Twenty Years of Linux according to Linus Torvalds

Twenty Years of Linux according to Linus Torvalds

Summary: In an interview, Linus Torvalds talks about Linux's multiple 20th birthdays and life with Linux.

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The Linux Foundation, the nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating the growth of Linux, started the celebration of Linux's 20th anniversary at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit, but when is Linux's real birthday? Is it August 25th, when Linus announced the project? October 5th 1991, when 0.02, the first public release was made? I decided to go straight to the source and asked Linux's creator, Linus Torvalds.

SJVN: "What's Linux real birthday?" You're the proud papa, when do you think it was? When you sent out the newsgroup post to the Minix newsgroup? When you sent out the 0.01 release to a few friends?

LT: I think both of them are valid birthdays.

The first newsgroup post is more public (Aug 25th), and you can find it with headers giving date and time and everything. In contrast, I don't think the 0.01 release was ever announced in any public setting (only in private to a few people who had shown interest, and I don't think any of those emails survive). So these days the way to find the 0.01 date (Sept 17th) is to go and look at the dates of the files in the tar-file that still remains.

So both of them work for me. Or either.

And btw, some people will argue for yet other days. For example, the earliest public semi-mention of Linux was July 3rd: that was the first time I asked for some POSIX docs publicly on the minix newsgroup and mentioned I was working on a project (but didn't name it). And at the other end, October 5th was the first time I actually publicly announced a Linux version: "version 0.02 (+1 (very small) patch already)."

So you might have to buy four cakes if you want to cover all the eventualities.

SJVN: Did you have any idea that Linux was going to turn out as big as it would? I think I know the answer to that one, so perhaps the better questions are, "When did you realize that Linux was going to be bigger than GNU or Minix [Andrew Tannenbaum's ground-breaking free software Unix-like operating system for students]? Bigger than just something for techies? Bigger than Microsoft!?"

LT: Bigger than Minix was pretty early, some time in the first quarter of 1992 Linux was already doing things Minix didn't, and was gathering momentum.

The rest happened pretty gradually, and never really hit me as being as exceptional as the early '92 realization that there were actually people I didn't know who were using and tinkering with Linux.

Page 2: [Linux Early Highlights] »

Linux's Early Highlights

SJVN: Looking back at it all, what do you think the really significant releases were?

LT: For me personally, 0.03 was a big step, which is when Linux became self-hosting for the first time, I think. And 0.12 was when suddenly it was almost useful to some people, and you could actually do some limited real work with it (and when the aforementioned "hey, people I don't know are using it" happened). Admittedly you had to be pretty hard-core to play around with it, but there are still active kernel developers around from that time-frame.

But realistically, "significant" for anybody else would come much later. 1.0 is obviously always a milestone (and took years to reach), and in many ways the really significant events ended up being not so much about releases, but about all the companies that started supporting it. And I'm not just talking the big Oracle and IBM announcements, but the much earlier events like the first (very small-scale) commercial distributions of floppies in '92 etc were even bigger events, and only indirectly related to my releases.

SJVN: In passing let me say I always thought the release of Linux 2.4 in 2001 was a big deal. That's because it was the one that added serious support for clustering, multiple processors and vast amounts of RAM.

Along the way, who do you think helped you the most in turning Linux from being a way to get your hands dirty with operating system theory and practice to where it is today?

LT: I don't think there is a single "who". There were all the people just testing and asking for features - and keeping me motivated. There were the actual early developers who started jumping in and sending me patches. And there were the people who did the first distributions--MCC, TAMU, SLS, Slackware, yadda, yadda. And then all the big companies.

It's really been a lot of people.

SJVN: Looking ahead, any thoughts on where Linux will be at 40?

LT: Bah. I don't plan that far ahead. I can barely keep my calendar for the next week in mind. I really have no idea.

SJVN: I know how that works! Thank you very much for your time.

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108 comments
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  • RE: Twenty Years of Linux according to Linus Torvalds

    Kudos to Linus Torvalds, 20 years of Linux.<br><br>Linux is exciting, simply beautiful, running super computers, web servers, stock trading platforms, telecommunication systems, cell phones, ATMs, TVs, GPS, at the movies, in the car. Works brilliantly and is fantastic. <br><br>Congratulations Linux! The party continues each and every day. <br>Hooah!
    daikon
    • 20 years of sub 1% market share

      Pity poor foss fellas riding the bandwagon in the sea of koolaid drifting to nowhere.
      LBiege
      • 20 years of garbage. Which one was THE year of Linux?

        Answer: NONE. Only a few morons still think that O.S. is good for something except for a replacement for UNIX servers

        Linux = the poor man's UNIX.
        nomorebs
      • RE: Twenty Years of Linux according to Linus Torvalds

        @LBiege

        Trolls, trolls, trolllssssssss muhahahahahahhaa

        Trolls; if Linux ain't good, why don't you make something better?

        And trolls, do not reply to this before earth makes 20 rounds around the sun. Period
        Mesanovich
      • Where have you been?

        @LBiege It all started as entertainment and/or education. Your remarks suggest that you just do not understand that there are some people who write code for fun. There are lots of different kinds of puzzles in this world, for them it is code. As education, it was the ONLY operating system available as a learning tool. DOS/Windows and Unix were/are closed proprietary OSs
        Sagax-
      • Seems to Often Be the Rich Man's Unix as Well

        @nomorebs <br>Judging by how many servers are running Linux now, I'd say that it's often the rich man's Unix as well.<br><br>I find it more useful and less annoying than Windows, but if you want to use Windows, that's fine. I just started using Windows 7 on a work machine, but so far, I'm finding it a bit flakier than XP. It might be a bit prettier (than default XP anyway), but that doesn't mean much to me. I tend toward minimalist desktops and investing my computing power in the applications I am running rather than the desktop anyway.
        CFWhitman
      • RE: Twenty Years of Linux according to Linus Torvalds

        @LBiege You obviously know NOTHING about for instance the embedded software market, where Linux is the dominant OS by far. You must be really uninformed to think that the Desktop (for you that is that piece of hardware where you play your computer games and facebook and surf your Pr0n) is all there is to computers.
        bvdeenen
      • RE: Twenty Years of Linux according to Linus Torvalds

        Linux is like anything else great. Linux is constantly improving and is spreading in use. My kids have no issues with using it and it is a great OS.<br>sam -<a href="http://smuggecko.com">seo tips</a> | <a href="http://saintoftheday.com">saint</a>
        soskert
      • RE: Twenty Years of Linux according to Linus Torvalds

        @LBiege Love linux as a casual user--no viruses, and solid <a href="http://www.recall.com/data-protection/">data protection</a> as a result--don't have to await the fall that inevitably happens with any Windows system. I'm not super-techy, either.
        bfrind
      • RE: Twenty Years of Linux according to Linus Torvalds

        @LBiege This is very unfortunate for Linux. I love it as an OS, I wish more people would adopt it. I would say Linux is to Windows as rinnai tankless water heaters is to <a href="http://www.westsidewholesale.com/plumbing/tankless-water-heaters/bosch">bosch tankless water heaters</a>. There is just the huge bottleneck of being user-friendly (ie all familiar programs like MSFT office run easily) and being geeky enough for the power users.
        keithfish
      • RE: Twenty Years of Linux according to Linus Torvalds

        @LBiege @LBiege Torvalds acknowledges being "benevolent dictator of Planet Linux," as he calls it, yet the secret to his success is not, apparently, his technological prowess but his disarming personality.
        jrichards305
      • LBiege aka DUMB ASS!

        Less than 1% eh?

        let's review the facts:

        1. 87% of all servers run Linux. [that's a tad higher than 1% you Math IdJiot!]
        2. 99% of all tablets run Free BSD or Linux.
        3. 97% of all smart phones run Free BSD or Linux.

        Tell me how does that add up to less than 1%

        My advice to you:

        Get a calculator! And since you failed 1st grade, shut your TRAP!
        ITJohnguru
    • RE: Twenty Years of Linux according to Linus Torvalds

      @LBiege,nomorebs<br>Oh, come on jesters, come up with something more original to entertain me in the morning. Take a look at Loverock, he is soooo creative he cracks me up every time!<br>You can do better!
      kirovs@...
      • RE: Twenty Years of Linux according to Linus Torvalds

        @kirovs@... that is true.
        erains7
    • And some call being the #1 server OS ....

      @daikon
      ....Stock Markets relying on it, the basis for the #1 phone OS as a "failure"!
      kd5auq
      • RE: Twenty Years of Linux according to Linus Torvalds

        @kd5auq I could not agree more. Schools pushing out students focusing on MS. Time to teach more about linux and tell the truth.
        erains7
      • RE: Twenty Years of Linux according to Linus Torvalds

        @kd5auq
        Roel, Thank you for your comment.
        Look at all those Linux based programs Ham operators are using each and every day. Morse code training, APRS and packet programs, rig control, CW and digital mode terminal applications, logging.
        daikon
      • The truth...? You can't handle the truth...!

        @erains7
        Seriously... 0.75% of 1 Billion + desktops is hardly anything to write home about. And that's down from it's peak just prior to Windows 7's debut in October 2009 when it hit a whole whopping 1.1%. And that's a downward slide of 0.26%... That's more than a quarter of the installed base that's abandoned it.
        Wolfie2K3
        • @erains7 This is for all you MicroKlunk Moles. Eat S***T!

          Are you proud of this?

          Windows virus causing havoc for school district in Microsoft’s backyard

          http://www.geekwire.com/2012/goblin-virus-causing-havoc-lake-washington-students/
          ITJohnguru
      • Nonsense Statistics

        @Wolfie2K3<br>Your statistics are nonsense.<br>According to Wikimedia stats, if you subtract the mobile figures from the picture, you see that since October of 2009 to February of 2011 the desktop share of Linux varied from about 1.54% in each of three months (including October of 2009) to a peak about 1.69% in June of 2010 with a most recent figure of 1.58% in February of 2011.<br><br>Overall, there has not been much change in the percentage of Linux desktop share in that time period (slight growth on the average). The percentage of Windows share has steadily declined over the same period (although not by much - only about 2 and 1/2 %), with OS X steadily growing.
        CFWhitman