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Editor's Note: Happy 15th Birthday, Linux!

Mar 13, 2009, 23:03 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

The release of version 1.0 of the Linux kernel was announced on March 14, 1994. A number of sites have posted copies of the original posting on comp.os.linux.announce:
"Finally, here it is. Almost on time (being just two years late is peanuts in the OS industry), and better than ever:

     Linux kernel release 1.0

This release has no new major features compared to the pl15 kernels, but contains lots and lots of bugfixes: all the major ones are gone, the smaller ones are hidden better. Hopefully there are no major new ones."

Linux supplied the missing piece to make the GNU toolchain a complete and usable computer operating system. The GNU project was founded by Richard Stallman in 1983, with the aim of creating a complete UNIX-like operating system made completely out of Free software. GNU had text editors, a compiler and other programming tools, libraries, filesystem utilities, libraries, and so forth. GNU had everything but a kernel. Linux came along at the perfect moment to fill this gap. GNU does have a kernel, HURD, but it's not ready for prime-time. In fact it's a bit of running gag because it has been under development for so long.

This happy meeting of GNU and Linux is why Richard Stallman insists that the proper name is GNU/Linux, rather than plain old Linux. Another popular debating point is "Linux is a kernel, not an operating system!" What would FOSS be without arguments?

And thus it is because of these humble beginnings and happy happenstances that today we enjoy Linux and Free and Open Source Software. There are many, many good things that we have because of FOSS. Take a moment to think about what the world would look like without it:

  • A Balknanized Internet divided into expensive, competing, walled fiefdoms
  • DRM and Trusted computing everywhere
  • Windows on everything, expensive proprietary UNIX in a dying niche, and Apple as dead as the dodo
  • An Internet in even worse shape than it is now, with no OpenSSL, no OpenSSH, no PGP, no FOSS file encryption tools, no friendly, free iptables-based firewalls
  • No VoIP
  • No FOSS networking and diagnostic tools to prove to service providers that yes, the problem is too theirs
  • Vendor backdoors and rampant spyware in everything, even worse than now
  • No competition in the computing marketplace, and no downward pricing pressure on anything
  • Bill Gates becomes the first trillionaire
Remember that thanks to FOSS, we also have FreeBSD, which was powering high-demand, high-availability sites long before Linux was out of short pants; OpenBSD, which has been a powerful, uncompromising force for open-source hardware drivers, and NetBSD, which supports even more hardware platforms than Linux. Would OpenSolaris exist without FOSS? I doubt it.

Would we have Wikipedia, the Creative Commons, Project Gutenberg? Would we have user groups, distributed development, excitement and creativity? Nope. I think that instead we would have 1,000 year copyrights, patents on facial expressions, and trademarks on common words like "the", "and", "or". We would all have our Trusted Consumer Control Implants, and free speech would be dead.

My favorite way of celebrating something, other than beer and cake, is reading all about it. I can't share beer and cake, but I can share reading suggestions. Enjoy!

User Friendly
Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software; This is always worth reading to understand why the Free software movement started, and why freedom is not a battle that will ever be won, but a continual struggle
Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary (Linus Torvalds)
A Brief History of Hackerdom, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Homesteading the Noosphere, The Magic Cauldron, The Revenge of the Hackers
In the Beginning was the Command Line
Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution
Free For All