GNU/Linux: An Amazing Story

Posted by tadelste on Jan 17, 2006 4:40 AM
LXer.com; By Tom Adelstein



Regardless of the critics, even in spite of them, the Linux Story remains one of the greatest in recorded history. You have protagonists and antagonoists, drama, plots and subplots and we have only made it through part of Act II. So much more remains for others to tell.

Perhaps, the heroics of this story makes Linux so easy to embrace.

Richard Stallman started the GNU project in 1983 to develop a complete Unix-like operating system composed entirely of free software. And in the next decade, Richard had either produced or harvested most of the components needed. He lacked one major component - the kernel. And that allows for the inciting incident of this story to occur.



Imagine a story of a desheveled scientist creating something only to reach that point where he can go no further. He makes two futile attempts to get past the hurdle and begins to contemplate other alternatives. Then out of a sense of frustration, he decides to bury his pride and approaches a competitor only to be rejected again.



In a strange turn of events in 1991, a workable solution arrives. The hobby of a Finnish university student, Linus Torvalds develops into a replacement for Minix. What began as a terminal emulator compiled and booted from a floppy disk becomes an operating system kernel intended as a foundation for POSIX-compliant systems.



Linus released the first version of the Linux kernel to the Internet on September 17, 1991 and a second version in October. He provided enough system calls to allow the kernel to run the GNU Bash shell. Richard Stallman's original vision, which had hit a roadblock, suddenly had new life.



By the time the early Linux developers had their kernel working with GNU components and other programs, they had created a complete, fully functional, free operating system. An amazing aspect of this story lies in the fact that the developers collaborated over the Internet from great distances and from many lands and cultures. In addition, they all volunteered their time and efforts.



Enter the Dragon



Few people knew much about Linux until Microsoft presented it as a competitive product to Windows during a US Federal anti-trust trial. In 1995, Linux Journal magazine estimated 30,000 people globally used GNU/Linux. But Microsoft using Linux in an anti-trust trial to argue against the concept of a Windows monopoly began the saga that catapulted Linux into the global market place.



Teutonic myths relate a story of Nidhogg the dragon and his accomplices gnawing at the roots of Yggdrasil in Niflheim, near the Spring of Hvergelmir. They tried to loosen Yggdrasil's foundation and put an end to it. This metaphor works because Yggdrasil Linux became one of the first distributions and Microsoft became Linux's antagonist.



Microsoft, after using Linux in an attempt to demonstrate a competitive market has attempted to loosen the roots of Linux. So, cast Microsoft in the role of Nidhogg the dragon and you have an understanding of the kind of antagonist Linux faces today. Microsoft has become the kind of dragon wishing to end Linux's existence.



Still Amazing



That Linux continues to exist and thrive makes this story even more amazing. Microsoft has slayed its competition regularly since the advent of Windows 95. The company that made Redmond, Washington a famous town, broke down rivals with market shares of 90 to 95 percent. Yet, Linux continues to grow its market share.



Using its considerable influence, Microsoft has kept Linux out of the mega stores like Best Buy, CompUSA, Office Depot and others. The major hardware manufacturers have failed to use Linux as an option to Microsoft Windows. The prominent Software companies such as Adobe and Scansoft, now Nuance, have refused to port their products to Linux.



Peripheral and mainboard manufacturers have refused to make drivers available for Linux. But Linux continues to thrive in places like the European Union, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Lacking critical applications like DVD decoders and players and Windows and Apple compatible multi-media products, Linux continues to grow.



In fact, GNU/Linux and the many projects that make up the free and open source software experience have provided the major impetus for innovation in technology today. And fifteen years after a young Finnish university student made his kernel available, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of developers use the same distributed model of development.



History will have to regard the GNU/Linux story as one of its turning points long after Bill Gates name drops from school texts and campus name plates. Why? Because a small band of collaborators in distant lands collaborated together to create their own computer operating system because they said they would. And all the while, a giant monopoly could only compete with them by calling them names and attempting to tarnish their reputation.

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