Operating system that power the world

Information, 26 Aug 2016, 05:36am GMT

August 25, 1991 when Linus Torvalds posted his famous message announcing the project, claiming that Linux was "just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu", then he couldn't imagined, after 25 years how big and professional it will be.



Today, Linux powers huge portions of the Internet, corporate data centers, websites, stock exchanges, the world's most widely used smartphone operating system, and nearly all of the world's fastest supercomputers. The successes easily outweigh Linux's failure to unseat Microsoft and Apple on PCs, but Linux has still managed to get on tens of millions of desktops and laptops and Linux software even runs on Windows. Though its beginnings were humble, Linux has become the world’s largest and most pervasive open source software project in history.


It all began when 20-year-old Linus Torvalds, was a computer science student at the University of Helsinki in Finland. Having begun his tech adventures at the age of 11 on a Commodore VIC-20, he became interested in the Minix operating system while at the university. Torvalds' interest in Minix was reportedly coupled with frustration over its licensing policies at the time, prompting him to launch an effort to create his own operating system. On that momentous day in August 1991, he crafted what's now become the legendary email that kicked things off.


Initially, Torvalds called his OS "Freax", but later he settled on "Linux" and even published an audio guide to pronouncing the name. Version 0.01 of the Linux kernel debuted September 1991. When Torvalds released version 0.12 in February 1992, he announced a switch to the GNU General Public License (GPL). It wasn't until March 1994 that Linux 1.0 appeared, comprising 176,250 lines of code. That was not the very first Linux distribution, but Softlanding Linux System was founded in May 1992 with the slogan, "Gentle Touchdowns for DOS Bailouts", and was arguably the first to be widely used.


Today, SLS is most commonly considered the predecessor to Slackware. Slackware was born in 1993, when Patrick Volkerding was a student at Minnesota State University Moorhead and helped a professor install SLS. Today, Slackware is the oldest distribution that's still maintained, and Volkerding is still the person handling that.


Back in 1994, most popular enterprise Linux distro appear as Red Hat, and its namesake distribution appeared on CD-ROM. The company's hat logo has evolved considerably over the years and derives from Red Hat Linux creator Marc Ewing's habit of wearing his grandfather’s red Cornell lacrosse cap while a student at Carnegie Mellon University.


Linux grew steadily, and there could have been no better testament to its increasing strength than Microsoft's growing unease. The most memorable early evidence of that concern was the infamous 2001 comment by then-CEO Steve Ballmer in which he said, "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches." It might be difficult to confuse software with soap, but in 2001 Swiss company Rösch launched its Linux brand of detergent. The product is still sold today, but Torvalds holds the Linux trademark for "computer operating system software to facilitate computer use and operation."


It's not often you see a TV ad for Linux today, but back in 2003 IBM created a big one for a big occasion: the Super Bowl. Spanning a full 90 seconds, the commercial ended with the tag line, "The future is open." Linus Torvalds may not have planned for his little "hobby" to get all "big and professional," but sure enough that's exactly what it did. In 2005 that was plain for all the world to see when Torvalds was featured on the cover of BusinessWeek and in a prominent article describing Linux's growing business success. Linux has done enormously well on numerous platforms, but its most mainstream and widespread success has surely come through Android, which is based on the Linux kernel. More than 80 percent of smartphones today run the mobile OS, which made its debut back in 2007 along with the Open Handset Alliance.


Success can be defined in countless ways, but it's hard to argue with bottom-line results. In 2012, Red Hat became the first open source company to surpass US$1 billion in revenue. "Red Hat is the first pure-play, open source company, and one of only a select few software companies, to have achieved the billion dollar revenue milestone," said president and CEO Jim Whitehurst in the announcement. "The open source technologies which we provide are being selected by more customers every day as they re-architect the infrastructure of their data centers for greater efficiency, agility and cloud enablement."


What a difference a decade (or so) makes. Back in 2001, Microsoft called Linux a cancer; in 2014, it declared its love. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella first confessed the company's new found passion at an event in October of that year, and the message has been repeated more than once since then. You've come a long way, Linux. Linux and Microsoft may now be pals, but plenty of users out there relish choice, and that's just what the Linux world provides. Even recently, Linus Torvalds' conversation with Microsoft people in LinuxCon flooded social media. Some people say that Microsoft employed Linus to improve their OS and other says they are working together to improve their OS. But all are rumor, nothing is official yet.



Today, there are distros to fit every taste and purpose, not to mention every platform. Who says you can't have exactly what you want in computing. There is no longer any denying that Linux has, in many ways, achieved world domination. On the web, it powers more than 95 percent of the top 1 million domains. Most of the world's financial markets run it, and so do 98 percent of the top 500 fastest supercomputers. More than 75 percent of cloud-enabled enterprises say it's their primary cloud platform. And for its next trick? Linux is already being used in space. But as per Torvalds, Linux didn't win yet. He is commonly quoted as saying, "If Microsoft ever does applications for Linux it means I've won."


As its importance has grown, development of Linux has steadily shifted from unpaid volunteers to professional developers. The 25th anniversary version of the Linux Kernel Development Report, released by the Linux Foundation, notes that "the volume of contributions from unpaid developers has been in slow decline for many years. It was 14.6 percent in the 2012 version of this paper, 13.6 percent in 2013, and 11.8 percent in 2014; over the period covered by this report, it has fallen to 7.7 percent. There are many possible reasons for this decline, but, arguably, the most plausible of those is quite simple: Kernel developers are in short supply, so anybody who demonstrates an ability to get code into the mainline tends not to have trouble finding job offers". Torvalds himself oversees development of the kernel as an employee of the nonprofit Linux Foundation, which is funded by contributions from corporations and individuals. Linux is important enough to the bottom line of major technology companies that they don't mind employees contributing to the kernel on their employers' dime.



"The kernel has grown steadily since its first release in 1991, when there were only about10,000 lines of code. At almost 22 million lines (up from nearly 19 million), the kernel is almost three million lines larger than it was at the time of the previous version of this paper.Another way of putting this it that, in the production of the 3.19 to 4.7 releases, the kernel community added nearly 11 files and 4,600 lines of code — every day" as per report.



The development model has been fine-tuned over the years so that the release cycle is quite predictable, with a new version coming out every nine or 10 weeks. But the numbering scheme which jumped from version 3.19 to 4.0 in April 2015 and is now up to 4.7 -is harder to predict, unless you are Linus Torvalds.


"The release of the 4.0 kernel, ending the 3.x series, was not indicative of anything in particular beyond the fact that the minor numbers were getting large and Linus Torvalds was 'running out of  fingers and toes,'" the report said. "Every kernel release is a 'major' release with significant changes; the numbering scheme no longer matters much."