Linux: from a hobby to a collaborative tech revolution

30th anniversary of the first Linux release

September 17th, 2022 was Linux’s 31st anniversary. Linux was first released as a free operating system kernel on September 17th, 1991. What started as “just a hobby” for Linus Torvalds became the kernel of the GNU OS and one of the world’s most important operating systems.

Linux’s history from 1991 to 2022

Linus Torvalds was studying computer science at University of Helsinki when he started working on the project that would later become the Linux kernel. On August 25th, 1991, it was the first time he announced he was working on the Linux kernel project. Linus Torvalds asked for feedback for its project on the “comp.os.minix” Usenet group. By then, he presented Linux as “just a hobby”:

“I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since April, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things). […] Any suggestions are welcome, but I won’t promise I’ll implement them :-).”

— Linus Torvalds

Linus started by developing a simple kernel for a Unix-like OS running on an Intel 386 processor. However, after its release on September 17th, 1991 thousands of contributors helped it evolve; both the kernel and the operating system built on top of it. Linux became an example of collaborative work and proved that a free software developed by thousands of volunteers can be as powerful as a commercial one.

Linux license

Although first published with its own license, from Linux 0.99 — released in December 1992 — forward, the Linux kernel was licensed under the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL). From then on, with the objective of building a fully functional, free operating system, GNU and Linux developers worked together to integrate GNU components with Linux. By 1993, over 100 developers were already working on the kernel. Linus Torvalds’ hobby became the GNU project’s kernel and a tech revolution. GNU Linux is currently licensed under the GNU GPLv2.

FSG, OSDL and the Linux Foundation

In order to prevent fragmentation of the Linux market as well as to promote open source adoption, diverse organizations have been created over these decades. In 1998, the non-profit consortium Free Standards Group (FSG) was founded to drive the adoption of open source standards. In 2000, the non-profit organization Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) was created to optimize Linux for its usage in data centers and among carriers; with the Carrier Grade Linux’s set of specifications. In 2007, these non-profit organizations, FSG and OSDL, joined forces under another non-profit consortium: the Linux Foundation.

“The Linux Foundation has been founded to help close the gap between open source and proprietary platforms, while sustaining the openness, freedom of choice and technical superiority inherent in open source software.”

Linux Foundation’s merger press release

Linux distributions

The first Linux distributions were created in 1992. Some of those first distributions are MCC Interim Linux and Softlanding Linux System. In 1993, Slackware — an early distribution that has been maintained until 2016 — was released and the Debian project was founded. Debian is the largest community distribution nowadays. One year later, in 1994, Red Hat and SUSE also published the first version of their commercial Linux distributions. Nowadays, there are almost a thousand distributions. Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux are two of the latest open source distributions.

From Freax to Linux

As a curiosity, Linus Torvalds wanted to call his kernel “Freax” — a combination of “free”, “freak” and the “x” which is commonly used to name Unix-like projects. In fact, Linus used that name for naming his files. However, when he started to upload the files to the FTP server of FUNET in September 1991 in order to make development easier, a volunteer administrator for the FTP server at Helsinki University of Technology did not find “Freax” appropriate and changed it for “Linux”. You can check further details about Linux’s naming on Wikipedia.

Linux kernel versions from 1991 to 2022

The Linux kernel is a free, open source, monolithic and Unix-like operating system kernel. The Linux OS family is based on this kernel, which dominates almost every segment of computing, from mobile devices to mainframes, and even the world’s most powerful supercomputers.

Linux 0.x

VersionRelease date
Linux 0.01September 1991
Linux 0.02October 1991
Linux 0.10November 1991
Linux 0.95March 1992
Linux 0.96May 1992
Linux 0.97August 1992
Linux 0.98September 1992
Linux 0.99December 1992

Linux 1.x

VersionRelease date
Linux 1.0March 1994
1.1April 1994
1.2March 1995
1.3April 1995

Linux 2.x.y

VersionRelease date
Linux pre2.0May 1996
Linux 2.0June 1996
2.2January 1999
2.4January 2001
2.6December 2003
2.6.11March 2005
2.6.12June 2005
2.6.13August 2005
2.6.14October 2005
2.6.15January 2006
2.6.16March 2006
2.6.17June 2006
2.6.18September 2006
2.6.19November 2006
2.6.20February 2007
2.6.21April 2007
2.6.22July 2007
2.6.23October 2007
2.6.24January 2008
2.6.25April 2008
2.6.26July 2008
2.6.27October 2008
2.6.28December 2008
2.6.29March 2009
2.6.30June 2009
2.6.31September 2009
2.6.32December 2009
2.6.33February 2010
2.6.34May 2010
2.6.35August 2010
2.6.36October 2010
2.6.37January 2011
2.6.38March 2011
2.6.39May 2011

Linux 3.x.y

VersionRelease date
Linux 3.0July 2011
3.1October 2011
3.2January 2012
3.3March 2012
3.4May 2012
3.5July 2012
3.6September 2012
3.7December 2012
3.8February 2013
3.9April 2013
3.10June 2013
3.11September 2013
3.12November 2013
3.13January 2014
3.14March 2014
3.15June 2014
3.16August 2014
3.17October 2014
3.18December 2014
3.19February 2015

Linux 4.x.y

VersionRelease date
Linux 4.0April 2015
4.1June 2015
4.2August 2015
4.3November 2015
4.4January 2016
4.5March 2016
4.6May 2016
4.7July 2016
4.8September 2016
4.9December 2016
4.10February 2017
4.11April 2017
4.12July 2017
4.13September 2017
4.14November 2017
4.15January 2018
4.16April 2018
4.17June 2018
4.18August 2018
4.19October 2018
4.20December 2018

Linux 5.x.y

VersionRelease date
Linux 5.0March 2019
5.1May 2019
5.2July 2019
5.3September 2019
5.4November 2019
5.5January 2020
5.6March 2020
5.7May 2020
Linux 5.8August 2020
5.9October 2020
5.10December 2020
5.11February 2021
5.12April 2021
5.13June 2021
5.14August 2021
5.15October 2021
5.16January 2022
5.17March 2022
5.18May 2022
5.19September 2022

Linux 6.x.y

VersionRelease date
Linux 6.0rcAugust 2022
Linux 6.0October 2022
6.1December 2022
6.2February 2023

You can find further details about Linux kernel versions in Wikipedia’s Linux kernel version history entry.

Minix influence

Although inspired by Minix, Linux was designed without using code from Minix, as Linus Torvalds explains in his Notes for Linux release 0.01:

“This is a free minix-like kernel for i386(+) based AT-machines. […] Although linux is a complete kernel, and uses no code from minix or other sources, almost none of the support routines have yet been coded.”

— Linus Torvalds

You can find more details about Minix’s influence on Linux on Wikipedia.

Share it on Social Media!