Happy Birthday, Linux: Raise a Glass
Today, August 25, is the day traditionally used as the anniversary date for the Linux operating system.
Much pomp and circumstance surrounded last year's observance of Linux's 20th birthday, so this year there won't be a lot of big parties planned. But for those of us here in the U.S., the 21st birthday is a significant milestone.
It's time for the penguin to buy a drink and celebrate. And it's a drink that's well deserved. With dominance in the web, cloud, and mobile sectors, Linux has indeed come a long way since those days in the latter half of 1991.
To get an idea of how fast Linux took off, thinking about just the timeline of the first year of its existence.
Linus Torvalds' now-famous announcement on the comp.os.minux newsgroup was posted on August 25, 1991. This would soon be followed by the first Linux kernel release (0.01) on September 17, then public release of the Linux kernel (0.02) on October 5.
By November that same year, the Manchester Computer Centre (MCC) would make the Linux kernel available on its FTP site. But it was nothing like Linux as we knew it. In 2004, Joe Klemmer described the world of Linux on Linux Weekly News:
"Back in late 1991, when Linux first hit the 'Net, there were no distributions per se. The closest thing was HJ Lu's Boot/Root floppies. They were 5.25" diskettes that could be used to get a Linux system running. You booted from the boot disk and then, when prompted, inserted the root disk. After a while you got a command prompt. Back in those days if you wanted to boot from your hard drive you had to use a hex editor on the master boot record of your disk. Something that was definitely not for the faint of heart. I remember when Erik Ratcliffe wrote the first instructions (this was long before HOWTO files) on how to do just that. It wasn't until later that anything you could call a real distribution appeared."
In February 1992, Owen Le Blanc from the MCC would put together and launch the first installable Linux distribution--MCC Interim Linux. By May, Texas A&M University would launch TAMU (which the TAMU Linux Users Group was trying to resuscitate as TAMULinux as late as 2010).
The same month TAMU launched, Softlanding Linux System (SLS) would be released, which was the first distro to actually include the X Window system to actually run a GUI environment. SLS also holds the distinction for being the immediate progenitor of Slackware Linux.
The next big milestone for Linux would be the release of the first commercial distro Yggdrasil Linux/GNU/X, but that wouldn't be announced until November of 1992, outside that first 12 months of Linux's existence.
But think about those first 12 months for a minute: from a news group announcement to three distributions inside of nine months, and the groundwork laid for the first commercial offering.
By the middle of 1994, less than three years after the first Linux kernel release, Slackware, Debian GNU/Linux, S.u.S.E, and Red Hat Linux would all be launched, part of a rich diversity of distributions that are still maintained today and the engine for a multi-billion-dollar industry.
People have often asked me what the secret to Linux success might be. There are dozens of reasons I can list right off the bat, but here's the one that resonates the most with me.
At the core of Linux operating system is the Linux kernel. It's a great piece of code, surrounded by software that enables the kernel to compute on nearly every platform on any scale. And, like the software, there is a core of talented and decent people within the Linux community: engineers and developers who take advantage of the GPL and have a fundamental belief in creating something that works well. This core group is surrounded by people who recognize this talent and drive and do whatever they can to help make Linux better, too.
Everyone has their own personal theories on the success of Linux; this happens to be mine. Linux is more than software--it is a community. Sometimes a cranky, contentious community, to be sure, but a community with strength rarely matched in the online or offline worlds.
So, sometime August 25, raise your glass on behalf of Linux. At 21, its success has earned it a drink.
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