It all started with Linus Torvalds simple announcement in the comp.os.minix newsgroup that he was working on an open-source operating system for 386(486) AT clones. In just a few years, a hobby project evolved to become Linux, which runs on about a third of all servers worldwide and 98.8% of the top 500 systems.
Linus Torvalds was born on 28 December 1969, in Finland. At the age of just 11 in 1980, Torvalds had his first encounter with computers - well before the existence of smartphones or the internet as we know it today. In 1983, Richard Stallman launched GNU, a project to create an open UNIX-like operating system. Unix was developed in 1969 by Bell Laboratories to assist in software development. During the eight years following the start of the GNU project, many UNIX components were recreated under GNU. The kernel, or the basis of the operating system, did not exist yet. In early 1991, Torvalds received his first PC (according to Torvalds, an Intel 386, DX33, 4 MB RAM, 40 MB HDD) running DOS, but he requested the Minix operating system, which is also based on UNIX. Torvalds used Minix as a development environment to test out the capabilities of a new Intel line of processors. This quickly led to the development of a kernel with a minimal but adequate range of functions, and which also included virtual memory and memory protection mechanisms.
On 25 August 1991, Torvalds announced in the comp.os.minix newsgroup that he was working on an open-source operating system. Meanwhile, he asked newsgroup subscribers what features they thought it should include. He stressed that it would not be a professional project like GNU and that it would not be anything big. In 1991, the first version was released with a functional shell, but it still required Minix. Torvalds initially wanted to call it Freax, but Ari Lemmke released the software under the name Linux on his FTP server. The first stand-alone UNIX-like alternative, Linux version 0.11, was released at the end of 1991. At first, Linux was not available for commercial use, but that changed with the switch of the licensing to GNU/GPL.
The development of Debian GNU/Linux was launched by founder Ian Murdoch in the summer of 1993. Several months later, Debian 0.91 appeared with an initial primitive package manager. Shortly thereafter, the first hobby Linux game port appeared for the popular game Doom, and Linux 1.0 was released in the spring of 1994. Two years later, the next commercial game, Quake, was also ported to Linux by yet another volunteer, and Larry Ewing designed the well-known penguin in a tuxedo as the Linux mascot. This was followed by another major release, Linux 2.0, marking the beginning of Linux as a fully fledged OS alternative for many companies. The well-known company Loki Software was founded in 1998, a milestone in modern Linux game development. The first companies then announced official support for Linux, and the development of KDE marked the first desktop environment. A year before the millennium, another desktop environment called GNOME underwent its early development stages, and Thomas Hug and Philipp Koch registered the domain nine.ch.
At the turn of the millennium, Sun made its office package StarOffice open source, paving the way for OpenOffice.org. In 2002, nine.ch was founded as Nine Internet Solutions AG. The X-server development moved forward rapidly over the next two years, with the XFree86 group becoming the X.org Foundation. In the same year, the first version of Ubuntu (a derivative of Debian) was released. The release of Ubuntu was followed by OpenSUSE Linux distribution a year later. In 2007, Dell became one of the first computer makers to deliver machines with Ubuntu pre-installed. The first version of Android, a Linux-based system, was released in 2008. The next major version after the Linux kernel release after 2.6 was Linux 3.0 in 2011. The following year, a company called Valve - its gaming platform Steam dominated the market as a global game distribution platform - announced that it would be porting its proprietary gaming engine Source to Linux. A few years later, Google announced that Android had captured 75% market share of the smartphone segment. The same year, the first version of the Android-based system FirefoxOS was released. In terms of Linux support, Valve took things a step further and announced that it would develop a separate Linux-based operating system for the Steam platform. Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, announced in 2014 that it had more than 22 million users. About a year ago, another major version of the Linux kernel was announced: Linux 4.0.
2016 marks the 25th year of Linux. What began as a hobby project in 1991 has developed to become a professional project with its very own foundation, the Linux Foundation, and over 12,000 developers from more than 1,200 companies are part of the development process. More than 80% of the kernel developers are professionals who are paid for their work. About a quarter of them are freelancers, who spend their spare time working on the Linux kernel. Today, about 1.5% of all desktops and a third of all servers run on Linux. With Unix and all Unix-based servers combined, the figure amounts to about two thirds. Even some home routers, NASs and many embedded devices such as card payment terminals run on Linux, meaning that nearly everyone has at some point come across Linux in their daily life. Up to 98% of the top 500 systems run on Linux. According to Valve with gaming platform Steam, about 1% of computers run on Linux; Windows rules over 95% of this segment. Like many other companies, nine.ch is fully committed to Linux and operates more than 1,500 managed servers at three data centre locations.
Michael Tanner is Linux Operations Engineer at nine.ch. He has been an enthusiastic user of Linux and open source products for years.