year as the 'Year of Linux' where Linux would overtake Windows Operating System over in the statistics.
Businesses like Oracle, Canonical, MySQL among many others have taken Open source as the way to do business because of the power of customizing that the entire system provides them. The companies can make customised and specialised solutions according to the needs of smaller companies or clients. Even though, critics point out that this leads to much higher maintenance costs for the companies where things take a lot of time to get fixed up, and any small change can break the entire setup. But regardless of it all, the efficiency of the working software solution is unparalleled.
For many years developers and users have been divided over the Windows Vs Linux debate but the mere fact that both cater to users with their specific set of needs and both strive to be better with time after 26 and 25 years is a testament to the entire geek community. After chasing market share for over decade and trying to dismiss Linux as a rival, Microsoft finally integrated Bash in Windows 10 along with a wider adoption to run backend on Linux for Microsoft Azure; its cloud service that runs almost all its services.
The fact that after 25 years, Linux, a thing that started as a one man 'hobby' to make a Kernel, now helps run billions of things in the entire world is a testament in itself.
To give you perspective of the situation, it won't be possible for you to operate the internet, forget about Facebook, Wikipedia and any other thing that you would enjoy. Are you looking at your phone? iPhone (not exactly Linux but it is based on Darwin which was based on BSD, based on Unix), Android, and almost all other Android-based forks are based on Linux and would not exist. If you think Windows is better then think again, most of the world is running Linux, you just don't notice it.
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