Linux went from being a cool personal hack in a bedroom to software that would eventually change world just over 21 years ago when Linus sent out his famous "Hello everybody out there using minix" message that invited people to join in. As I noted last month, that open, collaborative approach was really quite new and proved key to the uptake and development of Linux.
That was possible because the internet was sufficiently widely available for enough people to join Linus' distributed team of volunteers. In other words, the rise of free software is intimately bound up with the internet. Indeed, the rapid take-off of Linux compared with the rather slower progress of the GNU Project is probably due, at least in part, to the fact that the latter could not take global connectivity for granted. It was thanks to this that Richard Stallman was able to live off the sales of GNU Emacs, which he sent out on tapes.