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Happy Birthday, Linus 376

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the slow-news-day dept.
Glyn Moody writes "Today is the birthday of Linus. Just under 19 years ago, on the first day the shops in Helsinki were open after the holidays, Linus rushed out and spent all his Christmas and birthday money on his first PC: a DX33 80386, with 4 Megs of RAM, no co-processor, and a 40 Megabyte hard disc. Today, the kernel he wrote on that system powers 90% of the fastest supercomputers, and is starting to find its way into more and more smartphones — not to mention everything in between. What would the world look like had he spent his money on something else?"
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Happy Birthday, Linus

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  • by suso (153703) * on Monday December 28, 2009 @12:37PM (#30572254) Homepage Journal

    How would the world look different? It would be a whole GNU world.

    BTW, Linus is 40 today, there seems to be no mention of that anywhere.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Really? I wonder where you HURD that.

      I hope Tove planned a big party for him, if it's the 40th.

      • No coprocessor... (Score:4, Informative)

        by TrisexualPuppy (976893) on Monday December 28, 2009 @01:14PM (#30572828)
        The point about Linus's machine having no coprocessor is actually true. This made development a little iffy since floating point math had to be done in software. The i386DX actually did not have an FPU, and the coprocessor was the i387 which was not all that popular but was compatible with both the DX and SX models. It was not until the introduction of the i486 that the SX had no coprocessor and the DX had a built-in coprocessor.

        Interesting read.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The 486 SX was just a 486 that they could not guarantee that the coprocessor would work so it was switched off.

          • by dotgain (630123) on Monday December 28, 2009 @04:34PM (#30575294) Homepage Journal
            That's the first time I've ever heard this, but I'll believe it. Nothing, I repeat nothing, will ever surprise me about the evolution of x86 any more.

            If you were to tell me that Little Endianness was simply the result of someone putting something on an overhead projector the wrong way, I'd believe you (because it seems like an extremely fucking stupid idea otherwise: "2 ^ 16 equals five-hundred-thirty-six, sixty-five thousand"

            If you were to tell me that the Pentium was really 64-bit, but the fabricators never hooked up the address pins because they never got the memo, I'd believe you.

            No doubt, x86 is the cheapest, fastest and most prevalent CPU in computers today, and probably always will be, but fuck me if it doesn't look like the biggest kluge in the world.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by ls671 (1122017) *

            > The 486 SX was just a 486 that they could not guarantee that the coprocessor would work so it was switched off.

            Exactly, I thought mostly every /. reader knew that but reading the comments and replies makes me feel a little old... ;-)

            In short SX and DX where made at once, then on the testing stage, if the co-processor failed, they sold it as a SX, if it worked well, they sold it as a DX.

            Note that this principle is still applied today, I wrote about it previously to explain why overclocking sometimes wor

        • by vegiVamp (518171)
          Yep. I remember buying one of the things. Was the first time I opened up the magic box myself, too :-)
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by teslar (706653)

          The point about Linus's machine having no coprocessor is actually true

          Nineteen years ago or so, I also got my hands on my first PC, pretty much same specs but with the coprocessor. My programming achievements at the time were pretty much limited to batch files. Linus wrote an OS on smaller hardware. Kinda makes me feel like I wasn't really using the full potential available to me :)

          Of course, I was 10 years younger at the time :)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BESTouff (531293)
      As the saying goes, Linux was an idea whose time had come. If it weren't for Linus, someone else would have invented another similar OS, or one of the existing (Hurd, BSD, Minix) would have been used. All the people, the culture, the computers and the communication medium were there, ready to give birth to such a thing.

      Still, Linus has been a great leader, and a tasteful (for some) architect. Thanks a lt for that !

      • by knewter (62953) <josh.rubyist@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Monday December 28, 2009 @01:19PM (#30572896) Homepage

        I would counter that, while it inevitably would have happened at some point, it's not a given that the resulting OS would have been GPLed, and subsequently things could've turned out very differently. Happy Birthday, Linus!

      • by hitmark (640295)

        i guess, but linux happened at the exact right time. Hurd was a mess (i think it was at its second or third rewrite at the time, trying for the last fad in kernel design), bsd was in court, minix was anything but open/free/whatever.

        so in the end, linux was a case of scratching a itch, in combo with the choice between sitting in a heated room to write code or walk across a cold campus to access the university terminals. One can say that humans are at their most creative when they want to be lazy.

      • by vegiVamp (518171)
        Unfortunately, that's the kind of saying that we can't really verify as true or false until we've invented timeline sandboxes.
  • Debian GNU/kFreeBSD (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tepples (727027) <tepples AT gmail DOT com> on Monday December 28, 2009 @12:38PM (#30572266) Homepage Journal

    What would the world look like had he spent his money on something else?

    Not much different, as the people who built Linux distributions would instead have ported GNU to the kernel of FreeBSD [debian.org].

    • by eln (21727) on Monday December 28, 2009 @12:53PM (#30572476) Homepage
      There's also at least a small chance that many of the kernel hackers who work on Linux today would have been working on the Hurd kernel. As it happened, the release of Linux essentially killed Hurd, although it's technically still around.
      • by dkf (304284) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Monday December 28, 2009 @01:37PM (#30573130) Homepage

        There's also at least a small chance that many of the kernel hackers who work on Linux today would have been working on the Hurd kernel.

        I doubt it would have happened. The Hurd hackers wanted to do fundamental OS research, and everyone else wanted a "Unix" kernel that they could just use and hack around with, and which didn't cost a lot.

        I can remember that the biggest factor in our little group of hackers moving to Linux (from 386BSD) was that it had working shared libraries. OK, they sucked in many (many!) ways, but it still meant that you didn't need to have loads of copies of libc in memory or on disk at once. On the small machines of the time, that was a massive saving.

        • What I still don't understand is why BSD didn't fill the void that linux filled. Just because of the permissive license?

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by icebraining (1313345)

            Because BSD was being disputed in court:

            The lawsuit slowed development of the free-software descendants of BSD for nearly two years while their legal status was in question, and as a result systems based on the Linux kernel, which did not have such legal ambiguity, gained greater support. Although not released until 1992, development of 386BSD predated that of Linux. Linus Torvalds has said that if 386BSD had been available at the time, he probably would not have created Linux.

            BSD 4.4 was only released in '

            • by Rob Riggs (6418) on Monday December 28, 2009 @05:19PM (#30575808) Homepage Journal

              That's only partly true. In '94 BSD was even or ahead of Linux in terms of features. The reason Linux ended up "the winner" is because there was a stark difference between the two communities in welcoming newbies into the fold. #unix was the place to go on IRC for abuse. In stark contrast, the folks on #linux were very patient and helpful.

              I had both 386BSD and Slackware downloaded to floppy. I ended up running Linux because I was welcomed by the Linux community. Not so much with the BSD crowd. A little kindness is all it took to make Linux the world's most popular Unix OS.

          • by chrb (1083577) on Monday December 28, 2009 @04:19PM (#30575112)

            Just because of the permissive license?

            Partly - commercial BSD derivatives and the BSD networking stack ending up in Windows 95 put off some developers - who wants to see their work being co-opted by Microsoft and other corporations in closed source products? Some people no doubt, but not the majority. Another effect of the licensing was that BSD splintered into different, slightly incompatible commercial forks. The GPL protected Linux from that fate - the free distributions were shipping more-or-less exactly the same kernel code as the commercial distributions - the general perception was that with Linux free didn't mean "less", it just meant "no telephone support". In BSD land, "free" (to many) meant "not as good as what Sun and IBM are selling".

            Another factor was that BSD was seen by some Europeans as being controlled by some American labs and American universities. This made it seem less approachable - and harder to get your code into. Linus, in contrast, welcomed good patches with open arms. Linus was highly enthusiastic about people developing code for his kernel. The same enthusiasm for outsiders was not visible within the BSD community.

            Yet another factor was the number of Linux distributions that sprung up. Competition is good - Debian, Slackware, Red Hat, etc. were all competing to make the best Linux distribution, and there were numerous other distributions trying to push them from the top. In contrast, BSD was more centrally controlled, and whilst there was some competition between distributions, there wasn't a great amount. Plus the licensing made forks more likely - with GPL and Linux, if someone wrote a good patch, it was highly likely that patch would end up in all Linux distributions fairly rapidly. The same could not be said of BSD and its various commercial forks.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pharmboy (216950)

      While it would run in similar POSIX way, there is enough difference in the BSD and GNU/Linux license, that Free software would be very different. Don't underestimate the power of the philosophy behind the software.

      • by onefriedrice (1171917) on Monday December 28, 2009 @02:20PM (#30573704)
        I know people like to think that the GPL played a significant role in the success of Linux, but in the face of so many examples of successful non-GPL free software such as apache and postfix, perhaps that assertion should be accompanied by a reasoned argument. Since no single software license is clearly a common denominator for successful free software, I wouldn't assume that the GPL is the driving force behind the success of Linux unless somebody makes a convincing argument in support of that claim. As it is now, although the assertion is often repeated, it seems to be based on mere assumption.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Pharmboy (216950)

          Of course the GNU/GPL is part of the success of Linux. On one extreme, there are those who believe GPL is more than a license, it is religion itself and RMS is their prophet. If the license didn't matter, many of the people writing software only for the GNU/GPL now might have working on BSD instead. Not every programmer is license agnostic. That doesn't mean that Free software (as a whole) would necessarily be behind the current state, but there are many people who are are a part of the "Linux only" sce

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If Bill Jolitz hadn't dropped off the face of the Earth for a year and perhaps even when he wasn't incommunicado if he had been more receptive to help from other people who wanted to pitch in we might be running a lot more 386BSD.

      Instead he ceded the high ground (IMO) to Torvalds.

  • spending that cash on a yearly subscription to playboy certainly would have netted the world a new open source porn system providing free as in beer porn to the world!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, but it would have that crappy Finnish porn.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yeah, but it would have that crappy Finnish porn.

        You don't care for Tom of Finland? To each his own.

  • by UdoKeir (239957) on Monday December 28, 2009 @12:41PM (#30572300)
    That's easy: http://www.guidebookgallery.org/screenshots/win31 [guidebookgallery.org]
  • We would just have the argue if it should be called GNU/Windows or Windows.

  • Happy birthday Linus!

  • If he had bought a Trash-80, would we all be programming Motorola chips today?

  • He could have bought an Official Red Ryder, Carbine-Action, Two-Hundred-Shot, Range Model Air Rifle.

    And then shot his eye out.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      At age 19? Hardly! You'd have to be pretty stupid (or six years old) to do that.

      BTW, I hated that corny movie.

  • by Device666 (901563) on Monday December 28, 2009 @12:50PM (#30572440)
    If linux wouldn't bought a computer, this year would be probably the year GNU\Hurd would be finished. Gnome KDE etc would probably not exist.
  • We will never know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by prefec2 (875483) on Monday December 28, 2009 @12:51PM (#30572448)

    Maybe without Linux we would use Minix or Hurd today. While Linus caused an crystallization point for hundreds of developers he did not write the thing alone. these people were already there. More or less waiting for something like this to happen. Most of them were already part of the Minix mailing list. So most likely Linux was already waiting to happen then. From my own time as an undergraduate. all the good programmers wanted to write an OS. And when it Linux came into existence everyone said cool. I take it and I do something with it. The same happened later with the browser as well. And if X11 would have had a better programming interface there would have been more different browsers out there. Still. Thanks to Linus for starting it.

    • by hitmark (640295)

      minix was in no way free at the tho, iirc. It only became free in response to the success of linux...

      hell, thinking about it, i wonder if the monolithic vs micro-kernel debate was a indirect case of fud marketing for minix...

    • by Kjella (173770)

      While Linus caused an crystallization point for hundreds of developers he did not write the thing alone. these people were already there. More or less waiting for something like this to happen. Most of them were already part of the Minix mailing list. So most likely Linux was already waiting to happen then. From my own time as an undergraduate. all the good programmers wanted to write an OS.

      A lot of people are in the wishful thinking brigade of "It would be cool to..." without ever walking the walk, they just like to dream about it. I know it with myself that it's pretty easy to dream up grand projects, something completely different to drive them to practical completion. I'm sure some people would have created a basic OS just to let it fizzle for lack of interest or because of final exams or because they got a job or got a girlfriend or family or didn't really like all the hard real-life prob

    • Blasphemer! None shall belittle His Linuxship! He suggesteth that Linus did not create the world in seven days, but instead the Linux world evolved over time, from earlier ancestors, with many different contributions! Burn the witch!
  • 2010 will be the year of Solaris on the Desktop!
  • Wasn't it the SX line that had the math coprocessor disabled? My first computer (not counting my CoCo) was a 386 SX 20, which was cheaper than a DX for want of a coprocessor.
    • That's what I thought too, but we're just confusing it with the 486DX/SX... The 386SX had a 16bit external bus.

    • Re:DX or SX? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Stonent1 (594886) <stonent.stonent@pointclark@net> on Monday December 28, 2009 @01:03PM (#30572654) Journal

      The 386SX was a 32 bit processor internally but had a 16 bit data bus. The 386DX was a straight 32bit processor all the way through. There was a third flawed varient that had a problem switching between real and protected mode that could lock up the system. Those chips would be stamped that they were only certified for 16 bit apps. The ones that tested good had a double sigma stamp on them. Neither the 386sx nor 386dx had math coprocessors. The 486 however was a different story. The 486DX had a coprocessor but the 486SX did not.

  • by sunderland56 (621843) on Monday December 28, 2009 @12:54PM (#30572510)
    Mr. Torvalds may be well known, but when you use just the single name "Linus", most people think of the blanket-carrying kid in Peanuts.
    • by Dunbal (464142)

      most people think of the blanket-carrying kid in Peanuts.

            Perhaps anywhere else, but not here on slashdot. And a heads up: RMS usually refers to Richard Matthew Stallman, not Root Mean Square... even though most of us here know the uses of the latter.

      • most people think of the blanket-carrying kid in Peanuts.

              Perhaps anywhere else, but not here on slashdot. And a heads up: RMS usually refers to Richard Matthew Stallman, not Root Mean Square... even though most of us here know the uses of the latter.

        And if you hear the denizens referring to a RIM job, it's getting employment at the maker of Blackberry...

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Didn't you know? The blanket-carrying kid grew up and wrote an operating system kernel!

    • by British (51765)

      This is slashdot. Half the acronyms posted to the news headers are lost on me.

    • Not if you pronounce it correctly they don't.
    • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Monday December 28, 2009 @01:08PM (#30572742)
      Some North Americans really do overestimate the penetration of their own popular culture. Globally, most people wouldn't think of anyone at all. On Slashdot - Mr. Torvalds.
      • by Eevee (535658)
        And some people underestimate it. According to wikipedia:

        At its peak, Peanuts ran in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership of 355 million in 75 countries, and was translated into 21 languages.

        That's a bit more than just North America.

  • Perhaps my memory is incorrect, but I thought the difference between the 80386sx and 80386dx was that the dx had a built-in math coprocessor.
  • And, many happy more!

  • by Megaweapon (25185) on Monday December 28, 2009 @01:01PM (#30572620) Homepage

    Perhaps better spent on a $699 license from SCO. /sarc

  • DX33 80386, with 4 Megs of RAM, no co-processor, and a 40 Megabyte hard disc

    That's almost exactly my first computer too. Altough I really had a 20 MB harddisk, but I used doublespace to get 40 MB. And I didn't have the Intel DX33, but the Cyrix DX40 instead. That 7 MHz really made the difference.

    • My first computer (that i bought myself) was a Unisys 386SX-33, 4MB of RAM. i had a massive 80MB harddrive though. for some reason i decided to install OS/2 2.1 on it.

      • by dingen (958134)
        I have a box of OS/2 Warp 3 on a shelf, so I suppose I've run that as well at some point, but I really can't remember anything about it except for staring at the sand clock pointer forever :P
  • For his age, that was a pretty powerful first computer. I'm a few years younger than Linus, and my first computer was a TI-99/4A, followed by an Amiga 1000 (512K RAM, no HDD). I think many people of our generation started with floppy-based computers (Apple II, TRS-80, VIC-20, C64, Amiga) with less than 1 MB RAM. I saved up for and purchased the Amiga from my job as a bagger at a grocery store. Paid $750 for it used, and it came with a monitor and an external floppy drive (really saved on the disc swapping

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      My first computer was an Amiga 500, for which I paid around $600 with the RF adapter... and I hooked it right up to my TV and learned to live with badly flickering interlaced graphics. And I only had one floppy drive, oh the humanity. Actually I had a C= 16 before that, but no storage device so it hardly counts. But lots of my peers started out with cassette storage...

  • Heey, DX33? What kind of a Pentium is that?

  • by CaptainOfSpray (1229754) on Monday December 28, 2009 @01:38PM (#30573160)
    Ja må han leva uti hundrade år!

    OK, I'm showing off - I lived in Sweden 18 years, became fluent in Swedish, and I'm guessing (from his name) that Linus is mother tongue Swedish rather than Finnish.
    But we're raising a glass and shouting "Skål" and "Gippis" and so on...
  • The open source "competition" to Linux has been *BSD. If Linux had never existed, we'd all be running *BSD. End of story, really. And it would have happened quickly - if memory serves, the only reason Linux took off was because BSD was still in or had just gotten out of the long clusterfrack legal disputes. If there had been no Linux, *BSD would have picked up its steam, only a year or two later.

    At some point, someone would have married the best parts of GNU with *BSD and you'd have RMS screaming about

    • While the use of BSD code in a GPL'd project is possible (because the BSD license lets you do ANYTHING!) I'm not sure the inverse is true. So if the BSD kernel became the mainstream instead of Linux the only way it could use GNU/GPL code would have been to wrap the entire project in GPL. I guess this is what Debian is doing. However BSD has it's own versions of the GNU programs and stands quite well on it's own.

  • What would the world look like had he spent his money on something else?

    Maybe he would have bought a mac, developed an appreciation for user experience design at the start of a project, collaborated with usability experts to design a free standardized user friendly UI when he first started work on Linux, and today Linux on the desktop might be light-years ahead of where it currently is.

  • I wanted a NeXT at that time. Man, $6500! But there was no Photoshop equivalent for NeXT, despite their photoshopped brochures, so I called their office in California (seriously) to see if they had any image manipulation software. The person on the phone, a very nice woman, only had scripts to read from. Later that week, though, I happened to see a piece of mail sent from the Free Software Foundation to a professor at my university. (Just the return address, not the contents of the letter.) That's when it f

  • Thanks for all the hard work you've done and the world you've helped open! Enjoy your birthday!
  • What would the world look like had he spent his money on something else?

    Well maybe the world's computers would run on hookers and blow?

If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, then a consensus forecast is a camel's behind. -- Edgar R. Fiedler

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