Linux: from a hobby to a collaborative tech revolution

30th anniversary of the first Linux release

September 17th, 2021 is the 30th anniversary of Linux. 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 2021

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 Linux 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 Linux 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 Linux distributions. Rocky Linux and AlmaLinux are two of the latest open source Linux 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 2021

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
Linux 1.1April 1994
Linux 1.2March 1995
Linux 1.3April 1995

Linux 2.x.y

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

Linux 3.x.y

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

Linux 4.x.y

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

Linux 5.x.y

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

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.

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