Happy Birthday, Linux! The World is yours!

Happy Birthday Linux

No one including Linus Torvalds himself could expect a 21-y.o. student's hobby work to grow into the driving force of IT industry and the headliner of the open source software movement... And that's enough for the introduction.

The whole Linux story, from 1991 to now, is well covered in the web. Skipping Linus Torvalds's origin, personal attributes, background or what was computer community like 29 years ago, the most amazing fact is that people like Torvalds change the world without initially intending it.

On the other hand, Richard Stallman, the founder of the GNU Project inseparably associated with Linux distributions, created his project as a "technical means to a social end". In his book Free Software, Free Society, Stallman manifests that in the social perspective, free software and supporting it community can directly impact social justice in the entire world.

In love with the art of digital transformation

Sure, Linus Torvalds will stay in the history for kick starting the avalanche of disrupting transformations on the IT landscape. But there is a lot of other people out there, maybe living next door, who are none the less great, and they are unknown to the world.

As an open-source project Linux keeps evolving due to relentless support of tens of thousands of Linux enthusiasts worldwide. I want to give a tribute to people who make the world go round while staying unknown outside their communities. They are passionate conductors of Linux revolution, champions of free open-source software (FOSS) movement.

A word for tech writers

Last year, some article of one of my colleagues launched in commemoration of this date caused a vigorous backlash on the Reddit stage. The major argument broke about the author's careless mentioning Linux as an operating system. And that was it. The comments flooded, predominantly negative with 'Operating System? GNU would have your head. Probably Linus too' to be the sweetest.

Though, Linux community on Reddit was just the wrong place for novices to drop a brick, this fact inspired me to give some tips to writers who have little to no idea of what Linux is, when writing on this "dangerous" topic.

Tip # 1. Linux is NOT an operating system. It is the name of an OS kernel. Period.

Some Linux-naive writers might suppose that Linus Torvalds intended Linux to become a full-fledged OS judging from his words in the already classical note to a Minix newsgroup in 1991:

"I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones."

It is a misconception. At the moment of his writing the very name "Linux" had not shown up yet. It simply did not exist. So technically, mentioning an operating system Linus Torvalds spoke about what he was going eventually to create. And he did it - his first OS distribution was called Softlanding Linux System (SLS) released in May 1992. The name "Linux" was reserved for the kernel.

Tip # 2. Always think of the context.

The most common appearance of the word Linux for an average person is within the context of a platform. When an app is labelled as 'cross-platform' (or 'platform-agnostic'), that means that it can run in either of three environments: Windows, Mac OS X, and... (drums) Linuuuuux! (Sorry for engaging another context, i.e. ‘environment’, before jumping off the ‘platform’.)

Wikipedia provides one more context: a variety of "GNU software in combination with the Linux kernel commonly known as Linux".

Finally, apart from a platform, an environment, or GNU-associated software, Linux is defined as a family of Unix-like OSs.

Linux is a family of open-source Unix-like operating systems with the Linux kernel in the core.

Tip # 3. Avoid getting into complex relationship between all Linux distributions

The entire Linux family tree is huge. Its impressive branching and innumerous offsprings, alive and resting in peace, along with its revolutionary impact on the world, remind me of the genealogy of Jesus in Mathew's recital: "Abraham begot Isaac, ..." - "Debian begot Ubuntu, ...”.

The number of Linux relatives is overwhelming, find the full list here. Novice writers can easily get confused with who is who in the family. Don’t even try. Just take note that the list contains also currently discontinued and third party Linux distributions.

Tip # 4. ‘Linux inside!’ does not necessarily mean ‘for free’

One more note to avoid confusion. Words ‘Linux” and ‘free’ are closely related. But do not be misled by the idea that any software with ‘Linux’ in the name and core is obtained for free, and vice versa.

Free software implies liberty for the user to do with it whatever they want. It is not about the cost. It is about total control over it - the freedom to study, share, modify, and cripple it to one’s liking.

A great many of Linux distributions are free in all senses. But keep in mind that some Linux distributions branched into community-supported and commercial versions, for example, openSUSE and SUSE Linux Enterprise.

A few interesting facts in Linux history

  • At the onset, in 1991, Linux was not open source. It went open source way one year later, in 1992. In his own words, Torvalds called open-sourcing Linux the ‘best thing he ever did’.

  • In 1994 someone very smart, named William R. Della Croce, Jr, registered Linux trademark behind the back of unaware Linus Torvalds and demanded royalties from Linux distributors. Three years after, he lost the battle in the court. That is why Linux is still Linux, not Lienux or Lynux.

  • There is a tale that Torvalds was once severely attacked by a penguin. Whether impressed by the berserk spirit of tuxedo bird, or some other reason, Torvalds chose tux as the Linux mascot in 1996.

  • On February 15th, 1999, Linux users all over the world observed Windows Refund Day. They marched to Microsoft’s offices to return their unused Windows licenses. It was a protesting move against the practice that most computer systems were sold bundled with Windows license without option.

  • In the crucial year of 2000 (remember the beginning of the dotcom bubble crash?), Steve Jobs approached Linus Torvalds with a persevering proposition to drop working on Linux and join Apple to work on Mac OS. Thanks God, Linus turned it over!

  • In 2001, the Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer called Linux ‘a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches”. Funny enough, ten years later, in 2011, Microsoft became one of the top 5 contributors to Linux kernel.

  • These are only a few facts in a series of outstanding events and milestones to catch the eye of those who have little idea about Linux.

    A quick funny voting poll with regard to Linux B-day celebration

    How are you going to celebrate the Linux's coming 29th anniversary?
    Change the status on "Unavailable" and keep working
    Spread a provocative meme and enjoy the reaction
    Go on a drinking spree with local Linux community fellas
    Die in a Hunt the Wumpus quest room
    Launch an alternative OS kernel project on GitHub and name it Blinux or Lindux
    Lixun? What on earth it is?!

Disclaimer: Did we say the poll is kinda humorous?

Author: Pavlo Bereza

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