In Finland, Linus Torvalds, a student at the University of Helsinki, had been tinkering with hard drive access and device drivers based on Mini-Unix. Using the MINIX template, he developed a free terminal emulator that would lay the foundations for an OS kernel.
On the 25th of August 1991, Torvalds posted this call to action on the MINIX Newsgroup:
“Hello everybody out there using minix — I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones…
I’d like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won’t promise I’ll implement them
– Linus Torvalds; Posting to comp.os.minix; 25 Aug. 1991.”
Input from contributors helped the kernel — originally called Freax — to evolve.
By September of 1991, Torvalds had a working iteration of the kernel, which he dubbed Version 0.01. It would later be amalgamated with GNU (as GNU/Linux) to create a finished and free operating system.
By the end of that year, Linux had grown into a complete OS. One of its earliest distributions came from the Manchester Computing Centre, whose MCC Interim Linux featured a combined root and boot disk.
Simple, really: (Lin)us (U)ni(X).
Version 0.02 appeared on October 5th, 1991. It still had MINIX at its base, but developed rapidly as Torvalds and numerous collaborators on the internet tweaked and coded. December 19th saw Version 0.11, a standalone Linux system. The slightly more stable Linux Version 0.12 was released on January 5th 1992.
The years 1992–1994 saw the OS mature to its next milestone, Version 0.95. This was the most stable kernel to date, a feature-rich release that could run the X Window System.
In March 1994, Linux 1.0.0 arrived. This time it also saw the rise to prominence of some major players in the Linux realm, namely, Red Hat, Slackware, and Debian.
Peter MacDonald created the forerunner of Slackware in 1992, calling it the Softlanding Linux System or SLS. It combined the X Window System, a TCP/IP stack and the Linux 0.99 kernel. SLS was bug-laden, and Patrick Volkerding’s embellishment of it (dubbed Slackware) was quickly adopted. Of the Linux distros, it’s the longest-running to date.
In 1994, the Software und System-Entwicklung (read, SUSE) took Jurix Linux — the first distribution with a scriptable installer, and one of the first designed to use EXT2 — and used it as the basis for SUSE Linux, a Slackware derivative.
Another response to the bug-laden interface of SLS, The Debian Linux Release was fashioned in 1993, by Ian Murdock. The name allegedly derives from its creator and his girlfriend at the time, Debra Lynn.
Systems based on Debian were more desktop-oriented. Distros of note included Storm, Finnix, Libranet, and Corel Linux.
Red Hat Commercial Linux emerged on November 3rd, 1994. It was developed by Marc Ewing, and its name came from the colored hat he favored at university.
Between 1995 and 1999, the Linux kernel matured from Version 1.2.0 to Version 2.2. Version 2.0 came with an improved memory manager and support for SMP and a wider range of processors. Version 2.2 added a read-only function for NTFS and PowerPC architecture support.
In that period, the Red Hat line released some notable distros including Yellow Dog, Red Flag, Caldera, TurboLinux, and Mandrake.
The Kool Desktop Environment (KDE) was created by University of Tübingen student Matthias Ettrich in 1996. His was a complete package, with a range of applications and an associated desktop environment (Qt).
KDE Version 1.0 was generally released in 1998, and shipped with the Mandrake distro. Year 2000’s Version 2.0 added KOffice, Konqueror, and KIO networking capabilities.
This period also saw developers Federico Mena and Miguel de Icaza unleash Gnome, a new desktop environment and associated programs based on GTK+. Some sources credit Red Hat as the first Linux distribution to use Gnome.
Fast and user-friendly, Gnome 1.2 Bongo had evolved, by May 2000. 2012 saw the emergence of Gnome 3.0 — and the less said about that the better.
Knoppix 1.4, a Debian derivative from developer Klaus Knopper, was launched on September 30th, 2000. Its unique selling point was that (unlike previous Linux distros) Knoppix could be booted directly from a CD. Once installed, the OS had access to a huge range of compatible hardware, and the ability to hook up to most existing networks.
Knoppix began the trend towards works-straight-out-of-the-box Linux distros, which were beginning to look suspiciously like Microsoft products.
To counter this movement, the Linux From Scratch (LFS) project was instigated. It came with a book containing instructions on how to construct a Linux system from source code, written by Gerard Beekmans.
The Linux Foundation was established in 2000, with a mission to continue developing the OS, and to defend the core values of the work being done by Linus Torvalds and the community at large.
Meanwhile, Linux Version 2.4 emerged on January 4th, with USB support, ISA Plug and Play, and PC card support. RAID, Bluetooth, and EXT3 followed, in a range of iterations that stretched to 2011’s Version 126.96.36.199.
On a related strand of development, Version 2.6 was released in December 2002. This supported the latest CPUs, and had improved handling for 64-bit file systems, 16TB file sizes, and the new EXT4.
Some now felt the tide turning against the less technically inclined user. To redress the balance, Ubuntu was created using the Debian platform. Ease-of-use was its aim; allowing even inexperienced users to update the Linux desktop without nitpicking the code. It grew to become the fourth-placed operating system in the world. The distro’s high-point was the Warty Warthog (Ubuntu Version 4.10) of October 20th, 2004.
Its low was Ubuntu’s 14th release, which came with a new interface dubbed “Unity” — which everyone roundly despised. Ubuntu still hasn’t really recovered from the fallout of this.
In 2006, Linux Mint 1.0 (Ada) emerged. Based initially on Ubuntu (but later also including Debian foundations) it achieved equilibrium between ease-of-use advocates and those still preferring a more hands-on approach.
Global users of Linux operating system touch the magical mark of 20 million in the year 2010. Many interfaces are released in the duration of next couple of years with the Google’s chromebooks being the most popular of them all. Linux 3.0 gets launched in the year 2011 with a gaming platform update in the subsequent year. Torvalds announces Linux 5.0 to be released this year with never seen before features.