Brief History

Linux version 0.01 was born in September 1991 from the hands of Linus B. Torvalds, a Finnish programmer, then 26 years old. Contrary to what some people might think, Torvalds did not start Linux out of a desire to compete with Microsoft OSes; he started it because of dissatisfaction with them. Its boom began somewhere around 1996 and soon spread worldwide. Linux's following is estimated currently at 20-25 million and is the fastest growing in relative numbers.

Even though it is free and open-source, Linux is an economic success. Linux distributors such as the American Red Hat are profitable because they sell services on the OS to consumers. Moreover, since any programmer can post a changed version, the OS evolves quickly - which guarantees a market for service.


Linux is the most popular open-source and UNIX-like OS. Its main features include:

  • Kernel - The kernel (core functionality) can be changed and distributed. The Board of Programmers, an association of Linux users headed by Torvalds, regulates loosely but any programmer is free to change the kernel.
  • Compatibility - Linux shells are the same as those of UNIX, a system that has been around since the 1970s. UNIX users can therefore easily switch to Linux, which is partially responsible for its popularity.
  • Power - Linux is very flexible, allowing users to create their own functionality. A user can employ personalized shell, compiler, x-server, or GUI, giving him much bigger control that in say DOS. The OS has also been praised for greater stability.
  • Tradeoff - Installing Linux can be very complicated and using it requires technical knowledge. It is an operating system for the highly computer-literate, not for the masses.


Useful Links

Linux International: Nonprofit organization residing physically in the United States that distributes information on Linux.

The Linux Documentation Project: Works on developing free, high quality documentation for the GNU/Linux OS. Its overall goal is "to provide documentation for Linus that is easy to use and search."

Red Hat: One of the major distributors of Linux in the United States. Red Hat is profitable because it provides service on Linux to big companies. (Also see our case study of Red Hat)

The Linux Journal: The foremost, monthly magazine on Linux.