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History Of Linux I

What is Linux?

What is Linux used for?

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Linux is an Operating System, which acts as a communication service between the hardware (or physical equipment of a computer) and the software (or applications which use the hardware) of a computer system.

The Linux Kernel (the core, much like a popcorn kernel) contains all of the features that you would expect in any Operating System. Some of the features included are:

  • Multitasking (a technique for sharing a single processor between several independent jobs)
  • Virtual Memory (allows repetitive, extended use of the computer's RAM for performance enhancement)
  • Fast TCP/IP Drivers (for speedy communication)
  • Shared Libraries (enable applications to share common code)
  • Multi-user Capability (this means hundreds of people can use the computer at the same time, either over a network, the Internet, or on laptops/computers or terminals connected to the serial ports of those computers).
  • Protected Mode (allows programs to access physical memory, and protects stability of the system)

What is a Linux Distribution?
Linux is distributed by a number of commercial and non-commercial organizations who add to, or enhance the basic functions (or kernel) of the operating system. SuSE Linux, for example, is a distribution of Linux with features of the core Linux Kernel and enhancements, which are specific to that distribution. Linux distributions come completely pre-configured to specifications set by that organization, and include configuration utilities and installers.

Can I run GUI Programs on Linux?
Linux has a free X Windows Graphical User Interface (GUI), similar to Microsoft Windows which allows most X Based programs to run under Linux without any modification. Windows programs can run inside of X-Windows with the help of an emulator called WINE. Usually, Windows programs can run up to 10 times faster, due to Linux' buffering capabilities!

Will Linux work well with my network?
Networking support in Linux is advanced and superior to most other Operating Systems. Since the people developing Linux collaborated and used the Internet for their development efforts, networking support came early in Linux development. As an Internet server, Linux is a very good choice, often outperforming Windows NT, Novell and most UNIX systems on the same hardware (even multiprocessor boxes). Linux is frequently chosen by leading businesses for superior server and network performance.

Linux supports all of the most common Internet protocols, including Electronic Mail, Usenet News, Gopher, Telnet, Web, FTP, Talk, POP, NTP, IRC, NFS, DNS, NIS, SNMP, Kerberos, WAIS and many more. Linux can operate as a client or as a server for all of the above and has already been widely used and tested.

Linux also fits easily and tightly into Local Area Networks (LANs), regardless of system combinations, providing full and seamless support for Macintosh, DOS, Windows, Windows NT, Windows 95, Novell, OS/2, using their own native communication protocols. Linux can do all of this with low memory requirements.

Will Linux run on my Mac?
Linux continues to develop quickly, with distributions for PowerPC, Macintosh, Amiga and some Atari's.

What if Linus Torvalds stops working on Linux?
Linux is written and maintained by Linus Torvalds and programmers worldwide using the Internet as a communication tool. Linux aims towards POSIX compliance (a set of standards that show what a UNIX should be). If Linus Torvalds ever decided to abandon the project, since we have the full source code available, somebody else could take his place. The Linux kernel development will still continue no matter what happens to Linus.

What are the license restrictions?
The Linux Kernel is Copyright (c) Linus B. Torvalds under the terms of the General Public License (GPL). The GPL states that the source code must be freely distributed and that anyone is allowed to make copies for their own use, or to sell or give to other people (with a few restrictions). While most Linux software is GPL'd, this does not mean that all software developed or ported to Linux has to be. Many other licenses exist, with some commercial software packages having more restrictive licenses, such as the common copying restrictions faced by Windows users.

Are there any applications that run on Linux?
There are thousands of applications running on Linux worldwide. See "What is Linux Used For?" for a small sampling of the many ways Linux is used today.

Why is there a Penguin on Linux stuff?
Tux is the Linux mascot, chosen by Linus Torvalds, who said, "I was looking for something fun and sympathetic to associate with Linux. A slightly fat penguin that sits down after having had a great meal fits the bill perfectly.... Don't take the penguin too seriously. It's supposed to be kind of goofy and fun, that's the whole point. Linux is supposed to be goofy and fun (it's also the best operating system out there, but it's goofy and fun at the same time!)." [quote borrowed from http://www.nd.edu/~ljordan/linux/tuxhistory.html]


Linux has a rich history. It is essential to understand Linux's history in order to understand the philosophy behind Linux's programming. This guide hopes to cover what Linux is really about, show you its history, why it was formed, and a brief description of its capabilities and how it operates.

What is Linux?

Linux is a freely distributed operating system that behaves like the Unix operating system. Linux was designed specifically for the PC platform and takes advantage of its design to give users comparable performance to high-end UNIX workstations. Many big-name companies have joined the Linux bandwagon such as IBM and Compaq, offering systems pre-installed with Linux. Also, many companies have started Linux packages, such as Red Hat, Corel, and Samba. However, they can only charge for services and documentation packaged with the Linux software. More and more businesses are using Linux as an efficient and more economical way to run their networks.

Linux is a complete multitasking, multi-user operating system that behaves like UNIX in terms of kernel behavior and peripheral support. Linux has all the features of UNIX and boasts of its open source code and mainly free utilities.

The Linux kernel was originally developed for the Intel 80386, which was developed with multitasking as one of its features. The kernel is the lowest-level core factor of the operating system. The kernel is the code that controls the interface between user programs and hardware devices, the scheduling of processes to achieve multitasking, and many other aspects of the system. The Linux kernel is a monolithic kernel; all the device drivers are part of the kernel proper. Despite the fact that most of Intel's CPUs are used with single-tasking MS-DOS, Linux makes good use of the advanced multitasking features built into the CPU's instruction set. Linux supports demand paging, which means that only the sections of a program that are necessary are read into RAM. Linux also offers support for copy-on-write, a process that if more than one copy of a particular application is loaded, all tasks can share the same memory. When large memory requirements are needed and only small amounts of physical RAM are available, Linux has another feature called swap space. Swap space allows pages of memory to be written to a reserved area of a disk and treated as an extension of physical memory. By moving pages between the swap space and RAM, Linux can, in effect, act as if it had much more physical RAM than it does, with the cost of some speed due to the hard drive's slower access. Linux also supports diverse file systems, as well as those compatible with DOS and OS/2. Linux's file system, ext2fs, is intended for best possible use of the disk.

The History of Linux

Linux is a freely distributable version of UNIX. UNIX is one of the most popular operating systems for networking worldwide because of its large support base and distribution. Linus Torvalds, who was then a student at the University of Helsinki in Finland, developed Linux in 1991. It was released for free on the Internet and generated the largest software-development phenomena of all time. Because of GNU software (GNU being an acronym for Gnu's Not UNIX) created by the Free Software Foundation, Linux has many utilities to offer. The Free Software Foundation offers royalty-free software to programmers and developers. From the very beginning, Linux has been entwined with GNU software. From 1991, Linux quickly developed on hackers' web pages as the alternative to Windows and the more expensive UNIX systems. When Red Hat released its commercial version of Linux packaged with tech support and documentation, the floodgates broke and the majority of the public became aware of Linux and its capabilities. Now more and more new users are willing to try Linux on their personal PCs and business users are willing to use Linux to run their networks. Linux has become the latest phenomenon to hit the PC software market.

Linux is a unique operating system in that it is an active participant in the Open Source Software movement. Linux is legally covered by the GNU General Public License, also known as GPL. Open Source software is free but is not in the public domain. It is not shareware either. GPL allows people to take free software and distribute their own versions of the software. However, the vendors who sell free software cannot restrict the rights of users who purchase the software. In other words, users who buy GPL software can make copies of it and distribute it free of charge or for a fee. Also, distributors of GPL software must make it clear that the software is covered by the GPL and must provide the complete source code for the software at no cost. Linux embodies the Open Source model. Open source applies to software for which the source code is freely available for anyone to download, alter, and redistribute. Linux is the perfect operating system for hackers because they can freely download newer versions of the Linux kernel or other Linux utilities of the Internet and instantly change its source code to fix any software bugs found. That way, bugs can be fixed in a matter of hours as opposed to days and weeks. Beta testers and code debuggers are unorganized and spread throughout the world, but surprisingly, they have managed to quickly debug Linux software efficiently and cooperate online through the use of the Internet.


a. In The Beginning

It was 1991, and the ruthless agonies of the cold war was gradually coming to an end. There was an air of peace and tranquility that prevailed in the horizon. In the field of computing, a great future seemed to be in the offing, as powerful hardware pushed the limits of the computers beyond what anyone expected.

But still, something was missing.

And it was the none other than the Operating Systems, where a great void seemed to have appeared.

For one thing, DOS was still reigning supreme in its vast empire of personal computers. Bought by Bill Gates from a Seattle hacker for $50,000, the bare bones operating system had sneaked into every corner of the world by virtue of a clever marketing strategy. PC users had no other choice. Apple Macs were better, but with astronomical prices that nobody could afford, they remained a horizon away from the eager millions.

The other dedicated camp of computing was the Unix world. But Unix itself was far more expensive. In quest of big money, the Unix vendors priced it high enough to ensure small PC users stayed away from it. The source code of Unix, once taught in universities courtesy of Bell Labs, was now cautiously guarded and not published publicly. To add to the frustration of PC users worldwide, the big players in the software market failed to provide an efficient solution to this problem.

A solution seemed to appear in form of MINIX. It was written from scratch by Andrew S. Tanenbaum, a Dutch professor who wanted to teach his students the inner workings of a real operating system. It was designed to run on the Intel 8086 microprocessors that had flooded the world market.

As an operating system, MINIX was not a superb one. But it had the advantage that the source code was available. Anyone who happened to get the book 'Operating System' by Tanenbaum could get hold of the 12,000 lines of code, written in C and assembly language. For the first time, an aspiring programmer or hacker could read the source codes of the operating system, which to that time the software vendors had guarded vigorously. A superb author, Tanenbaum captivated the brightest minds of computer science with the elaborate and immaculately lively discussion of the art of creating a working operating system. Students of Computer Science all over the world poured over the book, reading through the codes to understand the very system that runs their computer.

And one of them was Linus Torvalds.


b. New Baby in the Horizon

In 1991, Linus Benedict Torvalds was a second year student of Computer Science at the University of Helsinki and a self-taught hacker. The 21 year old sandy haired soft-spoken Finn loved to tinker with the power of the computers and the limits to which the system can be pushed. But all that was lacking was an operating system that could meet the demands of the professionals. MINIX was good, but still it was simply an operating system for the students, designed as a teaching tool rather than an industry strength one.

At that time, programmers worldwide were greatly inspired by the GNU project by Richard Stallman, a software movement to provide free and quality software. Revered as a cult hero in the realm of computing, Stallman started his awesome career in the famous Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, and during the mid and late seventies, created the emacs editor. In the early eighties, commercial software companies lured away much of the brilliant programmers of the AI lab, and negotiated stringent nondisclosure agreements to protect their secrets. But Stallman had a different vision. His idea was that unlike other products, software should be free from restrictions against copying or modification in order to make better and efficient computer programs. With his famous 1983 manifesto that declared the beginnings of the GNU project, he started a movement to create and distribute software that conveyed his philosophy (Incidentally, the name GNU is a recursive acronym which actually stands for 'GNU is Not Unix'). But to achieve this dream of ultimately creating a free operating system, he needed to create the tools first. So, beginning in 1984, Stallman started writing the GNU C Compiler(GCC), an amazing feat for an individual programmer. With his legendary technical wizardry, he alone outclassed entire groups of programmers from commercial software vendors in creating GCC, considered as one of the most efficient and robust compilers ever created.

By 1991, the GNU project created a lot of the tools. The much awaited Gnu C compiler was available by then, but there was still no operating system. Even MINIX had to be licensed. Work was going the GNU kernel HURD, but that was not supposed to come out within a few years.

That was too much of a delay for Linus.

In August 25, 1991 the historic post was sent to the MINIX news group by Linus .....

From: torvalds@klaava.Helsinki.FI (Linus Benedict Torvalds)
Newsgroups: comp.os.minix
Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?
Summary: small poll for my new operating system
Message-ID: <1991Aug25.205708.9541@klaava.Helsinki.FI>
Date: 25 Aug 91 20:57:08 GMT
Organization: University of Helsinki

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 :-)
Linus (torvalds@kruuna.helsinki.fi)
PS. Yes - it's free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs.
It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never
will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that's
all I have :-(.


As it is apparent from the posting, Linus himself didn't believe that his creation was going to be big enough to change computing forever. Linux version 0.01 was released by mid September 1991, and was put on the net. Enthusiasm gathered around this new kid on the block, and codes were downloaded, tested, tweaked, and returned to Linus. 0.02 came on October 5th, along with this famous declaration from Linus:

From: torvalds@klaava.Helsinki.FI (Linus Benedict Torvalds)
Newsgroups: comp.os.minix
Subject: Free minix-like kernel sources for 386-AT
Message-ID: <1991Oct5.054106.4647@klaava.Helsinki.FI>
Date: 5 Oct 91 05:41:06 GMT
Organization: University of Helsinki
Do you pine for the nice days of minix-1.1, when men were men and wrote their own device drivers? Are you
without a nice project and just dying to cut your teeth on a OS you can try to modify for your
needs? Are you finding it frustrating when everything works on minix? No more all-nighters to get a nifty program
working? Then this post might be just for you :-)
As I mentioned a month(?) ago, I'm working on a free version of a minix-lookalike for AT-386 computers. It has
finally reached the stage where it's even usable (though may not be depending on
what you want), and I am willing to put out the sources for wider distribution. It is  just version 0.02 (+1 (very
small) patch already), but I've successfully run bash/gcc/gnu-make/gnu-sed/compress etc under it.
Sources for this pet project of mine can be found at nic.funet.fi ( in the directory /pub/OS/Linux.
The directory also contains some README-file and a couple of binaries to work under linux
(bash, update and gcc, what more can you ask for :-). Full kernel source is provided, as no minix code has been
used. Library sources are only partially free, so that cannot be distributed currently. The system is able to compile
"as-is" and has been known to work. Heh. Sources to the binaries (bash and gcc) can be found at the
same place in /pub/gnu.

Linux version 0.03 came in a few weeks. By December came version 0.10. Still Linux was little more than in skeletal form. It had only support for AT hard disks, had no login ( booted directly to bash). version 0.11 was much better with support for multilingual keyboards, floppy disk drivers, support for VGA,EGA, Hercules etc. The version numbers went directly from 0.12 to 0.95 and 0.96 and so on. Soon the code went worldwide via ftp sites at Finland and elsewhere.

c. Confrontation & Development


Soon Linus faced some confrontation from none other than Andrew Tanenbaum, the great teacher who wrote MINIX. In a post to Linus, Tanenbaum commented:

" I still maintain the point that designing a monolithic kernel in 1991 is a fundamental error.  Be thankful you are not my
student.  You would not get a high grade for such a design :-)"
(Andrew Tanenbaum to Linus Torvalds)

Linus later admitted that it was the worst point of his development of Linux. Tanenbaum was certainly the famous professor, and anything he said certainly mattered. But he was wrong with Linux, for Linus was one stubborn guy who won't admit defeat.

Tanenbaum also remarked that : "Linux is obsolete".

Now was the turn for the new Linux generation. Backed by the strong Linux community, Linus gave a reply to Tanenbaum which seems to be most fitting:

Your job is being a professor and researcher: That's one hell of a good excuse for some of the brain-damages of minix.
(Linus Torvalds to Andrew Tanenbaum)


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