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Happy 20th birthday, Linux (itworld.com)
212 points by jfruh 2071 days ago | hide | past | web | 41 comments | favorite

It has been a fun ride!

I started using Linux in 1994 when I was twelve with Slackware Linux. I remember having long fights with my younger brother about how to divide a 40MB hard disk between Linux and MS-DOS (for games).

It is important to remember how Linux and the BSDs made it possible for a whole generation of tech enthusiasts to educate themselves. At that age, I could not afford to buy a compiler or books as means of getting sample source code. Linux and BSD gave us free compilers, source code from the masters' hands to study, and generally a fun system to tinker with. I can not image being where I am now without that ecosystem.

I hope that future generations will be as fortunate to have these possibilities.

I still remember the first time I commandeered our one and only phone line for an entire weekend to download the Slackware ISO. Version 7, if I remember correctly? My parents were pissed.

I was so excited to have a "real" C/C++ development environment for free, after years of using a pirated version of Visual Studio. I installed Slack, and within 45 minutes I had totally hosed the system and had to re-install. Then I did it again and again and again... those were the days :)

I did the same thing with Slackware 7. I remember downloading Linux 2.4 the day it came out on my Windows machine which took over 8 hours on NetZero dial up. I then compiled it on my Linux machine which took over a day. It was still running when I went to (middle) school and returned. I completely hosed my machine but I've learned a bit since then. :)

At 12 years old, how did you end up finding out about it so early?

It was included on a CD-ROM of a computer magazine. I guess back then they'd include anything to fill 650 megabytes.

Also, in a city nearby, one store had a lot of the Walnut Creek catalog on offer. So, it was fairly easy to get hands on Slackware Linux and FreeBSD without an Internet connection.

At 13 I was interning at our local newspaper and they were running 0.91 beta kernel of Linux on the machine that extracted data from a PDP-11 (via serial) and parsed it for saving to the Mac's for QuarkXPress. My first Unix experience was debugging parts of that system for a new version of Quark.

Sniff. I'm old.

I was a pre-teen as well, using 0.99pl circa '92-93ish (fuzzy memory). I heard about it from IRC. At the time I was using a 2400 baud modem to dial up into Rutgers (an older friend's college account) to get a terminal. Rutgers supported SLIP so that you yourself could become a node rather than just getting a terminal. I wanted to try this so that I could use virtual terminals to IRC and still do other things and generally be more stable than trying to use DOS with a SLIP packet driver. So, it took a while to download a 0.99pl distro onto 3 floppy disks and even longer to get it working with little or no documentation, but in the end it was worth it!

(Not parent, but happens I found Linux at ~12 anyway, so here goes...)

First brush with Linux, a friend had actually bought (yep) Linux-Mandrake (want to say 7.2ish?), and I simply kept bugging him until he lent me the discs. After that Red Hat (came in a book), then Knoppix around 2003-4 ([ab]use of my HS computer lab's cable line). Got a laptop for b-day senior year, that got Ubuntu (abuse of neighbor's wifi).

I had my first contact with Linux around the same age. I had nerdy friends. (Don't know where they got it from in the first place. Probably nerdy parents at some stage.)

For me it was Suse 6.4 at 13. Fine memories. I guess it was because most of my friends were nerds too.

We did have the Internet and dial ups back then you know...

...back when usenet and gopher were king and you could telnet places still...

...and spam was about new Sun Sparc equipment.

Wish I could get back my SS2 with Wietek CPU and 2x 200Mb disks running SunOS4 :)

Most people in the Netherlands didn't, where the then telco state monopoly charged 25 guilder cents per minute for calls.

Ouch that is really expensive. Was approx 1/8 of that in the UK at the same time with our state monopoly (BT)

So your comment here just got inserted back into the story? I'm not sure if I've seen that happen before

Weird! :) Me neither.

I got my first taste of Linux in the late 90's. That taste? RedHat and Debian. I was, oh about, 8..9 or so.

I initially played with linux only as a luzer -- I would go up to a friend's place for parties but more accurately to sit in the "commanders seat' -- In a ring of 3..4 monitors. Being a kid, I was enthralled. The friend? Hugh Daniel of the FreeSWAN project (Thanks for the keyfobs, Hugh.)

Then I got a copy of RedHat 6. I used it with an old dilapidated win95 box we had after a move. During the move, we had gotten new laptops, so this one I took over as the nerd child.

I found Mandrake. I dont remember what version -- It was around 2002 or so. It had instructions for dual-booting Windows XP in the manual.

I played with linux until I actually didn't have a choice: I had a machine I couldn't run Windows on at all. I was using Ubuntu 6.06 LTS and the machine was an Alienware computer that wouldn't boot windows right. It had a bad IRQ line from a car crash being pulled low.

Since then I've used Arch, DamnSmall, Debian, Ubuntu, Suse/OpenSUSE and even TInyCore. I've done kernel rebuilds and written countless lines of shell. I've run Linux on Dingoo`s, Zaurii, even SBCs. I've worked with printers that run BSD on the inside (NetBSD) and on servers with hundreds of gigabytes of space. I have done things that Windows would cry over. I have mastered my world's machines with Linux, as well as its friends.

Cheers, Linus.

Looking back at Linus' original email, I find it interesting that there's a "Summary" header in addition to "Subject:"

  > Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?
  > Summary: small poll for my new operating system
RFC 5322 [1] doesn't have anything to say about a summary header, so maybe it was an invention of Linus'.

[1] http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5322#section-3.6

Is Linux a repeatable phenomenon? Is there a college student today whose hobby OS can snowball into such a dominant technology? If Linux started in 2011, I wonder what design decisions would have Linus made differently.

The Innovator's Dilemma suggests that a disruptive technology replace a dominant standard by working bottom-up: specialize in a corner of the market that is too small or unprofitable to be of interest to the dominant player, then add "cheap but good enough" features.

The economics of Linux might bend some of the Innovator's Dilemma assumptions, but it does seem like Linux is losing its focus as it tries to support servers and desktops and embedded devices. Perhaps a smaller, less capable kernel could capture some super-low-end devices (like cheap mobile devices or home automation).

I guess Linux will be hard to repeat, exactly because it is so successful. There's simply no similar itch left to scratch for hobbyists. There are still people writing general operating system kernels from scratch, but they are not driven by the lack of a decent free general operating system.

Linux lacks in real-time features. That could be an angle to get in a new operating systems.

There's a saying that Unix stopped serious research into operating systems. Whenever somebody writes a new system nowadays, one of the first things they port is the Unix infrastructure.

My first memory of Linux was when I was about 12. My 486 wasn't fast enough to play MP3s in Windows. Previously, if I wanted to listen to a song, I would convert it to a WAV on our family Pentium 75, split it into 1.4MB chunks and copy it via ~15 floppy disks onto my PC.

I installed RedHat 5 (from a PC mag CD). RedHat came with a commandline MP3 player (called mpg123) that would decode and play MP3s on my 486. This meant it only took 2 or 3 floppy disks to copy a MP3 I'd downloaded from our family PC's 14.4kb/s net connection.

Today, my phone runs Linux (Maemo), my work PC runs Linux (Ubuntu), my laptop & our TV run Linux (Ubuntu), our router & NAS run Linux (some kind of Debian). Our next car is likely to run Linux and so might our fridge. Thanks Linus!

The kernel is literally a day older than I am, and I use it every day. I wish I'd accomplished nearly as much as it had.

Start hacking on the kernel, maybe you will :).

Today, we are celebrating 20 years of Linux, listening to the kernel : http://www.linux.fm

woohoo! Linux! A couple of years back,when I was still in School, I was so darn scared to even touch linux. The reason being, I used to write "Hello World" type of programs and I'd be so so restless if I was asked to work on anything other than windows Turbo C++ . I now know how much power - raw computing gives.. Linux, Happy Birthday, its all cuz of you :)

I thought this quote was interesting: 'helped keep Linux together and defy the trend for forking and fractionalization' when compared with images like this regarding the numerous distributions:


DISCLAIMER: I've never used Linux, partly because of the above ('which one should I pick?'). Also, I'm not trolling here, but would welcome the opportunity to understand why (to a newcomer at least) there seem to be so many variations to choose from.

Here's a more recent version, though it lacks the early history that your image has:


It's important to understand that the kernel and the distribution aren't the same thing. All these distributions share the same kernel. We're not dealing with forks of the Linux kernel, just packages around the Linux kernel.

> Also, I'm not trolling here, but would welcome the opportunity to understand why (to a newcomer at least) there seem to be so many variations to choose from.

Tthe closest I've been able to come to a reason is "because we can". Make of that what you will. :)

Different variations for different needs. It's one of the goods points with linux I'd say, you probably wouldn't like the setup I'm using and the same way around. It's really hard to choose, especially for someone new, but the points is there's something that suits everyone or at least you can come much closer than you could ever come with only one to choose.

Some people like a graphic interface while others love the command line and want to do everything there. Some are power users who configure everything to the smallest detail (I've lost count of how many hours I've personally spent on configuring stuff so it's just the way I want) and others simply don't care.

What you must remember is that all distros are just a kernel with various programs, setups and philosophies surrounding it. Some are easy to use but huge and complex, others are bare-bone but simple and there are lot's in the middle, or little of both. You could start with a kernel-only setup or create your own collection of stuff you like, make your own distro.

You can draw similarities to whatever really - Which car should I pick? Why aren't all kitchen tables the same?

Why are there so many linux distros when there's only one windows and mac os you might ask? To begin they are different too, both versions (xp, vista, win 7..) and specialization (professional, home user..) but not all too different. Why? Probably because there's a company promoting, developing and supporting them and it's too hard, expensive and generally unfeasible. Why make two competing products? Let someone else do that, and they have! Unix, Linux, BSD etc.

As someone else said "it's because we can" explains quite a lot. Because someone finds it useful I'd say.

* Sorry it got a bit long winding.

> 'helped keep Linux together and defy the trend for forking and fractionalization'

He's talking about the kernel, and to my knowledge there are no significant forks of that.

> 'which one should I pick?'

Ubuntu or Fedora. (Really, it doesn't matter too much).

It is not that much of a problem, since 95% of the people probably use one of the top-5 distributions. If we go by Distrowatch's popularity, those are Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, Debian, and openSUSE. Two those are derived directly or indirectly from Debian (Ubuntu and Mint). So, three of the five are virtually the same, except that Ubuntu and Mint are more focused on user-friendliness.

The more serious problem is the immense amount of resources that are wasted on developing multiple desktops, photo editors, photo managers, music players, chat clients, etc.

Some people will say that competition is good, but if you have that tiny market share, I think it would be better to focus on the overall experience.

> if you have that tiny market share, I think it would be better to focus on the overall experience.

If there is one lesson to be taken from the Apple saga that would be the one I'd pick.

The really short answer is, you don't need to install the same software on a phone, answering machine, router, bootable CD, tablet, server, and desktop. Windows does the same thing, but Linux makes it so easy that people take it a little further.

There are so many variations because different people have different needs, and people will roll their own distros to suit their needs. If you want to pick one, go with debian or ubuntu. Both are relatively user friendly, widely used, and will give you a good taste of linux.

Note that this article is mostly about the linux kernel, while your link is about distributions.

Yes, distributions are fractionalized to some degree, but most of them use a pretty standard kernel, and if not, their kernel patches are also open sources, so other distributions can still use them.

In contrast the `fork-happy' BSDs use different kernels, but their userland is closer to each other than the Linux distributions are.

While I have only discovered the awesomeness that is GNU/Linux approximately a year ago, I feel at home like it's been forever.

Happy birthday, Linux, and cheers to the best kernel in the world!

Heh. I remember using the Linux Kernel 0.99pl13.

I was working at DEC then and I remember writing a batch job that would download the the SLS (and later Slackware) distribution floppy images and store them on one of our VAX machines, so that I could copy them onto floppies the next day in order to take them home.

Ah fun times.

waiting for them to say Happy Birthday GNU...

Didn't realize it has been 20 years already :/

Now I feel old. I've used Debian since 1.2.

Same here, and i remember having to compile the kernel to version 1.3 so i could use the special driver my cdrom used because the controller was propietary , well the "standard" those days for cdrom were or SCSI or the soundblaster cdrom controller.

Ha I remember them. Horrid things slapped on the end of the card. Sort of worked.

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