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Softpanorama Bulletin
Vol 13, No.04 (December, 2001)

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Linus Torvalds Short Unauthorized Biography

(A slightly skeptical unauthorized biography of Linus Torvalds
and the chronicle of the first ten years of Linux)

Version 0.97

"All pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal than others."

George Orwell, Animal Farm

Linus Torvalds - The one, the only ... yeah!

Stampede distribution developers

"If you still don't like it, that's ok: that's why I'm boss.  I simply know better than you do."

Linus Torvalds
Source: comp.os.linux.advocacy



No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Matt 6:24

"There is no greatness
where there is no simplicity, goodness, and truth"

Leo  Tolstoy  

Linux, like Unix in general, is a major democratic OS and a major democratic social force in computing despite the fact that the development of the kernel is ruled with iron fist by Linus Torvalds. Along with DOS, Unix was among the first a democratic operating system that helped  people to get rid of the power of the corporate and university "computer center" bureaucracy and Linux continues this noble tradition. Paradoxically Linux never got an upper hand technically in fierce  competition with FreeBSD which used for development a tiny fraction of resources Linus used and never even approached the security of OpenBSD or platform independence of NetBSD.  It was blatantly "gray" OS that achieved success exactly like Microsoft of Unix world. 

I think that one of the major achievements of Linux is it's counterbalancing value and positive influence on Microsoft and Sun: it did contributed to the lessening what is called the "operating system tax" (while the cost of Microsoft OSes in the USA is very competitive, this is not true for other countries).  And this "greed moderating" influence of Linux on Microsoft is very important and should not be underestimated. It is especially important for poor (aka developing) countries, because PCs in those countries very often contain components for which Linux drivers are non-existent.

At the same time Linux itself should be viewed as a classic story of betrayal of the movement roots: commercialization of GPL-based software created  by volunteers and used to enrich several "open source pigs" including Linus Torvalds himself. In George Orwell's Animal Farm, the animals on a small farm revolt against the farmer and create a seemingly utopian world in which all animals share the labor and the fruits of that labor. If you have never read George Orwell's barnyard parable, go out and buy yourself a copy; try not to be alarmed at how closely the farm mirrors the Linux world. In Animal Farm, a new order is established with lots of talk about freedom, but a rigid hierarchy was almost instantly established and "top pigs" start to enrich themselves and oppress others using the credo "All pigs are equal, but some pigs are more equal than others." If you are tempted to think that Orwell's gloomy story is nothing more than an anti-totalitarism fairy tale, read on. It really has more dimensions that simple decrying of the horrors of totalitarism. Corrupt evangelists shouting "Four legs good, two legs bad" are not limited to one particular Euro-Asian country ;-)

This commercialization betrayed the academic roots of free/open source software and created both "open source millionaires" and "open source politics" not that different from regular corporate politics with sleazy corporate lobbyists, fake image projection and PR assaults on opponents. In Linux startups the stakeholders who can influence the decisions (owners and management clan) immensely enriched themselves to the disadvantage of the remaining stakeholders. During "Linux gold rush" which was actually driven by investment banks the "rank and file"  stockholders were openly milked and cheated by those influential stakeholders. It is important to understand that Torvalds has dual role: one as the leader of Linux movement and the second as a front man for pretty sophisticated looting by Wall Street of rank-and-file investors (often Linux enthusiasts;-) during dot-com boom/bust cycle. It was the point when investment banks realized that computers make looting easy and profitable due to increased size of plankton such as retail brokerages customers and participants of 401K plans. Wall Street bonus extravaganza actually started during dot-com boom. So Wall-street envy toward the start-up founders, who often became multi millionaire in three-five years by selling useless companies to the public was a factor that precipitated development of all the spectrum of dirty financial tricks such as counterfeit credit, buy-off regulators, stuff your customers, stiff your creditors, convert a pile of toxic junk into derivatives and stamp triple AAA rating on them, sell to bigger fools and when things get tough get a bailout from taxpayers.   In a way, dot-com boom/bust cycle was a training ground for all those Wall Street criminal behavior we have now. Here the role of Torvalds was extremely negative and his behavior was dubious at best. As soon as Linux hit pay dirt, the nature of the development changed and venture capitalist and large companies like IBM became de-facto rulers of the land. And their priorities became the most important.  Today it is virtually impossible for an open-source project to hit critical mass without being consumed by venture capital.

Paradoxically despite the fact that due to the commercialization the character of the movement radically changed and it became corporate-controlled and profit-oriented, most members of the Linux community still exhibit the characteristics of "true believers" -- they cannot accept criticism of their belief object, and will, given the opportunity, pour scorn and derision on the proponents of alternatives, or even on those who simply don't believe in the object of their blind faith. As Goethe mentioned "None are so hopelessly enslaved as those who falsely believe they are free."

This chapter also documents the phenomenon that later was coined as the Fading Altruism of Open Source Development and a very strong corporate influence on Linux development including IPO rip-offs ("Linux gold rush") that enriched quite a few "open source pigs" as well as big business manipulation of Linux technical priorities and goals: big companies, especially IBM, are using the open-source community as Indian subcontractors in best outsourcing tradition rather than encouraging the community to develop independent products. We will be limited to the "glorious period" of Linux history, the period before SCO lawsuit when Linux became open season for lawyers. The latter is a pretty interesting episode of Linux history with quite colorful figures, but due to time period limitation we imposed it is not covered in the chapter.

I would like to remind the reader that this chapter title contains the word "skeptical". The analysis below not only lacks typical for "true believers" excessive excitement about the technical qualities of Linux kernel (it was never  able to surpass FreeBSD that used for development a tiny fraction of resources), but has a definite anti  "cult of personality" flavor.  I hope this page can serve as a antidote to "Great Chairman Linus Torvalds who single-handedly leads lemmings toward the bright future" stories in mainstream media. We need to realize that open source politics relies on manipulation. Since Linus Torvalds, open source leaders became political figures and it has become impossible to discuss them without asking such unpleasant questions as: What is Linus Torvalds "real" character? How authentic or inauthentic his coverage in the mainstream media is? What image is he trying to project?

Contrary to naive (or crooked) accounts about shy Finn, Linus has a "supersized" (but  well camouflaged in public appearances  ;-) ego and as you can infer from the facts presented below it was always the case.  Both Linus' parents are journalists, and he probably inherited a journalistic talent and understands pretty well how important is to project the right public image of humbleness to create contrast that increases a "superhero effect". To get a better sense of him, read the kernel traffic list. In this list he's far from the laid-back, mellow regular guy as he usually appears in the interviews.  He is very opinionated and extremely competitive to the point of being very rude to people dissenting from his "party line"; he is perfectly capable in flaming people, solutions or ideas he doesn't like even when those are better ideas or solutions.

I also think that Linus' cult of personality is one of the  most significant negative moments of the movement for various reasons propagated by such different people/groups including but not limited to Eric Raymonds, Slashdot founders, Slate's  Andrew Leonard, Linux distributors, etc. That's why this chapter can be considered as a modest attempt to address "Linux mythology" issue. All-in-all in this chapter I will try to paint a vivid picture of a talented, colorful and sharply individualistic Linux dictator:  one of the most fascinating figures among open source pioneers. It's important to understand that this chapter was written as an antidote to publications emulating North Korean party newspapers articles that depict achievements of the party leaders with just substitution of Linux and Linus Torvalds in several places ;-).

Along with this goal, this chapter also tries to answer several important questions

To reach the goals stated above we will try to reconstruct actual sequence of events that have major influence on the development of Linux during the first ten, most formative years. Some of them are well known, other are not. The role of Microsoft, MINIX community, commercial firms like DEC,  Linux distributors, Transmeta and several large corporations (especially IBM and Intel) in the development of Linux is also outlined. I tried to verify all information that is included in this chapter, but of course it is far from perfect.  If you find mistakes in the facts presented, please let me know.

I will also try to address several popular fairy tails. First of all the fairy tail that Linux became prominent OS because of technical merits. Nothing can be father from that. From the very beginning Linux kernel was pretty reactionary in a technical sense with severe compromises necessary to achieve high speed on Intel architecture. My impression is that like in case of Microsoft OSes technical merits played secondary role: the initial Linux success was essentially a stepchild of AT&T lawsuit  that was filed in early 1992 (note perfect timing, usable version of Linux was available in April 1992 too).

Microsoft withdrawal from Unix development  in late 80-s also was of crucial importance: it was XENIX which resolved all principal problems of Unix implementation of PC, for its time it was one of the most complete Unix environment available and with its almost 10 year head time in no way Linux could compete with XENIX penetration in PC marketplace  during Microsoft short-lived love affair with Unix (before Linux, Microsoft XENIX was the most capable and that the most PC-friendly Unix). In a sense Linux is an attempt to create old (Microsoft-owned) XENIX replacement for PC.

If not the lawsuit, it is quite probable that FreeBSD could have been dominating the free software world. While BSD sources were "under house arrest" (a settlement was finally reached only in January 1994) Linux filled the vacuum.  Many talented developers wanted to use a free Unix clone on newly minted 386-based PCs and, since BSD was in trouble, they helped to develop Linux.

From the beginning Linux was technically weak but extremely PC friendly and fairly quick Unix-compatible OS (Linus was a king of premature optimization) ; in early versions it actually wasn't real Unix, but eventually after several complete rewrites of the kernel it became more-or-less POSIX compatible (in a sense each new version of Linux was a new OS, for example Linux 1.x kernel is very different from Linux 2.x kernel).  Another important factor in Linux success was an attractive GPL licensing (and in early 90th GPL was viewed by technical community much more favorably than ten years later, see  BSD vs. GPL for additional details). Moreover initial Linux can be installed on 386sx with just 2M of memory: a dominant configuration for PCs at this time. And I would like  to stress it again it was reasonably fast.

Another very popular fairytale is that Linus Torvalds was a volunteer -- this might be true only for the first two years of development. The development of Linux kernel quickly switched to the model of "sponsored software" development. The first sponsor was University of Helsinki which gave Linus semi-official possibility to develop kernel in working hours. Later he got non-disclosed Transmeta salary and stock options (association with Linus was a bad move for Transmeta that probably prevented potentially fruitful partnership with VMware, but it did ensured a successful IPO). Crazy Linux IPO gold rush remunerated Linus quite nicely, probably on the level very few leading commercial Unix developers enjoy: in just three years after arriving in California Linus Torvalds became a multimillionaire. I would say that since 1999 Linus Torvalds was probably the most highly paid developer in the Unix world. So much for a volunteer fairy tail.

This chapter also offers support for the hypothesis that Linux startups never operated in true market. It's some kind of artificial market as artificial as the existence of Red Hat after 2000. For those that eventually manage to get to IPO (Red Hat, VA Linux, Caldera) from the beginning it  was as close to the typical "Internet bubble" financial scam as one can get. Most startups that survived the burst of Internet bubble were essentially front-ends of bigger companies (Red Hat and Suse are two examples).

Yet another fairytale (that actually is a part of "Raymondism") is that Linus invented new software development model: a  democratic (bazaar) distributed development. Actually Linus operated and operates like a dictator and rules the development of the kernel with an iron fist, especially since version 2.0. What was really new is that along with technical talent Linus Torvalds proved to be a brilliant PR person who played a significant role in Linux gold rush (Red Hat and VA Linux IPOs) and in the controversial success of the Transmeta IPO. I would argue that the real role of Linus Torvalds in Transmeta (up to the IPO) had a significant (or may be even primary) marketing load.

Another popular myth is the Linus was invented Linux -- actually at the beginning Linux was a pretty straightforward reengineering project. Technically it was interesting until version 1.x when it was both tiny and capable OS. After that in no way Linux kernel can be considered a technical achievement in a way the original Unix kernel and Unix environment were. Yes it was and is an important social achievement, but technically speaking Linux is a pretty boring, conservative reimplementation of Unix. Moreover, during the first ten years of development covered in this chapter Linux definitely failed to surpass in quality FreeBSD that used for development a tiny fraction of resources in comparison with Linux. Some kernel subsystems remained inferior to FreeBSD up to 2002 (the end of the period covered in the chapter). It's also important to understand that Linux, while an exciting example of collaborative Internet-based development of a Unix clone, doesn't really have a design. It's a software development project based on a 'reference model'.

I would argue that with all its great democratic social value, technically Linux looks more like neo-conservative revolution similar to Newt Gingrich "Contract with America" thing (fight corruption, waste in government spending, tax reform and a balanced budget, etc.), largely directed against Microsoft. It's difficult to see Linux as a technological advance. True innovators explore ideas that will render something obsolete – as automobiles made livery stables obsolete. I think that scripting languages like Perl, Python and TCL are the only real and significant innovation that can be attributed to open source movement. At the same time classic monolithic kernel that Linux is based upon are CS orthodoxy and are much less innovative than, say, Plan 9 or Be OS, or even Amiga. The most innovative things in Unix space for the last 10 years were domain of commercial developers (Sun's RPC, proc filesystem, Pluggable authentication modules (PAM), NFS, Trusted Solaris RBAC implementation,  Solaris on the fly updates, AIX Volume manager, to name a few) as well as research institutions (Kerberos, Amoeba, Plan 9, etc. ).  Linux record in innovation looks extremely unconvincing for such a mature stage of development (over 10 years).

This orthodoxy -- the fundamental resistance to anything non-traditional makes Linux success really a neo-conservative type of success. You can consider Linux to be a new super BIOS for PC and that in this role the conservatism is of  paramount importance. Although it serves as an democratic alternative to Microsoft, Linux in its own turn inhibits grows of alternative OSes, contributing to the lack of diversity, and ultimately lack of innovation that are so characteristic for present stage of software engineering. For example OS/2 has a very neat idea of using the same scripting language both as a shell and as a macrolanguage as well as the idea of user-defined (extended) attributes in the filesystems.  Both Amiga and BeOS contained innovative features (for example, it was Amiga which introduced REXX as an OS shell),  Nothing similar can be said about Linux. Neither Linux kernel  not any distribution were able to introduce any innovations worth mentioning. All Linus Torvalds was concerned was the speed of running on Intel hardware and as Knuth aptly observed "premature optimization is the root of all evil."  That's essentially the tragedy of Linus life: he have spend way too much time on premature optimization. From this point of view the success of Linux is a manifestation of a deep crisis in system engineering as Bob Pike noted in his paper. It's a definite sign that computer science is coming into its middle age and is experiencing "middle age crisis".

Paradoxically all this makes Linux and Microsoft OSes really close relatives. Linux actually had become a Microsoft of Unix world. Inferior in many respects to alternatives, plagued with design problems but still highly successful.  Not unlike humans war, the Linux-Microsoft fight has resulted mostly in collateral damage to commercial Unixes despite the fact that there are more technically interesting commercial Unix and Unix-like alternatives to Windows than Linux including BeOS and Mac OS X. Instead of wiping out Windows, Linux helped Microsoft to drive commercial Unixes out of the entry level server business as Sun can attest.

Contrary to popular press claims Linux wasn't the first open source OS, nor is it the only one that's caught the Internet wave: Linux was late to the table and included  TCP/IP stack into OS only after 1995 (before that it was a separate package supported by .  Many enthusiastically biased papers and books about Linux kernel claim that  Linux has a high standard for source code quality. In what version and compared to what?  Even in v. 2.4 (a rework of the kernel stimulated by Mindcraft fiasco) several subsystems are still pretty raw and ugly. In reality the first ten years it was definitely weaker in quality of programming that other contenders, for example weaker then any member of BSD family( FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD). And it is not accidental that despite all Linux PR a lot of real work on Internet is done by BSD servers, even though the general public has less awareness of them. For example few people know that Yahoo has been relying on FreeBSD since 1995, and according to Yahoo co-founder David Filo they might never succeed if they use the other OS. They would definitely fail with Linux as running an OS that is in constant beta is an extremely challenging even for established players to say nothing about startups.

All-in-all despite Linus claims to the contrary, Linux was more the success of a political movement (anti-Microsoft coalition) and because of commercial distributors marketing than it was a technical success. In this sense Linux is a continuation of the democratic processes that was started by Microsoft and IBM in PC. Actually in more then one aspect Linux success is very similar to the success of Microsoft software: Microsoft success was also partially based on very strong anti-IBM feelings, and like Linux Ms-DOS and Windows were the result of democratization of the software and hardware development that was achieved by personal computer revolution.  Like Microsoft helped people to escape from the tyranny of "Sysadmin controlled environment" that existed both on mainframes and large Unix servers (actually in late 80th Microsoft owned the first Unix and extremely influential PC-based version of it called XENIX),  Linux, in its turn, helps in diminishing or in some cases even elimination of the "Microsoft operating system tax", especially Microsoft server tax. Like Microsoft OSes the main advantage of Linux was and is that it is the most PC-friendly Unix.  In this sense Linux is a true successor of Microsoft Xenix.  This PC-friendliness along with tremendous increase in power and sophistication of PC hardware platform was important driving force behind Linux success.  

As for fighting Microsoft the dents that Linux managed to inflict are almost unnoticeable to the naked eye. On the contrary it can be argued that Linux has a symbiotic relationship with Microsoft and that it revitalized Microsoft and prevented Microsoft stagnation in the operating systems market.  Linux hasn't done anything to make PCs more attractive, more powerful, or easier to use. To the extent that there is innovation there, it has come from other companies. All of Linux's contributions have been in providing other companies' technical innovations to a wider audience at lower (zero) cost. It's a big win-win situation for consumers and I think that one of the main achievement of Linux as a social movement is stimulation of improvements in Microsoft operating systems and software and to a lesser extent in major commercial Unixes  (Solaris 10 and AIX 5.3).

At the same time commercial open source (Red Hat model) represented an interesting outsourcing strategy with volunteers as zero cost workers (or low cost workers, if they are converted to salaried employers in Europe or third-world countries): they produce code, we sell it.  And instead of  Stallman's private charity it is companies like Red Hat, IBM, HP, VA Software, etc which are benefiting from this implicit outsourcing.  On the other side of political spectrum Red Flag Linux was adopted by (formally communist, although the question is pretty complex) Chinese authorities. 

Fortunately all those events did not place Linus at the center of the firestorm that has erupted in the United States over the globalization of white-collar jobs. But it's not completely improbable that Linus might succeed were Stallman failed and managed to produce an offspring of two dangerous demons (high speed Internet and cheap powerful PCs) to impoverish God-blessed American programmers including many who like him previously moved to the USA from other countries.  That might help USA's educational system, but unfortunately, the only time displaced programmers think of becoming teachers is when after they got pink slips, there is no McDonalds or gas station nearby ;-). 

The life at a glance

“In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
—George Orwell

Linux is now a trademark of Linus Torvalds
in the US and some other countries.


1969 - Linus Torvalds was born in Helsinki, Finland.

Free development

Commercial development

1970   DEC begins shipping PDP-11 and revolutionizes the computer industry by selling 250,000 systems. Bell Labs gets a PDP-11 to do text processing for the legal department. System is developed and implemented in UNIX. The standard DEC OS is never installed.
1971    First edition of Unix was released
1972   The second edition was released. Number of installations grow to 10
1973   Third edition was released with C compiler. Pipe mechanism was introduced. The number of installations grow to 16

The forth edition: the first edition of Unix with kernel largely written in C


1974 The fifth edition. Following Richie and Thompson's ACM paper, the Unix Timesharing System (1974), fifth edition was made freely available to universities for educational purposes  
1975   Sixth edition: the first edition that was available outside Bell Labs.  Most on the Os was written in C. This version was installed by Thomson at the University of California at Berkeley. Due to its portability and flexibility, UNIX Version 6 (V6) became the minicomputer OS of choice for universities in 1975.
  •  "Source Code and Commentary on Unix level 6", was written by John Lions. The two parts of this book(Lions Book) contained
    • The entire source listing of the Unix Version 6 kernel,
    • A commentary on the source discussing the algorithms.
In 1977, Digital announced VAX-11/780 and VMS 1.0, making the first product shipments in 1978.
1978 Professor Donald E. Knuth from Stanford University begins to work on TeX, a typesetting system distributed as free software.  
  • Seventh Edition: included the Bourne shell and K&R compliant compiler. The kernel was rewritten to make it more portable. This is the last "true" Unix system that adheres to the principle "small is beautiful". The V7 kernel was a mere 40 Kbytes!
  • Microsoft licensed UNIX directly from AT&T, but couldn’t license the UNIX name, so it called it Microsoft XENIX. Microsoft XENIX was designed as a port of AT&T UNIX Version 7 with some BSD-like enhancements (Xenix for 8086 was preannounced in August, 1980 and released in 1983)
  • Brothers Doug and Larry Michels founded the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) as a UNIX porting and consulting company using venture capital from Microsoft, which handed over all further development of Microsoft XENIX to SCO. Doug Michels recalled that the company’s name was a bit of  "social engineering" to obscure the fact that it was essentially a two-man operation. “I’d call up and say, ‘This is Doug from the Santa Cruz Operation’ and be pretty sure they wouldn’t catch that the ‘O’ was capitalized and think I was from another branch of their company.”
  • In June Microsoft hires Steve Ballmer as it's 29th employee. 
  • In August Microsoft announces Microsoft XENIX OS, a portable operating system for 16-bit microprocessors. It is an interactive, multi-user, multi-tasking system that will run on Intel 8086, Zilog Z8000, Motorola M68000, and DEC PDP-11 series. All of Microsoft's existing system software (COBOL, PASCAL, BASIC and DBMS) will be ported to the XENIX
  • In October the development of MS-DOS/PC-DOS began. Digital Research failed to get the IBM and in July Microsoft  bought Seattle Computer Product's 86-DOS (Q-DOS, Quick & Dirty Operating System) which had been written by Tim Paterson earlier that year. It is reported that IBM found over 300 bugs in the code when they subjected the operating system to their testing, and re-wrote much of the code. Tim Paterson's DOS 1.0 was 4000 lines of assembler. 
1981 4.1 BSD was released On August 12  the IBM Model 5150 Personal Computer was released
  • 4.2 BSD was released . Version was not very stable on VAX due to many additional features included...
  • Richard Stallman created the Free Software Foundation (GNU project)

Microsoft Xenix released and soon became the most popular PC Unix


1984    The Unix support group (USG) became the Unix System Development Laboratory (USDL) and subsequently released System V Release 2 (SVR2) that included paging, copy on write semantic, shared memory and file locking.
1985 MIT based X Consortium distributes the X Window System as free software covered by BSD-style license. The first split of the UNIX family tree:
  1. AT&T UNIX System V Release 2 (SVR2) from Bell Labs’ UNIX Support Group (USG).
  2. Berkeley Standard Distribution from UCB.
  3. XENIX 3.0 from Microsoft and SCO
1985   Microsoft released a really impressive PC-based version of Unix: XENIX 3 or XENIX 286 and became dominant Unix vendor on PC. Xenix 3.0 was capable of dual booting from a partition with MS DOS on the other partition. It included new features from 4.1BSD and from AT&T's System III and instantly became a huge hit among Unix enthusiasts: it required just 512K (yes, kilobytes) of memory and 10M harddrive and can run on a PC XT or, better, PC AT, which used to cost less then $5000: the cheapest Unix workstation of this time.
  •  4.3 BSD was released, which was more reliable and had better performance then 4.2 BSD. A number of releases of 4.3 BSD between 1986 and 1990 further polished the OS and added new features including NFS, VFS/vnodes, a kernel debugger and enhanced network support
  • 1986 Design of the Unix Operating System  by Marice J. Bach was published.
  • Xenix 5 was released. This was result of joint work by AT&T and Microsoft to bring Xenix into conformance with System V Release 2 (SVR2). The was last version of Unix from Microsoft.
  • Eight edition with enhancements for 4.1 BSD was released. Stream I/O was added
  • Ninth Edition was released. Contained enhancements made in 4.3 BSD
  • SCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface) specification is accepted as an ANSI standard. Soon to follow is the concept of the SCSI "chain" where several peripherals are connected to one SCSI host adapter taking up only one slot in the computer.
  • AT&T announced a pact with Sun Microsystems, the leading distributor of the Berkeley UNIX. The move that was designed to unify Unix market produced opposite results, as other vendors feel threatened by AT&T and Sun dominance. Unix wars started...
  • OS/2 was released (see Microsoft OS-2 Announcement)
1988.   The NeXTSTEP operating system was released for very elegant black NeXT computers (cubes).  It used the Mach microkernel, and added elements of 4.3BSD. It incorporated an advanced GUI, arguably the most advanced available at the time. NeXT's engineers even created a new programming language — Objective C — to take advantage of the new GUI. Display interpreted Postscript and for this time was simply amazing.

In August 1988, Bill Gates hired Dave Cutler, the architect of VMS. One of Cutler's conditions for moving to Microsoft was that he could bring around 20 former Digital employees with him, including several Prism hardware engineers. Microsoft readily met this demand ­- the company knew hiring an OS architect of Cutler's stature was a coup,  few engineers had Cutler's track record. In addition, Gates felt that Microsoft's long-term future depended on the development of a new OS that would rival UNIX.

  •  POSIX.1 published. Open Software Foundation (OSF) and UNIX International (UI) formed.
  • DEC Ultrix 4.2 ships.
1989 Cygnus, the first commercial company devoted to provide commercial support for GNU software and open source software in general, is founded.
  • Tenth Edition. the last research edition from Bell Labs.
  • Unix System V Release 4.0 (SVR4) that contained a large rewrite of the kernel to incorporate features from Sun OS (including Virtual File System interface), Xenix and BSD Unix was released.  SVR4 introduced Korn shell, symbolic links, stream-based console I/O and TTY management, BSD UFS filesystem, Job control, sockets, memory mapped files, NFS (and support for RPC), real-time scheduling and kernel preemption. Installed base reached 1.2 million. It was introduced ELF format as standard for binary and object code files. The common format allows substantial binary compatibility among UNIX systems operating on the same hardware: thus, with compatible libraries, FreeBSD can run software compiled for Linux.

Minix period (1988-1991)

1988 Admitted to the University. The same year Minix emerged.
1990 Takes his first C programming class and Unix class
1991 in January bought his first PC (386sx-based)

The beginning of Linux development (1991-1992)
Hermit-like work during early kernel releases

Date Linux Other Unixes
Jan, 1991 Linus bought a 386sx based PC, may be after reading the first Jolitz paper The first paper by William and Lynne Jolitz on how to port BSD Unix to i386-based PCs was published in Dr. Dobbs
In this first installment of a multipart series, Bill and Lynne define the design specification for 386BSD -- Berkeley UNIX for the 80386.
Feb, 1991 Linux played enough Prince of Persia and needed some other entertainment :-) The second  paper by William and Lynne Jolitz PORTING UNIX TO THE 386:THREE INITIAL PC UTILITIES
Utilities to let you execute GCC-compiled programs in protected mode from MS-DOS, and copy files to a shared portion of disk so MS-DOS and Unix can exchange information.
Mar, 1991 Learned some assembly language programming and wrote terminal emulators. ,
..he spent a long time just reading netnews. Sorry, I mean of course that he was debugging his terminal emulation code by reading netnews. The emulator consisted of two processes, one reading the keyboard and writing to the serial port, the other reading the serial port and writing to the screen and emulating a terminal.
The third  paper by William and Lynne Jolitz
Using their protected mode program loader, Bill and Lynne create a minimal 80386 protected mode standalone C programming environment for operating systems kernel development.
Apr, 1991 Installed Minix, Linux kernel programming started. The forth paper by William and Lynne Jolitz
Bill and Lynne describe "cross" mode operations as they work towards bootstrapping 386BSD.
May, 1991   The fifth paper by William and Lynne Jolitz

Bill and Lynne describe the 386BSD root filesystem, a key component of kernel development.


June, 1991   The six paper by William and Lynne Jolitz

Before beginning the kernel port, Bill and Lynne reflect on 386BSD's place in the world of UNIX.


July, 1991   The Seventh paper by William and Lynne Jolitz

386BSD's basic kernel incorporates a unique "recursive" paging feature that leverages resources and reduces complexity.

Aug 25, 1991 The first Linux release announcement.  Linus Torvalds posted an article in comp.os.minix saying his new experimental kernel was running bash and gcc, and he was going to post the source code soon. The 8-th paper by William and Lynne Jolitz

by William Frederick Jolitz and Lynne Greer Jolitz
The 386BSD kernel services and data structures are initialized in this month's installment.

Sept, 1991. Using Marice J Bach book Design of the Unix Operating System  and Minix released the first (0.01) version of Linux kernel (at the age of 22). 0.01 was just source code, no binaries. The kernel itself was pretty primitive and barely worked. Primitivism made is very attractive to the enthusiasts The 9-th paper by William and Lynne Jolitz


Multiprogramming is the focus of this month's installment.

Oct, 1991 On October 5 famous "Free minix-like kernel sources for 386-AT" letter announced the first "official" version of Linux, which was version 0.02. At that point, Linux was able to run bash (the GNU Bourne Again Shell) and gcc (the GNU C compiler), but not much else. Ari Lemmke, the administrator at who first made Linux available for FTP coined the name Linux The 10-th paper by William and Lynne Jolitz

Bill and Lynne continue their exploration of multiprogramming and multitasking.

Nov, 1991   The 11-th paper by William and Lynne Jolitz

It's necessary to understand UNIX device interfaces before integrating device drivers. Bill and Lynne examine BSD kernel/device driver interfaces and how BSD works the miracle of autoconfiguration.

Jan, 1992 More stable version 0.12 released. License was changed to GPL. Due to increased stability this version was soon renamed to 0.9 Unixware was released as a result of a joint venture between Novell and USL, called Univel. High quality commercial Unix for Intel 386 platform is back.
Mar, 1992. Linux v.95 was released. First more or less stable and  usable Linux version. The kernel can be built in less than 30 minutes on a 20 MHz 386-based machine. The US Air Force awards New York University (NYU) a contract to build an open source compiler for what is now called Ada 95. The NYU team chooses GNU GCC for code generation and calls their compiler GNAT (GNU NYU Ada 95 Translator).
Apr, 1992 The first Linux newsgroup, comp.os.linux, is proposed and started by Ari Lemmke.  Huge boost to Linux due to  USL lawsuit: Linux became a bastard child of the lawsuit. April 20, 1992
The start of infamous USL vs U.C. Berkeley lawsuit and Linux development
Jun, 1992 Commercial distributors were blessed by Linus. The first commercial distributions SLS("Softlanding Linux System" on which later Slackware was based was created. 386BSD 0.1 was released. A CD-ROM version of 386BSD has been announced in Dr. Dobb's Journal. The source is ~180Meg
Nov, 1992  "Linux commercialization wave" started.  Yggdrasil  were created by Adam Richter. It quickly became the most popular early distribution until it was overtaken by Slackware:

Linux Operating System CDROM.  Tired of MSDOS and Windows?  Try Yggdrasil Linux, a genuine UNIX clone with full source code.  Linux is based on the 0.99.13 kernel, GCC 2.4.5, Xfree86 1.3 (X11R5) X windows, and hundreds of other programs.  Sound support for *every* computer, support for almost *any* cdrom drive, support for almost every video card.  Linux uses as little as 2 MB of hard disk space or as much as 680 MB.  An easy graphical install program guides your setup.  Andrew multimedia mail system, MIME multimedia mail, X windows programming tools, and two emacs versions are just a few of the other ported software on the disc.  Yes, if it doesn't work on your system, return it for a full refund.  Experience an advanced, professional unix on your PC -- order your Linux CDROM today.  This CDROM was made by Adam Richter of Yggdrasil Computing.  The price is $49.95.


Sun introduces Solaris, which is based on System V, release 4. SunOS, which was based on BSDF UNIX, is phased out.


Successful Fight with FreeBSD (1993-1997)

March 1993 Linus writes a email about "taking advantage
of the GPL to make a quick buck"
stating "So please, don't bitch about commercial uses just because they are commercial: find something better to complain about."
June, 1993   On June 16 Novell acquires USL and both Univel and USL were folded into Novell Unix System group.
July, 1993 Slackware, by Patrick Volkerding, becomes an important "second wave" distribution and quickly becomes popular within the Linux community. Patrick was a college student who took SLS and created Slackware from it. The SLS people decided to let him to continue from there. Is was  available from free ftp server and used .99 kernel and Net-2 BSD package for networking. See Announcement  
Another "second wave" distribution Debian by Ian Murdock was announced. It was non-commercial distribution developed by a group of volunteers distributed around the world.  The creation of Debian was sponsored by the FSF's (one year: Nov 1994 to Nov 1995). Debian 0.91 was released in January 1994. This release had a simple package system which could install and uninstall packages.  
Dec, 1993 Version 0.99pl15 aka v.1.0 was released. WEB revolution reached critical mass with Linux as one of the major beneficiaries.  Very weak networking support limited Linux role to a developer workstation.
  • 386BSD 1.0 was released on CD ROM
  • Novell transfers rights to the "UNIX" trademark and the Single UNIX Specification to X/Open. In December Novell ships SVR4.2MP, the final USL OEM release of System V
  • FreeBSD 1.0 was released. FreeBSD, originally started life as 386bsd 0.1 with the patch kit applied now evolved into a separate PC-oriented BSD flavor. This was the first  CDROM  distribution based on the 4.3BSD-Lite "Net/2" tape ( with components from 386BSD and FSF).
Feb 1994  
  • AT&T lawsuit settled  but did its dirty work of undermining popularity of BSD.
  • Intel 486 CPUs and AMD compatible CPUs became dominant. Linux lost advantage of being able to run of cheaper 386sx hardware and now needed to complete with BSD "face to face"
March 1994 Commercialization created a flow of money and talent into the project. Linux became one of the most often sold CD by CD distributors. At least five CD Rom distributors already exist selling ~50,000 CD ROMs a month. Several talented developers were attracted by the scent of money into the Linux distribution business. BSD gains popularity in Eastern Europe and xUSSR. Used for running uucp networks which provide email for the region.
May 1994  
  • A very successful FreeBSD 1.1 was released, the last based on NET/2 tape. BSDI, NetBSD and FreeBSD all had to merge their changes with 4.4BSD-lite and get rid of the encumbered files from NET/2 tape. That created  some problems for  the project...
  • Solaris 2.4 became available
Jun, 1994 The first issue of Linux Journal is published. Robert Yong is a founder  
Jul, 1996 Professionals from DEC come to the rescue of Linux from FreeBSD attack; Digital invested money into two porting projects to bring Linux to DEC Alpha. Quality of the kernel improved, a pretty decent Ext2 filesystem was added. Networking started to look acceptable. Linus got important insights and training due to the process of porting, ability to work with professionals from DEC and the quality of the Alpha architecture. He also got a personal Alpha workstation  
Oct, 1994 The first "third wave" start-up supported distribution -- Caldera was founded by Bryan Sparks as a start-up venture funded by Ray Noorda, former CEO of Novell. NetBSD 1.0 released.
Nov, 1994 The second "third wave" distribution Red Hat was created. Version 1.0 was released by Marc Ewing, a former Carnegie Mellon student who had become a star Linux developer. See Free Online Encyclopedia for additional details  
Dec, 1994.   FreeBSD 2.0 was released, the first distribution based on 4.4BSD-Lite release without infringing NET/2 file. See Announcement:

A new port from the Berkeley 4.4 code base was done, which brought the legal status of the system out of the shadows with the blessing of Novell (new owners of USL and UNIX). The port to 4.4 also brought in a host of new features, filesystems and enhanced driver support. With our new unencumbered code base, we have every reason to hope that we'll be able to release quality operating systems without further legal encumbrance for some time to come!


Jun 1995 Red Hat was founded by Marc Ewing and Bob Yong.  More correctly it was bought by ACC Corporation, run by Bob Young.  Robert Yong of ACC (former founder of Linux Journal) became a CEO. A dominant Linux distributor (Microsoft of Linux) was formed. Robert Young start working to attract VC with the eye on the future IPO.  The final set of changes to 4.4BSD-Lite, was released as 4.4BSD-Lite, Release 2. The CSRG was disbanded and development of BSD became a volunteer operation supported by BSDI
Sept, 1995 Red Hat Commercial Linux 2.0 was released, the first RPM package manager based distribution. Red Hat edged out Slackware as the leading distribution (in less then two years)  



1996 Linus' first daughter was born. Minor disruptions of kernel development. It's the first time many developers  have openly complained of the Linus source control system (i.e., submit patches into the black hole named Linus). The Open Group forms as a merger of OSF and X/Open.
 Linux fanatics as a group with "Amiga syndrome" were first described in mainstream press. Slashdotters were still non-existent at this time ;-)  
Jun 1996 Caldera acquired DR DOS and filed an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft  seeking treble damages, as well an injunction to halt "illegal conduct by Microsoft calculated and intended to prevent and destroy competition in the computer software industry." Everybody in Linux community applauded the move. Their behavior will change later with SCO lawsuit...  
Aug, 1996.   FreeBSD 2.1.5 released with significantly improved stability and feature set. Support burning of CDROMs and some of the best reasonably-priced hardware available, like Adaptec AIC7850, Intel EtherExpress Pro/100B PCI Ethernet card. Able to run Linux version of Netscape.
FreeBSD 2.1.5 represents the culmination of over a year's worth of work on the 2.1-STABLE branch of FreeBSD since it began with FreeBSD 2.0.5. In the 7 months since 2.1 was released, many bug fixes, updates and careful enhancements have been made, the results of which you now see here.
Nov 1996 Caldera Releases Caldera OpenLinux (COL) Base 1.0. It contains a lot of commercial software including MetroX (A commercial X11 server) and was the first distribution that has reasonably stable and robust X implementation.   For some time Red Hat was kicked off the enterprise arena by Caldera and it became the No.1 enterprise-oriented Linux distribution. Caldera preserved its lead probably until 1998 or Caldera 1.2 inclusively  
December 1996. Linux 2.0 was released  


The Burden of Fame (1998). Is Linus Stalled?

Summary: Microsoft was partially paralyzed by the battle with the Department of Justice and cannot retaliate against defectors from the Windows NT camp. Halloween memo was leaked to the Web. Intel invested in Red Hat. Number of staff developers in Red Hat was grown to over twenty. Major database vendors ported product to Linux. Corel ported Word Perfect. Shipments of Linus servers surged by 212%, a growth rate that outpaced all others in the server market. Linus became a media darling, and  enjoyed his minutes of fame. Gave more interviews in one year that for the rest of his life; 

1999: The Linux IPO Gold Rush, and the Raise of Dominance of the Red Hat

The UNIX system reaches its 30th anniversary. The Open Group and the IEEE commence joint development of a revision to POSIX and the Single UNIX Specification. First LinuxWorld conference.  Mac OS X Server Released at about the same time as Darwin, Mac OS X Server was a sort of preview version of Mac OS X designed specifically for file servers. Tru64 UNIX ships.

January 1999.  Version 2.2 of the kernel released despite bugs -- Linus probably needed to respond to the announcement of the FreeBSD 3.0 ;-)

February 1999.  

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August 1999.

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Groupthink : Two Party System as Polyarchy : Corruption of Regulators : Bureaucracies : Understanding Micromanagers and Control Freaks : Toxic Managers :   Harvard Mafia : Diplomatic Communication : Surviving a Bad Performance Review : Insufficient Retirement Funds as Immanent Problem of Neoliberal Regime : PseudoScience : Who Rules America : Neoliberalism  : The Iron Law of Oligarchy : Libertarian Philosophy


War and Peace : Skeptical Finance : John Kenneth Galbraith :Talleyrand : Oscar Wilde : Otto Von Bismarck : Keynes : George Carlin : Skeptics : Propaganda  : SE quotes : Language Design and Programming Quotes : Random IT-related quotesSomerset Maugham : Marcus Aurelius : Kurt Vonnegut : Eric Hoffer : Winston Churchill : Napoleon Bonaparte : Ambrose BierceBernard Shaw : Mark Twain Quotes


Vol 25, No.12 (December, 2013) Rational Fools vs. Efficient Crooks The efficient markets hypothesis : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2013 : Unemployment Bulletin, 2010 :  Vol 23, No.10 (October, 2011) An observation about corporate security departments : Slightly Skeptical Euromaydan Chronicles, June 2014 : Greenspan legacy bulletin, 2008 : Vol 25, No.10 (October, 2013) Cryptolocker Trojan (Win32/Crilock.A) : Vol 25, No.08 (August, 2013) Cloud providers as intelligence collection hubs : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : Inequality Bulletin, 2009 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Copyleft Problems Bulletin, 2004 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Energy Bulletin, 2010 : Malware Protection Bulletin, 2010 : Vol 26, No.1 (January, 2013) Object-Oriented Cult : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2011 : Vol 23, No.11 (November, 2011) Softpanorama classification of sysadmin horror stories : Vol 25, No.05 (May, 2013) Corporate bullshit as a communication method  : Vol 25, No.06 (June, 2013) A Note on the Relationship of Brooks Law and Conway Law


Fifty glorious years (1950-2000): the triumph of the US computer engineering : Donald Knuth : TAoCP and its Influence of Computer Science : Richard Stallman : Linus Torvalds  : Larry Wall  : John K. Ousterhout : CTSS : Multix OS Unix History : Unix shell history : VI editor : History of pipes concept : Solaris : MS DOSProgramming Languages History : PL/1 : Simula 67 : C : History of GCC developmentScripting Languages : Perl history   : OS History : Mail : DNS : SSH : CPU Instruction Sets : SPARC systems 1987-2006 : Norton Commander : Norton Utilities : Norton Ghost : Frontpage history : Malware Defense History : GNU Screen : OSS early history

Classic books:

The Peter Principle : Parkinson Law : 1984 : The Mythical Man-MonthHow to Solve It by George Polya : The Art of Computer Programming : The Elements of Programming Style : The Unix Hater’s Handbook : The Jargon file : The True Believer : Programming Pearls : The Good Soldier Svejk : The Power Elite

Most popular humor pages:

Manifest of the Softpanorama IT Slacker Society : Ten Commandments of the IT Slackers Society : Computer Humor Collection : BSD Logo Story : The Cuckoo's Egg : IT Slang : C++ Humor : ARE YOU A BBS ADDICT? : The Perl Purity Test : Object oriented programmers of all nations : Financial Humor : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : The Most Comprehensive Collection of Editor-related Humor : Programming Language Humor : Goldman Sachs related humor : Greenspan humor : C Humor : Scripting Humor : Real Programmers Humor : Web Humor : GPL-related Humor : OFM Humor : Politically Incorrect Humor : IDS Humor : "Linux Sucks" Humor : Russian Musical Humor : Best Russian Programmer Humor : Microsoft plans to buy Catholic Church : Richard Stallman Related Humor : Admin Humor : Perl-related Humor : Linus Torvalds Related humor : PseudoScience Related Humor : Networking Humor : Shell Humor : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2012 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2013 : Java Humor : Software Engineering Humor : Sun Solaris Related Humor : Education Humor : IBM Humor : Assembler-related Humor : VIM Humor : Computer Viruses Humor : Bright tomorrow is rescheduled to a day after tomorrow : Classic Computer Humor

The Last but not Least

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