eWEEK at 30: Linux Makes Open Source a Software Industry Force

eWEEK 30: From a simple hobby project in 1991, Linux evolved to become a core component of the modern digital world and helped make open source software a potent force in the IT industry.

One of the great technology industry success stories that has emerged during eWEEK's existence is the rise of the open-source Linux operating system.

Linux started from humble beginnings in Finland, born in the brilliant mind of creator Linus Torvalds and has emerged to become a dominant force in the modern IT landscape. Linux today is the enabling engine for the embedded devices that will make up the Internet of things, it powers enterprise servers, supercomputers and the world's largest stock exchanges too.

The rise of Linux went hand in hand with the rising support for open-source software technology of all kinds. Computer users and software developers began initiating open-source projects of all kinds as an alternative to a commercial PC operating system and application software market that since the 1980s was dominated to a great degree by Microsoft.

The journey of Linux all began with the first public mention by Linus Torvalds on Aug. 26, 1991 in a comp.os.minix usenet posting.
"I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones," Torvalds wrote."It is NOT portable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-hard disks, as that's all I have."

Minix is a Unix-type operating system that was started in 1987, while GNU (GNU is Not Unix) was another attempt to do the same thing, started in 1983. With Linux, Torvalds attempted to succeed where others had failed and it was a combination of technical ingenuity, charisma and collaboration that over time, won the day.

On Oct. 5, 1991 in a comp.os.minix usenet posting, the first public code emerged with the 0.02 release that became the spark that ignited the Linux revolution.

In January of 1992, Linus Torvalds released the Linux 0.12 kernel and with it came a key change that provided the fuel necessary to encourage wider participation in Linux development.

Starting with the 0.12 release, the Linux kernel has been licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), which is an open-source license that requires reciprocal contributions. What that means is that developers can't just take GPL code, modify it and then keep the modification for themselves. They need to release the modification back to the community. It is that spirit of collaboration and shared development that pushed Linux forward from the 1990s to the modern day.

The Linux kernel itself is only one part of a complete operating system and that's where Linux distributions come into play. A Linux distribution includes a Linux kernel as well as the other necessary components that make up a modern operating system. That is what made 1993 a big year for Linux distributions with multiple efforts entering the nascent open-source marketplace.

One of the first Linux distributions was the Slackware Linux distribution that was launched in 1993 and is still alive and well today. Debian Linux also got its start in 1993 and today serves as the base for multiple popular distributions including Ubuntu as well as remaining popular in its own right.

One of the earliest commercial Linux success stories that eWEEK followed throughout the 1990s was the rise to prominence of Red Hat Linux. Marc Ewing released the first publicly available version of Red Hat Linux in October of 1994 in what has become known as the Halloween release.

In 1995, Red Hat Linux merged with Bob Young's ACC Corporation, which had been selling Linux products since 1993.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.