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History Of Linux II



And work went on. Soon more than a hundred people joined the Linux camp. Then thousands. Then hundreds of thousands. This was no longer a hackers toy. Powered by a plethora of programs from the GNU project, Linux was ready for the actual showdown. It was licensed under GNU General Public License, thus ensuring that the source codes will be free for all to copy, study and to change. Students and computer programmers grabbed it.

Soon, commercial vendors moved in. Linux itself was, and is free. What the vendors did was to compile up various software and gather them in a distributable format, more like the other operating systems with which people were more familiar. Red Hat , Caldera, Debian, and some other companies gained substantial amount of response from the users worldwide. With the new Graphical User Interfaces (like X-windows, KDE, GNOME)the Linux distributions became very popular.

Meanwhile, there were amazing things happening with Linux. Besides the PC, Linux was ported to many different platforms. Linux was tweaked to run 3Com's handheld PalmPilot computer. Clustering technology enabled large number of Linux machines to be combined into a single computing entity, a parallel computer. In April 1996, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory used Linux to run 68 PCs as a single parallel processing machine to simulate atomic shock waves.But unlike other Supercomputers costing a fortune, it was rather cheap. The do-it-yourself supercomputer cost only $152,000, including labor (connecting the 68 PCs with cables)-about one tenth the price of a comparable commercial machine. It reached a peak speed of 19 billion calculations per second, making it the 315th most powerful supercomputer in the world. And it was a robust one too. Three months later it still didn't have to be rebooted.

The best thing about Linux today is the fanatic following it commands. Whenever a new piece of hardware is out, Linux kernel is tweaked to take advantage of it. For example, within weeks after the introduction of Intel Xeon® Microprocessor, Linux kernel was tweaked and was ready for it. It has also been adapted for use in Alpha, Mac, PowerPC, and even for palmtops, a feat which is hardly matched by any other operating system. And it continues its journey into the new millennium, with the same enthusiasm that started one fine day back in 1991.

As for Linus, he remains a simple man. Unlike Bill Gates, he is not a billionaire. Having completed studies, he moved to USA andlanded a job at Transmeta Corporation. After conducting a top-secret research and development project, Transmeta launched the Cruose™ processor. Linus was an active member of the research team. Recently married to Tove, he is the proud father of a girl, Patricia Miranda Torvalds. But he remains as the world's most favorite and most famous programmer to this date. Revered by Computer communities worldwide, Linus is by far the most popular programmer on this planet.

d. After a Decade: Linux Today

Proving all the warning and prophecies of the skeptics wrong, Linux has completed a decade of development. Today, Linux is one of the fastest growing operating systems in the history. From a few dedicated fanatics in 1991-92 to millions of general users at present, it is certainly a remarkable journey. The big businesses have 'discovered' Linux, and have poured millions of dollars into the development effort, denouncing the anti-business myth of the open-source movement. IBM corp. once considered the archenemy of open-source hacker community, has come forward with a huge fund for development of open source Linux based solutions. But what's really amazing is the continuously increasing band of developers spread throughout the world who work with a fervent zeal to improve upon the features of Linux. The development effort is not, as many closed-sourced advocates accuse, totally engulfed with chaos. A well designed development model supervised by some maintainers is adopted. Along with this, there are thousands of developers working to port various applications to Linux.

Commercial enterprises are no longer wary of Linux. With a large number of vendors providing support for Linux based products, it is no longer a 'do-at-your-own-risk' thing to use Linux at the office. As for reliability, Linux certainly proved it during the nasty attacks of the CIH virus in 1999 and the love bug a year later, during which Linux based machines proved to be immune to the damages caused by these otherwise quite simple computer viruses. Linux start-ups like Red Hat received a cordial response as they went public. And even after the dot-com bust of the recent years, these companies continue to thrive and grow. With this added confidence, many large and small busienesses have adopted Linux based servers and workstations as an integral part of their offices.

Rise of the Desktop Linux

What is the biggest complain against Linux? Perhaps in the past, it was the text based interface which scared off many people from using it. 'Text mode gives total control', some dedicated hackers and heavy users may explain. But for the millions of ordinary people, it also means a lot of effort towards learning the system. The existing X-Windows system and the window managers were not up to the general computer users' expectation. Exactly this argument had always been put forward by dedicated followers of the Windows(TM) camp. But things began to change in the last couple of years. The advent of professional looking desktop environments like KDE( K Desktop Environment) and GNOME completed the picture. The recent versions of these desktop environment have changed the general perception about the 'user friendliness' of Linux to a great extent. Though hard-core users grumble about the loss of purity of the hacker-culture, this great change in the mindset of the common users has increased the popularity of Linux.

Linux in the Developing World

Perhaps the greatest change is the spread of Linux to the developing world. In the days before Linux, developing countries were way behind in the field of computing. The cost of hardware fell down, but the cost of software was a huge burden to the cash-strapped computer enthusiasts of the Third World countries. In desperation, people resorted to piracy of almost all sorts of software products. This resulted in widespread piracy, amounting to billions of dollars. But then again, the pricetag of most of the commercial products were far beyond the reaches of the people in developing countries. For example, a typical operating system product costs at least US $100 or more. But in countries with per capita incomes of about US$200-300, is a huge amount.

The rise of Linux and other related open source product has changed it all. Since Linux can be scaled to run in almost computer with very few resources, it has become a suitable alternative for low budget computer users. Old, ancient 486/Pentium 1 computers that has become a part of history in the developed world are still used in developing countries. And Linux has enabled to unleash the full potential of these computers. The use of open source software has also proliferated, since the price of software is a big question. In countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, Linux has appeared as a way out for the masses of computer enthusiasts. And a testament to the true global nature of Linux, local customizations were made in obscure parts of the world. The Linux documentation now includes documents written in almost all the major languages...and also many minor ones, for example, Vietnamese.

From Desktop to SuperComputing

When Linux was first envisaged by Linus Torvalds, it was just another hackers hobby. But from the humble Intel 386 machine of Linus that ran the first kernel, Linux has come a long way. Its most notable use now is in the field of massively parallel supercomputing clusters. Let us see a few examples:

The TetraGrid

In August 2001, BBC reported that the US Government was planning to build what would be a mega computer, capable of performing over 13 trillion calculations per second (13.6 TeraFLOPS). The project, called Tetragrid would consist of a connected network of 4 US supercomputing centers. The four labs that are collaborating to create the Teragrid are: National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois(NCSA), San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago; California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. At each of these centers, there would be a supercomputer. In total, there would be more than 3000 processors running in parallel to create the Tetragrid. The main technology behind this massive computer would be clustering: the technology of binding together many low performance/cost processors to create a single computing environment.

Dubbed as the Distributed Terascale Facility, the Teragrid will combine enough computing power to facilitate the solution of complex mathematical and simulation problems, ranging from Astronomy and Cancer Research to Weather Forecasting. Equipped with a 600 Terabyte storage space, the Teragrid would be so powerful that it would take a human working on a calculator 10 million years to do what the Teragrid can do in only 1 second. The amazing thing is that this massively parallel Mega Computer will be powered by Linux. Each of the 4 sites will operate a Linux cluster, and connected by means of a 40 Gigabit/sec dedicated optical network.

Evolocity at Lawrence Livermore National Lab

In July 2002, it was reported that Linux NetworX, a California based company, began work on Evolocity, a very powerful Linux based cluster supercomputer for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory(LLNL), California, USA. This awesome cluster would consist of 962 nodes running on a total of 1920 Intel 2.4 GHz Xeon processors. With 4 GB of DDR SDRAM Memory and 120 GB of Hard Disk space at each node, the supercomputer cluster would run at a maximum speed of 9.2 TeraFLOPS (FLoating Operations Per Second), bringing it among the world's top five fastest supercomputers. With mass-produced off-the-shelf technology, this supercomputer will surely bring an air of change in the LLNL, where once massive Cray supercomputers reigned supreme.

Using Linux as the base system, the makers of Teragrid have saved millions of dollars, utilizing the clustering technology developed worldwide by the dedicated followers of open source movement.

The Journey Continues

The journey of Linux from a hacking project to globalization has been more like an evolutionary experience. The GNU Project, started in the early 1980's by Richard Stallman, laid the foundation for the development of open source software. Prof. Andrew Tanenbaum's Personal Computer operating system Minix brought the study of operating systems from a theoretical basis to a practical one. And finally, Linus Torvald's endless enthusiasm for perfection gave birth to Linux. Throughout the last couple of years, hundreds of thousands of people forming global community nurtured it and brought it to its glorious place in the annals of the computer revolution. Today Linux is not just another student's hacking project, it is a worldwide phenomenon bringing together huge companies like IBM and the countless millions of people throughout the world in the spirit of the open source software movement. In the history of computing, it will forever remain as one of the most amazing endeavors of human achievement.


e. Tux the penguin: Linux's Dear Logo

The logo of Linux is a penguin. Unlike other commercial products of computer operating systems, Linux doesn't have a formidable serious looking symbol. Rather Tux, as the penguin is lovingly called, symbolizes the care-free attitude of the total movement. This cute logo has a very interesting history. As put forward by Linus, initially no logo was selected for Linux. Once Linus went to the southern hemisphere on a vacation. There he encountered a penguin, not unlike the current logo of Linux. As he tried to pat it, the penguin bit his hand. This amusing incident led to the selection of a penguin as the logo of Linux sometime later.


f. Some Linux Cookies

Here are some famous words by Linus himself.

Dijkstra probably hates me
(Linus Torvalds, in kernel/sched.c)

"How should I know if it works?  That's what beta testers are for.  I only
coded it."
(Attributed to Linus Torvalds, somewhere in a posting)

"I'm an idiot.. At least this one [bug] took about 5 minutes to find.."
(Linus Torvalds in response to a bug report.)

"If you want to travel around the world and be invited to speak at a lot
of different places, just write a Unix operating system."
(By Linus Torvalds)


> > Other than the fact Linux has a cool name, could someone explain why I
> > should use Linux over BSD?

> No.  That's it.  The cool name, that is.  We worked very hard on
> creating a name that would appeal to the majority of people, and it
> certainly paid off: thousands of people are using linux just to be able
> to say "OS/2? Hah.  I've got Linux.  What a cool name".  386BSD made the
> mistake of putting a lot of numbers and weird abbreviations into the
> name, and is scaring away a lot of people just because it sounds too
> technical.
(Linus Torvalds' follow-up to a question about Linux)

> The day people think linux would be better served by somebody else (FSF
> being the natural alternative), I'll "abdicate".  I don't think that
> it's something people have to worry about right now - I don't see it
> happening in the near future.  I enjoy doing linux, even though it does
> mean some work, and I haven't gotten any complaints (some almost timid
> reminders about a patch I have forgotten or ignored, but nothing
> negative so far).
> Don't take the above to mean that I'll stop the day somebody complains:
> I'm thick-skinned (Lasu, who is reading this over my shoulder commented
> that "thick-HEADED is closer to the truth") enough to take some abuse.
> If I weren't, I'd have stopped developing linux the day ast ridiculed me
> on c.o.minix.  What I mean is just that while linux has been my baby so
> far, I don't want to stand in the way if people want to make something
> better of it (*). >                 Linus

> (*) Hey, maybe I could apply for a saint-hood from the Pope.  Does
> somebody know what his email-address is? I'm so nice it makes you puke.
(Taken from Linus's reply to someone worried about the future of Linux)

`When you say "I wrote a program that crashed Windows", people just stare at
you blankly and say "Hey, I got those with the system, *for free*".'
(By Linus Torvalds)



History is always boring, but history of Computing and that of Linux are very interesting. Much of the source of this article has been taken from the Internet. It was inspired by the questions asked by many would be Linux users at meetings and postings of Bangladesh Linux Users Group.Thanks to all.

All materials taken from various sources belong to their respective authors. All trademarks belong to the respective corporations and companies. Microsoft and Windows are registered trademarks of Microsoft corp.

This article is copyrighted by Ragib Hasan (1999+) and so all rights are reserved. But don't worry, Any part of this article can be reproduced in any form with prior permission of the author which can be obtained for FREE by e-mailing him. Please feel encouraged to spread the spirit of the open source software movement.

For all mistakes and suggestions
Contact me:
Ragib Hasan,
Department of Computer Science & Engineering,
Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology,
Dhaka, Bangladesh.
mail me at ragibhasan@yahoo.com


Last Updated: July 24, 2002

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