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From Hobby to Passion : How GNU/Linux revolutionized Modern Computing

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Imagine a world where every software is free, open, and accessible to everyone, free to contribute and modify without being restricted by any proprietary licenses or corporate interests. While we can only imagine such a scenario, some visionaries actually tried to change the reality.

In this article at OpenGenus, we have covered GNU/Linux and its history.

It all started with Richard Matthew Stallman, more commonly known as RMS, when he started working at MIT AI Lab in 1971. He worked in a group that exclusively used free software, but by the 1980s, the majority of software was proprietary. Stallman had modified the software program of the laser printer at the lab to message the user when the print was done or message everyone in the queue if the printer got jammed. However, as the software of newer printer was proprietary and the source code wasn't provided, Stallman couldn't do anything about it. This experience made Stallman realize the need for free and open-source software..

GNU was announced in 1983 by Stallman, after which he resigned from his job in the following year. GNU was supposed to be a free and open-source operating system resembling UNIX, making it easier to switch to. Stallman released a GNU manifesto that outlined Stallman's motivation and need for GNU. It also mentioned that GNU is a recursive acronym, which means "GNU's Not Unix," making it clear that it's not associated with Unix in any way. In 1984, the Free Software Foundation (FSF), a non-profit organization, was established to employ free software programmers and provide legal infrastructure for the free software movement. Until the 1990s, the majority of the important tools were finished being written, and they had all components written or found except for the kernel. While the FSF had started working on their own kernel called Hurd, which was the first software to be named by a pair of mutually recursive acronyms, programmers tried to adapt other's work and use the Mach Kernel from CMU. However, it didn't work due to the uncertainty of whether CMU would release the kernel codebase under a suitable license or not.

In 1991, Linus Torvalds, a computer science student at the University of Helsinki, bought a new computer with a 32-bit CPU and 4 MB of RAM. After playing Prince of Persia in his spare time, he bought a copy of MINIX. When he enrolled in a UNIX course, he became exposed to operating systems and later learned Intel assembly language. Linus wanted to do a project on Unix but was unable to buy it due to high prices. He researched and used MINIX and decided to make an OS that could be obtained free of cost after getting frustrated by the limitations of the MINIX's licensing policies. With the goal of developing an OS, Linus ended up making a kernel. Eventually, the kernel matured, and he made a public announcement in August of 1991. Linux was initially named Freax (as in "free", "freak" & "x"). One of the administrators of the FTP server where his files were uploaded changed the name to Linux without consulting Linus, and that's how "Linux" came to be. Linus released the first version of Linux under the GPL License by GNU in the later days of 1992. Later, Linus also realized that the kernel is nothing without the major utilities such as libraries, compilers, and other applications that provide Linux with a purpose.


In the following year, over 100 developers worked on the Linux kernel, making it possible to integrate the kernel with GNU utilities and giving birth to Linux distributions. As the linux kernel was used for the distribution, the development of Hurd slowed down. The oldest Linux distribution, Slackware, was released for the first time with a GUI from the X Window System. Following Slackware, Debian was created, which is the biggest Linux community distribution today. Several developers used GNU/Linux, and distributions were made. GNU/Linux was adopted commercially by many corporations, such as Oracle, Dell, and IBM. Many utilities and applications were ported for Linux, and many GUI desktop environments were created.

Linux has gained immense popularity in the market, and the penguin was announced as its official mascot. Many corporations have released their own GNU/Linux distributions, such as Redhat, and manufacturers like Dell have started providing them preinstalled with their hardware. In 2003, Google adopted Linux and released the Android operating system for mobile devices based on it. Today, Android occupies 70% of the market share for mobile operating systems. Microsoft has also adopted Linux and announced Windows Azure, which was later renamed to Microsoft Azure. Today, it is one of the biggest cloud service providers with the power of Linux.

Linux is OS or Kernel?

Technically, Linux is a kernel, which is a crucial part of an operating system. When combined with GNU utilities, it creates a powerful operating system. Both components are essential to the functioning of the system. While Linux is not an operating system in itself, it has become standard practice to refer to Linux distributions as simply "Linux." However, some people prefer to call it "GNU/Linux" to give credit to the GNU project for their contributions to the operating system.

"LINUX is obsolete", "Linux is a cancer", "bloated and huge"

Linux has faced criticism from many quarters over the years, particularly in its early days. Some of the criticisms leveled against Linux include its perceived complexity, lack of user-friendliness, and limited software availability. However, Linux has proven its critics wrong time and time again, and has become one of the most widely used and respected operating systems in the world.

One of the key strengths of Linux is its open-source nature, which allows developers and users to contribute to its development and improvement. This has led to a vibrant and active community of developers and users who work together to make Linux better and more accessible to everyone.

While Linux is not perfect, there is always room for improvement, and the Linux community is constantly working to make it better. For example, many Linux distributions have made significant strides in improving their user interfaces and making Linux more user-friendly for new users.

Linux, GNU/Linux or Lignux?

The name of the operating system commonly referred to as "Linux" is a subject of some debate. Some people prefer to call it "GNU/Linux" or "Lignux" to acknowledge the contributions of the GNU project and other open-source software projects that are often included with Linux distributions.

The term "GNU/Linux" is used to emphasize the fact that many of the tools and utilities that are included with Linux distributions are actually part of the GNU project, which was started by Richard Stallman in the 1980s. The GNU project was created to develop a complete, free, and open-source operating system, but the kernel (the core component of an operating system) was not yet available. When Linus created the Linux kernel in 1991, it was combined with the GNU tools to create a complete operating system.

The term "Lignux" is a more recent addition to the debate, and is used by some people to emphasize the fact that Linux is not just a kernel, but also includes many other open-source software projects. The name "Lignux" is a combination of "Linux" and "GNU", and is intended to be a more inclusive name for the operating system.

In general, the name you use to refer to the operating system is a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer to use "Linux" as a shorthand for the entire operating system, while others prefer to use "GNU/Linux" or "Lignux" to acknowledge the contributions of other open-source software projects.

Linux today

Today, Linux is one of the most widely used operating systems in the world. It is used in a variety of applications, from servers and supercomputers to smartphones and home appliances. Linux has become the backbone of the internet, powering many of the world's largest websites and cloud computing platforms. In addition, Linux has been used in many scientific and research applications, including the recent Mars mission by NASA. The Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February 2021, is powered by Linux. The rover uses a custom-built version of Linux, which was designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the Martian environment. It is responsible for controlling the rover's movements, collecting and analyzing data, and communicating with Earth. The use of Linux in the Perseverance mission is a testament to the reliability and versatility of the operating system, and its ability to perform critical tasks in some of the most challenging environments imaginable.

Aadarsh Kumar Singh

Aadarsh Kumar Singh

A Professional Nerd, Coder, Developer, Data Privacy Advocate. "I use arch btw". Student at GL Bajaj Institute of Management and Research. Intern at OpenGenus.

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From Hobby to Passion : How GNU/Linux revolutionized Modern Computing
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