Did you know that the Linux kernel has three birthdays?
Its creator Linus Torvalds was already working on the open source OS when he asked the comp.os.minix newsgroup for some help on July 3rd, 1991. Just over a month later, on August 25th, he revealed his plans when he wrote: “I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.” While the first release of the software (version 0.02) was on October 5th, 1991.
August 25th, however, is the date that The Linux Foundation has settled on and Torvald’s OS (originally dubbed ‘Freax’ — a combination of ‘free’, ‘freak’ and a Unix-inspired ‘x’) celebrates its 25th birthday this year.
Admittedly, Linux hasn’t made a significant impact on the PC market. According to NetMarketShare’s July 2016 data, its market share is a lowly 2.33%, well behind Mac OS X 10.11 (4.69%) and the various iterations of Microsoft Windows. Amazingly, even Windows XP still has a greater share (10.34%).
But from its humble, hobbyist origins, Linux has become a runaway success story that shows no sign of stopping.
“If you don’t think Linux is important,” says Linux Format’s Jonni Bidwell, “then consider that it’s running on virtually all the world’s supercomputers, about 80% of web servers, and don’t forget there’s a Linux kernel sitting on almost two billion Android devices. If that’s not impressive enough, it’s also in cars, drones, submarines, warships and even spaceships.”
From the London Stock Exchange to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Linux is everywhere.
But the impact of Torvald’s creation, however, goes deeper. It is, says The Linux Foundation, “the result of one of the largest cooperative software projects ever attempted.” In this respect, Linux waves the flag for open source design, a process that allows anyone to freely use, modify and distribute the source code under license, such as the GNU General Public License.
This collaborative approach has paved the way for other open source projects — Apache HTTP Server software, the Firefox web browser and LibreOffice. The continual development of Linux is also its greatest strength. In a world where technology is always changing, the Linux kernel is always changing too.
And it’s changing quicker that you might think. According to The Linux Foundation’s ‘Linux Kernel Development’ report, there’s an average of 7.8 patches per hour, 4,600 lines of code are added every day, and a new kernel is born every 9-10 weeks. The current 4.7 kernel has over 22 million lines of code. The original 0.01 kernel had a mere 10,000 lines.
Since 2005, 13,594 developers from over 1,300 companies have contributed to the development of the OS. Intel is proud to have led the way with 14,384 changes (made between versions 3.19 to 4.7) and, according to the Linux Kernel Development report, has been the most active in bringing new developers into the Linux community.
Twenty-five years on from Torvald’s newsgroup post, Linux has grown into a versatile OS that can be tweaked to run on everything from servers to smartwatches. But its success arguably lies in its open source DNA and to the thousands of developers who have spent thousands of hours improving it.
As The Linux Foundation points out: “25 years of kernel history show that sustained, cooperative effort can bring about common resources that no group would have been able to develop on its own.” Long may that continue.