17 Years Now: Linus Torvalds Introduces Linux

Oct 07, 2008

Exactly 17 years ago, on October 5, 1991, Linus Torvalds sent an email to the comp.os.minix newsgroup.

It began with the words "Do you pine for the nice days of minix-1.1, when men were men and wrote their own device drivers? [...] Then this post might be just for you :-)" The message ended with Torvald's proposal to make a MINIX-like kernel for AT-386 computers available.

The early kernel version of Linux ran at first under MINIX. As Torvalds wrote, "It is just version 0.02 (+1 (very small) patch already), but I've successfully run bash/gcc/gnu-make/gnu-sed/compress etc under it." He announced the very first kernel version in August of 1991 to a handful of developers who had already shown a considerable interest in Linux, but did not release it at that time.

The need for a free operating system existed because MINIX consisted largely of patches. There was as good as no support for the system that Andrew S. Tanenbaum developed as a teaching tool. Tanenbaum did not allow modifications and only now and then integrated patches that other developers had sent him.

Hobbyists began downloading the experimental Linux from the Finnish server and developing it further. As it turns out, the name Linux came from Ari Lemmke, administrator of the FTP server; Torvalds himself preferred the name Freakx or Buggix for his baby.

The kernel became free in the sense of free software only after Torvalds and his comrades-in-arms put it under Richard Stallman's GPL license in 1992. Stallman needed a kernel for his free GNU platform, because work on Hurd, the original GNU kernel, was moving at a snail's pace. The Linux kernel and the countless GNU tools enabled a successful installation of a free platform, and the GPL licensing gave Linux development that extra kick.

The full discussion on the comp.os.linux mailing list is available in Google archives that contain around 21,000 entries.

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