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Linux 25 years: The operating system’s unparalleled journey to world domination

Yesterday, Linux celebrated its 25th birthday. We congratulate the open operating system used worldwide in phones, tablets, computers, servers and supercomputers, and take a look in the rearview mirror. Although the Linux saga had humble beginnings, the operating system is now the world’s largest open source software project.

What did the road there look like? Read on for an insight into some of the most defining moments in Linux history.

We start in Helsinki

Linux 25 years
Photo: The Linux Foundation

It all started when the then 20-year-old Linus Torvalds (pictured here in the early 90s), studied at the University of Helsinki. Torvalds began his technical adventures as an 11-year-old Commodore Vic-20 owner, and became interested in the Minix operating system during his university years.

A modest proposal

Linux 25 years
Image source: comp.os.minix

Torvald’s interest in Minix is ​​said to be linked to his frustration with its licensing policies, which was the kick in the butt needed for him to start working on his own operating system. On a particularly important day in August 1991, he wrote an email that today has acquired legendary status. The discussion that followed can still be read today on Google Groups.

The move to the GPL

Linux 25 years
Photographer: Shermozle / CC

Torvalds initially decided to call his operating system Freax. Then he changed to Linux and also published a guide on how to pronounce the name. Version 0.01 of the Linux kernel debuted in September 1991. When Torvalds released version 0.12 in February 1992, he also took the opportunity to announce the switch to the GNU General Public License (GPL). However, Linux 1.0 did not debut until March 1994, and then consisted of 176,250 lines of code.

First major distro?

Linux 25 years
Image source: Linuxcenter.ru / CC

It may not have been the absolute first Linux distribution, but the Softlanding Linux System was created in May 1992 with the slogan “Gentle Touchdowns for DOS Bailouts”, and is widely regarded as the first distribution to gain widespread use. Today, SLS is best known for having preceded Slackware.

Slackware is born

Linux 25 years

Slackware saw the light of day in 1993, when Patrick Volkerding was a student at Minnesota State University and helped a professor install SLS. Today, Slackware is the oldest Linux distribution still maintained, and the photo above, donated by Volkerding himself, was taken by a friend in 1994.

Say hello to Red Hat

Linux 25 years
Image source: Red Hat

Today, Red Hat is perhaps the most well-known name for Linux in the corporate world, and the first distribution was released on CD-ROM in 1994. The company’s hat logo has undergone major changes since then, originating from Red Hat Linux creator Marc Ewing’s habit of wearing his grandfather’s red Cornell lacrosse cap as a student at Carnegie Mellon University.

History is made in a flash

Linux 25 years

Tux is probably the most famous Linux logo, but why did you choose a penguin? Torvalds is said to have declared that he suffered from the loving ailment Penguinism (Penguinitis) when he was bitten by one during a visit to the National Zoo & Aquarium in the Australian capital Canberra in 1996.

“Linux is cancer”

Linux 25 years
Photo: Martyn Williams

The open operating system grew steadily in popularity in its early years, and Linux’s growing power was marked perhaps most clearly by growing concern at Microsoft. Then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, known for his outspokenness, compared Linux to an aggressive form of cancer, but reportedly regretted the statement in later years.

Where is a name?

Linux 25 years

It may be difficult to confuse software with soap, but in 2001, the Swiss company Rösch launched a cleaning product called Linux. The product is still sold, but Torvalds at least holds the Linux rights for “software-based computer operating system that facilitates computer use”

IBM’s Super Bowl pitch

These days, we don’t often see television commercials for Linux, but in 2003, IBM created a real newsstand-turner for the huge Super Bowl sporting event. The commercial, which is a full 90 seconds long, can still be seen on YouTube and ended with the punchline “The future is open.”

“Big and professional”

Linux 25 years
Image source: The Linux Foundation

Linus Torvalds might not have expected that his little “hobby project” would take off like it did, but that’s exactly what happened. In 2005, the whole world became aware of Linux’s (and Linus’s) greatness when he had the honor to grace the front page of BusinessWeek and in a long interview talk about Linux’s growing success in companies.

Android marches in

Linux 25 years
Photo: Dsimic / CC

Linux has done tremendously well on many platforms, but its widest success has been through Android, which is based on the Linux kernel. More than 80 percent of the world’s smartphones today are powered by Android, which debuted with the Open Handset Alliance in 2007.

A *billion* dollars

Linux 25 years
Photo: Red Hat

Success can be described in countless ways, but it is difficult to argue against pure result figures. In 2012, Red Hat became the first open source company to break the billion revenue barrier. “Red Hat is the first pure open source company, and only one of a handful of software companies, to reach the one billion milestone,” CEO Jim Whitehurst said in a statement. “Our open technology is chosen by more and more people every day, as they redesign the infrastructure of their data centers and increase their efficiency, agility and cloud-based capabilities.”

“Microsoft loves Linux”

Linux 25 years
Photo: James Niccolai

What a difference, Microsoft! In contrast to Steve Ballmer’s quote from 2001, current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella openly showed his love for Linux during an event in 2014. Since then, the message of love has been repeated time and time again by the IT giant, which flirts more with open source developers with each day.

A world of choices

Linux 25 years

Today, Microsoft and Linux are polar opposites, but no one can quench users’ thirst for choice quite like the Linux world. Today, there are distributions that satisfy every taste, purpose and platform. Who ever said you can’t get exactly what you want in the developer world?

A world powered by Linux

Linux 25 years
Image source: Adriano Gasparri

No one in good conscience can argue against the fact that Linux rules the world. Online, it powers more than 95 percent of the one million most popular domains. Most of the world’s financial systems run Linux, as do 98 percent of the world’s fastest supercomputers. More than 75 percent of cloud-based companies cite Linux as their primary platform. What next? Linux, for example, is already used in space, so the potential possibilities can be considered endless. Congratulations, Linux!

Translation: Billy Ekblom

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