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Happy Birthday, Linus 376

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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  • 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 Pharmboy ( 216950 ) on Monday December 28, 2009 @12:53PM (#30572482) Journal

    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 gregarican ( 694358 ) on Monday December 28, 2009 @01:05PM (#30572688) Homepage

    Nope that distinction didn't find its place until the Intel 80486 line of CPU's. Back during the 80386 days it was only differntiating between 16 and 32 bit handling --> [].

  • by BESTouff ( 531293 ) on Monday December 28, 2009 @01:07PM (#30572722)
    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 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 sznupi ( 719324 ) on Monday December 28, 2009 @01:24PM (#30572956) Homepage

    Actually, Amiga would have been also a very valid choice back then, at least in Europe. I wonder if Linus ever said why he went with a PC.

  • by Sir_Lewk ( 967686 ) <sirlewk@gmail. c o m> on Monday December 28, 2009 @01:36PM (#30573124)

    What if Columbus was wrong? At a certian point, such speculation becomes meaningless ;)

  • Re:get real (Score:2, Insightful)

    by LOLLinux ( 1682094 ) on Monday December 28, 2009 @01:38PM (#30573164)

    Open source would be a lot better off with a few less egomaniacs like Linus and a few more - dare I say it? - RMS's.

    RMS not an egomaniac? lolwut? The whole GNU/Linux or GNU+Linux thing is nothing but pure egomania on RMS's part.

  • Re:over 40 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Monday December 28, 2009 @01:49PM (#30573324)

    Is he going to invent anything else? Or after 40 do you just give up on life? []
    "About 2% of the Linux kernel as of 2006 was written by Torvalds himself.[13] Since Linux has had thousands of contributors, such a percentage represents a significant personal contribution to the overall amount of code. Torvalds remains the ultimate authority on what new code is incorporated into the standard Linux kernel.[18]"

    Do you know how much output that is?! Also, consider for a minute, that Linux isn't like the lightbulb, invent once and the work is done. How far would linux have gone if work quit in 1991, 1995, 2000? It's a work-in-progress.

    The world is littered with half-assed and half-finished projects, particularly software. It's far better that Linus brings and continues one project to excellence than do a dozen mediocre projects that quite never get there.

    Maybe you should go out and invent something. If it had 1/100 of the impact Linux has, you'll the world for the better significantly.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 28, 2009 @01:49PM (#30573328)

    ...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.

    Oh how the times have changed... now we run entire VMs just to run single applications...

  • 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:over 40 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Monday December 28, 2009 @02:51PM (#30574060)

    Linus invented 'git' much more recently, in 2005. If you haven't reviewed it for source control, and compared it to Subversion at Subversion's expense, I urge you to do so. It is lighter weight, _far_ faster, allows remote development far more easily, and actually pays attention to security with its far better handling of SSH keys and its built-in GPG signatures for software tags.

    I can also attest that you only give up on life at 40 if your first 40 years weren't worth living. And in that case, your age probably wasn't the problem.

  • by teslar ( 706653 ) on Monday December 28, 2009 @03:12PM (#30574356)

    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 :)

  • by LaughingCoder ( 914424 ) on Monday December 28, 2009 @03:47PM (#30574742)

    If Bill Gates contributed to humanity, I think his contribution was pretty negative.

    And you'd be dead wrong. []

  • Re:over 40 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Godji ( 957148 ) on Monday December 28, 2009 @04:23PM (#30575154) Homepage
    Oh, and by the way, Git [].
  • by LOLLinux ( 1682094 ) on Monday December 28, 2009 @04:57PM (#30575530)

    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?

    Only GNU zealots? The people behind the original BSD, and the modern day ones, were/are perfectly fine with commercial companies using their code in their closed-source products.

  • by phaggood ( 690955 ) on Monday December 28, 2009 @05:14PM (#30575742) Homepage

    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)

    Hurd is the DNF of OS's?

  • by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Monday December 28, 2009 @05:42PM (#30576098) Journal

    It's just that more people are willing to contribute, when they feel that fruits of their labor can't be just "taken" as freely as BSD license allows.

    Bullshit, and there are plenty of very popular projects which would demonstrate the contrary -- sqlite, for example, has no license. That's because it's entirely public domain.

    To take another random example: Ruby on Rails. The license deliberately is not GPL, or even LGPL (which might have worked), but rather MIT. This means I could technically "take" it -- remember, it's not stealing, and it's not even copyright infringement here -- and build my own proprietary product.

    It also means that unless I relish maintaining my own separate fork of Rails, I'll be sending patches upstream whenever I do something cool. Even monkeypatches are much easier to send in as formal patches than to maintain.

    I used to think as you do, but the choice here is between the potential audience of every commercial product versus a few GNU zealots who will actually refuse to contribute to a project because they don't like the license.

    I can see people contributing to Linux instead of BSD if they prefer GPL, and if there are no other factors. But if Linux didn't exist, would you really refuse to contribute to BSD?

    Yesterday, I sent a patch to a project hosted by Google. They wanted me to sign an agreement essentially giving them copyright and a patent grant (without removing those rights from me) -- and this isn't Google being evil, it's common for projects to request copyright for contributions. I wasn't exactly happy about it, but it again comes down to the same choice -- are the terms of that agreement so bad that I'm going to refuse to contribute at all, or worse, fork the entire project? Probably not, especially for the small patches I have in mind.

    And by the way: If you believe in the GPL, and you pirate anything (movies, music, games...), you're a hypocrite. A term common among those who have a problem with current copyright law is, "It's not theft, it's copyright infringement," implying that it's not as bad. I've occasionally heard people say that if there was no copyright, there'd be no need for the GPL, but I don't buy that -- if you really believe that, why not use BSD or MIT?

  • by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Monday December 28, 2009 @07:48PM (#30577226) Journal

    GPL is more than just about copyright. It's about giving back.

    No, giving back is about giving back.

    GPL is about forcing you to give back, through copyright -- or it's about restricting people who refuse to give back from using it. It was created to counter the perceived (and very likely real) threat of people building a giant proprietary product out of what was once free, and everyone inevitably upgrading to the shiny new proprietary version, leaving everyone without the ability to change their own code.

    But free software, as a concept, doesn't require the GPL. Nor does free software, as a movement, rely on the GPL at this stage.

    how is having a problem with one part of a law mean you have a problem with the whole law.

    Copyright is a way of expressing what you want done with copies of your intellectual property.

    If you have a problem with copyright, or with the idea of intellectual property, I can certainly see a case for that -- and I'd love free-as-in-beer and DRM-free movies. I can certainly see piracy inevitably crushing those who cling to draconian DRM.

    But to then turn around and suggest the GPL?

    Think about your reaction when you see a gpl-violations story, versus an MPAA story. When it's the RIAA or MPAA, everyone (myself included) is quick to call them the MAFIAA and to defend piracy as "copyright infringement, not theft", and even suggest that there are no moral issues with it.

    But when it's a GPL violation, suddenly copyright matters and everyone is morally outraged.

    They both rely on the exact same part of the law -- they both rely on the assumption that just because you wrote something, you should be able to control what people do with it.

    Actually, I'll play devil's advocate for a moment -- if you consider it as a social issue, rather than a legal one, the GPL is about forcing people to share. If you think sharing is good, then you probably see the GPL as a way to encourage more sharing than would happen otherwise -- and there would probably be even more sharing with no copyright, so you'd gladly give up the GPL if it meant copyright law is gone forever. This is probably why such licenses are referred to as "copyleft".

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant