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Editor's Note: "What would you like to see most in minix?"

Aug 25, 2006, 20:57 (15 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

5,478.

This, today, is a number of great significance to the Linux community. It represents the exact number of days that Linux has officially been in existence. For it was 15 years ago today that Linus Torvalds first posted his message to the comp.os.minix newsgroup, asking for feedback on this nifty little OS that he hoped might one day support some of the 386 and 486 AT clones that were cutting edge PC technology in 1991.

(I'm running this column a little early this week, at the same time of day Linus first sent his note out.)

Of course, this isn't the real anniversary--Linus had already been working on the code for some time before he tossed the call for comments and feedback to the Minis developers and users. But traditionally, this message is recognized as the Beginning of That Which is Linux.

In the past 5,478 days, Linus, and indeed many of us, have watched what was to be a hobbyist's operating system grow into a multi-billion dollar industry that from a technology standpoint alone has become a major force in the IT industry. And, as many have said before, if it were just the technology of Linux, it would be a good story to tell.

But this isn't just a good story; it's a great one. What has made it great are the many players in the drama that has played out in the past 15 years.

First, there is Linus himself, the talented programming student who recognized the value of the free software way of development, allowing other talented developers to join in and freely develop the code. Linus has stayed on board the development of the kernel since it's beginning, and--thank goodness--shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

You can't forget the contributions of Richard Stallman, either. Whatever your thoughts on RMS' political stances, there is no denying that it was he who put together the GNU tools that were so helpful to the Linux kernel in a wonderful case of being in the right place at the right time. RMS is also the author of the GNU General Public License, the software license that has helped keep Linux together and defy the trend for forking and fractionalization.

I cannot, simply cannot, list all of the kernel developers who have, over the years, contributed something to the Linux kernel. There are the more recognized names, such as Alan Cox, Marcelo Tosatti, Andrew Morton, Greg Kroah-Hartman, Ted Ts'o, Chris Wright... seriously, who can name them all? I wish that we could give them each credit where credit is most certainly due. Maybe their contributions were not-so-great; perhaps their contributions were even rejected for one reason or another. But even rejected code has some value: it shows the lead developers of a project which way to not take the code.

And we cannot forget the one important non-human player in this tale of success: the GPL itself. The ability to freely share true innovation and invention and do it willingly is a huge part of why Linux is where it is today. Its free nature has led to the success of other free software applications (including the wild success of the Apache server, the bricks upon which the Internet is mostly built). The freedom of Linux has inspired other kinds of licensing: that which we call open source. Open source licenses are not always free as in freedom, but it cannot be denied that their inspiration came from the success of the free software model. The spread of free and open source software will prove to be the undoing of the restrictive proprietary software model in the future, and we, the users, will be the better for it.

Finally, it would be irresponsible of me to mention perhaps the greatest asset of the Linux operating system: the users themselves. It is the users who have tested the code churned out by the Linux developers. Who have created the market demand that has attracted commercial and technological interest to Linux. Through their use and feedback--some positive, some not--the users of Linux have helped shaped this operating system into its present day state.

And, happily, the job is not done. There is so much left to accomplish, and the good news is, there doesn't seem to be an end to the number of people who are coming to Linux to code or document or test or use.

So, to all of these players in the best IT story ever told, may I extend my humblest congratulations, and many happy returns on the day. You have done a great good for the world, never forget.

    From: torvalds@klaava.Helsinki.FI (Linus Benedict Torvalds)
    Newsgroups: comp.os.minix
    Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?
    Summary: small poll for my new operating system
    Message-ID: <1991Aug25.205708.9541@klaava.Helsinki.FI>
    Date: 25 Aug 91 20:57:08 GMT
    Organization: University of Helsinki

    Hello everybody out there using minix -
    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 (torvalds@kruuna.helsinki.fi)
    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 :-(.