Revolution OS

Free Unix!

Starting this Thanksgiving I am going to write a complete Unix-compatible software system called GNU (for Gnu’s Not Unix), and give it away free to everyone who can use it. Contributions of time, money, programs and equipment are greatly needed…

Richard Stallman; Posting to net.unix-wizards; 27 Sept. 1983.

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…

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; Posting to comp.os.minix; 25 Aug. 1991.

Events leading to the creation of Linux

Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie
Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie

After AT&T had dropped out of the Multics project, the Unix operating system was conceived and implemented by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie (both of AT&T Bell Laboratories) in 1969 and first released in 1970. Later they rewrote it in a new programming language, C, to make it portable. The availability and portability of Unix caused it to be widely adopted, copied and modified by academic institutions and businesses.

In 1977, the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) was developed by the Computer Systems Research Group (CSRG) from UC Berkeley, based on the 6th edition of Unix from AT&T. Since BSD contained Unix code that AT&T owned, AT&T filed a lawsuit (USL v. BSDi) in the early 1990s against the University of California. This strongly limited the development and adoption of BSD.

Richard Stallman
Richard Stallman

In 1983, Richard Stallman started the GNU project with the goal of creating a free UNIX-like operating system. As part of this work, he wrote the GNU General Public License (GPL). By the early 1990s, there was almost enough available software to create a full operating system. However, the GNU kernel, called Hurd, failed to attract enough development effort, leaving GNU incomplete.

In 1985, Intel released the 80386, the first x86 microprocessor with a 32-bit instruction set and a memory management unit with paging.

In 1986, Maurice J. Bach, of AT&T Bell Labs, published The Design of the UNIX Operating System. This definitive description principally covered the System V Release 2 kernel, with some new features from Releas

Andrew Tanenbaum
Andrew Tanenbaum

In 1987, MINIX, a Unix-like system intended for academic use, was released by Andrew S. Tanenbaum to exemplify the principles conveyed in his textbook, Operating Systems: Design and Implementation. While source code for the system was available, modification and redistribution were restricted. In addition, MINIX’s 16-bit design was not well adapted to the 32-bit features of the increasingly cheap and popular Intel 386 architecture for personal computers. In the early nineties a commercial UNIX operating system for Intel 386 PCs was too expensive for private users.

Linus Torvalds
Linus Torvalds

These factors and the lack of a widely adopted, free kernel provided the impetus for Torvalds’ starting his project. He has stated that if either the GNU Hurd or 386BSD kernels had been available at the time, he likely would not have written his own.


Linus Torvalds had wanted to call his invention Freax, a portmanteau of “free”, “freak”, and “x” (as an allusion to Unix). During the start of his work on the system, he stored the files under the name “Freax” for about half of a year. Torvalds had already considered the name “Linux,” but initially dismissed it as too egotistical.

In order to facilitate development, the files were uploaded to the FTP server ( of FUNET in September 1991. Ari Lemmke, Torvalds’ coworker at the Helsinki University of Technology (HUT) who was one of the volunteer administrators for the FTP server at the time, did not think that “Freax” was a good name. So, he named the project “Linux” on the server without consulting Torvalds. Later, however, Torvalds consented to “Linux”.

To demonstrate how the word “Linux” should be pronounced ([ˈliːnɵks]), Torvalds included an audio guide with the kernel source code.



Torvalds announced in 1996 that there would be a mascot for Linux, a penguin. This was due to the fact when they were about to select the mascot, Torvalds did mention he was bitten by a little penguin (Eudyptula minor) on a visit to the National Zoo & Aquarium in Canberra, Australia. Larry Ewing provided the original draft of today’s well known mascot based on this description. The name Tux was suggested by James Hughes as derivative of Torvalds’ UniX.


Open Source Development Lab and Linux Foundation

The Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) was created in the year 2000, and is an independent nonprofit organization which pursues the goal of optimizing Linux for employment in data centers and in the carrier range. It served as sponsored working premises for Linus Torvalds and also for Andrew Morton (until the middle of 2006 when Morton transferred to Google). Torvalds worked full-time on behalf of OSDL, developing the Linux kernels.

On 22 January 2007, OSDL and the Free Standards Group merged to form The Linux Foundation, narrowing their respective focuses to that of promoting GNU/Linux in competition with Microsoft Windows. As of 2015, Torvalds remains with the Linux Foundation as a Fellow.


  • 1991: The Linux kernel is publicly announced on 25 August by the 21-year-old Finnish student Linus Benedict Torvalds.
  • 1992: The Linux kernel is relicensed under the GNU GPL. The first Linux distributions are created.
  • 1993: Over 100 developers work on the Linux kernel. With their assistance the kernel is adapted to the GNU environment, which creates a large spectrum of application types for Linux. The oldest currently (as of 2015) existing Linux distribution, Slackware, is released for the first time. Later in the same year, the Debian project is established. Today it is the largest community distribution.
  • 1994: Torvalds judges all components of the kernel to be fully matured: he releases version 1.0 of Linux. The XFree86 project contributes a graphical user interface (GUI). Commercial Linux distribution makers Red Hat and SUSE publish version 1.0 of their Linux distributions.
  • 1995: Linux is ported to the DEC Alpha and to the Sun SPARC. Over the following years it is ported to an ever greater number of platforms.
  • 1996: Version 2.0 of the Linux kernel is released. The kernel can now serve several processors at the same time using symmetric multiprocessing (SMP), and thereby becomes a serious alternative for many companies.
  • 1998: Many major companies such as IBM, Compaq and Oracle announce their support for Linux. The Cathedral and the Bazaar is first published as an essay (later as a book), resulting in Netscape publicly releasing the source code to its Netscape Communicator web browser suite. Netscape’s actions and crediting of the essay brings Linux’s open source development model to the attention of the popular technical press. In addition a group of programmers begins developing the graphical user interface KDE.
  • 1999: A group of developers begin work on the graphical environment GNOME, destined to become a free replacement for KDE, which at the time, depends on the, then proprietary, Qt toolkit. During the year IBM announces an extensive project for the support of Linux.
  • 2000: Dell announces that it is now the No. 2 provider of Linux-based systems worldwide and the first major manufacturer to offer Linux across its full product line.
  • 2002: The media reports that “Microsoft killed Dell Linux”
  • 2004: The XFree86 team splits up and joins with the existing X standards body to form the X.Org Foundation, which results in a substantially faster development of the X server for Linux.
  • 2005: The project openSUSE begins a free distribution from Novell’s community. Also the project introduces version 2.0 that then started supporting OASIS OpenDocument standards.
  • 2006: Oracle releases its own distribution of Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Novell and Microsoft announce cooperation for a better interoperability and mutual patent protection.
  • 2007: Dell starts distributing laptops with Ubuntu pre-installed on them.
  • 2009: RedHat’s market capitalization equals Sun’s, interpreted as a symbolic moment for the “Linux-based economy”.
  • 2011: Version 3.0 of the Linux kernel is released.
  • 2012: The aggregate Linux server market revenue exceeds that of the rest of the Unix market.
  • 2013: Google’s Linux-based Android claims 75% of the smartphone market share, in terms of the number of phones shipped.
  • 2014: Ubuntu claims 22,000,000 users.
  • 2015: Version 4.0 of the Linux kernel is released.


Revolution OS

Revolution OS is a documentary which traces the history of GNU, Linux, and the open source and free software movements. It features several interviews with prominent hackers and entrepreneurs (and hackers-cum-entrepreneurs), including Richard Stallman, Michael Tiemann, Linus Torvalds, Larry Augustin, Eric S. Raymond, Bruce Perens, Frank Hecker and Brian Behlendorf.

The film begins in medias res with an IPO, and then sets the historical stage by showing the beginnings of software development back in the day when software was shared on paper tape for the price of the paper itself. It then segues to Bill Gates’s Open Letter to Hobbyists in which he asks Computer Hobbyists to not share, but to buy software. (This letter was written by Gates when Microsoft was still based in Arizona and spelled “Micro-Soft”.)

Richard Stallman then explains how and why he left the MIT Lab for Artificial Intelligence in order to devote his life to the development of free software, as well as how he started with the GNU project. Linus Torvalds is interviewed on his development of the Linux kernel as well as on the GNU/Linux naming controversy and Linux’s further evolution, including its commercialization. Richard Stallman remarks on some of the ideological aspects of open source vis-á-vis Communism and capitalism and well as on several aspects of the development of GNU/Linux.

Michael Tiemann (interviewed in a desert) tells how he met Stallman and got an early version of Stallman’s GCC and founded Cygnus Solutions. Larry Augustin tells how he combined the resulting GNU software and a normal PC to create a UNIX-like Workstation which cost one third the price of a workstation by Sun Microsystems even though it was three times as powerful.

His narrative includes his early dealings with venture capitalists, the eventual capitalization and commodification of Linux for his own company, VA Linux, and ends with its IPO. Frank Hecker of Netscape tells how Netscape executives released the source code for Netscape’s browser, one of the signal events which made Open Source a force to be reckoned with by business executives, the mainstream media, and the public at large.



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