The development of Linux is one of the most prominent examples of free and open source software collaboration; typically all the underlying source code can be used , freely modified,  and redistributed, both commercially and non-commercially, by anyone under licenses such as the GNU General Public License. Typically Linux us a format known as a Linux distribution for desktop and server use.

Classic Home Toys Installment # 27

James Russo

December 2011

Classic Home Toys Installment # 27
LINUX: The Forgotten Operating System - Part One

Author: James Russo

The development of Linux is one of the most prominent examples of free and open source software collaboration; typically all the underlying source code can be used , freely modified,  and redistributed, both commercially and non-commercially, by anyone under licenses such as the GNU General Public License. Typically Linux us a format known as a Linux distribution for desktop and server use.

Linux is a UNIX-like computer operating system assembled under the model of free and Open source software development and distribution.  The defining central component of any Linux system is the Linux kernel, an operating system kernel first released October 5, 1991 By Linus Torvalds.  Linux runs on a wide variety of computer hardware including mobile phones, tablet computers, network routers, televisions, video game consoles, desktop computers, mainframes and supercomputers.  Linux is a leading server operating system and runs the 10 fastest supercomputers in the world.

The development of Linux is one of the most prominent examples of free and open source software collaboration; typically all the underlying source code can be used , freely modified,  and redistributed, both commercially and non-commercially, by anyone under licenses such as the GNU General Public License. Typically Linux us a format known as a Linux distribution for desktop and server use.  Some popular mainstream Linux distributions include Debian and its derivatives such as Ubuntu, Fedora and openSUSE. Linux distributions include the Linux kernel, supporting utilities and libraries and usually a large amount of application software to fulfill the distribution’s intended use.

No history of the Linux OS would be complete without a mention of the operating system which served as its foundation: UNIX.  The Unix operating system was conceived and implemented in 1969 at  AT&T Bell Laboratories in the United States by Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, Douglas McIIroy, and Joe Ossanna.  It was first released in 1971 and was initially entirely written in assembly language, a common practice at the time. Later, in a key pioneering approach in 1973, Unix was re-written in the programming language C by Dennis Ritchie with exceptions to the kernel and I/O.  The availability of an operating system written in a high-level language allowed easier portability to different computer platforms.  With a legal glitch forcing AT&T to license the operating system’s source code to anyone who asked, Unix quickly grew and became widely adopted by academic institutions and businesses.  In 1984, AT&T divested itself of Bell Labs. Free of the legal glitch requiring free licensing, Bell Labs began selling Unix as a proprietary product.

The GNU Project, started in 1983 by Richard Stallman, had the goal of creating a “complete Unix-compatible software system” composed entirely of free software. Work began in 1984. Later, in 1985 Stallman started the Free Software Foundation and wrote the GNU or General Public License in 1989.  By the early 1990’s, many of the programs  required in an operating system (such as libraries, compilers, text editors, a Unix  shell, and a windowing system) were completed, although low-level elements such as device drivers, daemons, and the kernel were stalled and incomplete. Linus Torvalds has said that if the GNU kernel had been available at the time (1991), he would not have decided to write his own.

Although not released until 1992 due to legal complications, development of 386BSD, from which NetBSD and FreeBSD descended, predated that of Linux. Linus Torvalds has said that if 386BSD had been available at the time, he probably would not have created Linux. MINIX is an inexpensive  minimal Unix-like operating system, designed for education in computer science, written by Andrew S. Tanenbaum.  Starting with version 3, MINIX was free and redesigned for “serious” use.  In 1991, while attending the University of Helsinki, Torvalds, curious about the operating  system and frustrated by the licensing of MINIX limiting it to education use only (which prevented any commercial use), began to work on his own operating system which eventually  became the  Linux kernel.

Torvalds began the development of the Linux kernel on MINIX, and applications written for  MINIX were also used on Linux. Later Linux matured and it became possible for Linux to be developed under itself. Also GNU applications replaced all MINIX ones, because with code from the GNU system freely available, it was advantageous if this could be used with the fledgling operating system. Code licensed under the GNU GPL can be used in other projects, so long as they also are released under the same or compatible license.  In order to make Linux available for  commercial use, Torvalds initiated a switch from his original license (which prohibited  commercial redistribution) to the GNU GPL. Developers worked to integrate GNU components with Linux to make a fully functional and free operating system.

Related Links:
www.wikipedia.org (see Linux)
www.linuxpro.com (Linux magazine)

 


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