Linux Turns 20 Today -- And Shut Up, Yes, It Still Matters

We get it. Linux is just for nerds. Not mere nerds — we're all nerds — Linux nerds. It's a hobbyist OS for contrarians. It's an antique. An oddity. Pointless. Right? Very, very wrong. Happy birthday, Linux — let's celebrate you like we should

Linux started off humbly enough — just some guy, some programmer's side project. A blip on a niche usenet group typed by Linus Torvalds, 20 years ago today:

August 25th 1991 - Linus posted the following to comp.os.minix (a usenet newsgroup): I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I'd like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).

I've currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work. This implies that I'll get something practical within a few months, and 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 ([email protected])

PS. Yes – it's free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that's all I have :-(.

Yes, this is mostly programmer gobbledygook. It doesn't really matter, today. What matters is that Torvalds' claim that his creation will be "just a hobby, [not]big and professional" was completely wrong. Like, it could not be more incorrect. You might think of Linux as just that thing your nerdy Windows-hating friend struggles to get games working on. But it's more than just what he tinkers with in his bedroom — it's all over the place, and you've probably already used it today. It may have lost the OS wars long ago (if it even had a battle), but Linux is still an invisible king.

Your Android device? I don't care if it's a Gingerbread phone or a Honeycomb tablet — both are built on the back of Linux code.

Your TiVo? Linux. Along with a lot of the other cable and set top media boxes you might have stuffed under your TV.

The New York Stock Exchange? The whole shebang runs on a cluster of HP Linux boxes. Those boxes are more important than the ones under your TV.

Google something. Go ahead! That search? Executed on servers running customised Linux.

That ATM you withdrew cash from last night? An increasing number are using a Linux variant.

And of course, there is the tremendous number of servers powered by Linux that run the websites you frequent daily.

Linux is a workhorse. It's value in this little world of ours isn't to sit in front of your nose on a nice display. It's not something to be talked about. Most of us will never care about its history, or features, or future. And that's because we don't have to — it sits there, invisibly, and carries the things we care about. It doesn't have OS X's chicness or Windows' geniality. It keeps its head down and hustles. And it's been at it for two decades now. So happy 20th, Linux — we're glad you didn't just stay a hobby.

Photo of Larry Ellison, who cares a lot about Linux no matter what, by Justin Sullivan/Getty


Comments

    It is amazing how massively used Linux is, especially for something that was free. Hell, my new Samsung TV has the Smart Hub using Linux

    Go you good thing, Linux!

    Anyone saying you're irrelevant has no idea how the plethora of modern devices actually work. Basically almost everything except Microsoft and Apple stuff is built on Linux (yes, OSX is Unix, but not Linux).

    I would think Linus Torvalds is proud of the fact that Linux works in the background and has such a deep but unknown impact; from everything I've read of the guy, and the way he put Linux out into the wild to grow and flourish without turning into a showpony about it, I'd say the way Linux operates in society suits it perfectly.

    Happy Birthday Tux!

    Yes; that man did a Great job; originally! Though it is obvious that Linux is more for "backroom use" than on PC's. The Geeks keep on releasing new versions [over 3,000+, now!] And....I am not aware of Any One Version that is really READY for for any non-geek that wants to change from Windows; except, maybe a Mac. I Used to think that Software Engineers were Geniuses; but, since the Geeks seem to be in the "Unfinished Kit-Car" Stage, Permanently, I have lowered my expectations.

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