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Linus' First Linux Post, 20 Years Ago Today 181

jrepin writes "One midsummer's night, a student at the University of Helsinki posted a query to the newsgroup comp.os.minix asking, 'What would you like to see most in minix?' The student's name was Linus Torvalds, and that Usenet post was the beginning of the Linux operating system. The date was 25 August 1991, exactly 20 years ago today. In 1991 Unix had existed for about 20 years, Apple had come out with its Mac OS in 1984, and Microsoft had been flogging Windows since 1985. Torvalds' ambitions for his 'new (free) operating system' were modest. It was to be 'just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu' for IBM PC '386(486) AT clones.' He wanted to call his OS kernel 'Freax,' but a friend who ran the FTP server that hosted the software named Torvalds' source code download directory 'linux' and the name stuck."
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Linus' First Linux Post, 20 Years Ago Today

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  • Thanks a lot Linus. A lot of the industry's heavyweights are getting older though. Linus, RMS. Jobs, Woz and Gates already semi-retired. Malda is moving on.

    The big question is going to be: who will be as influential in the next 20 years as those guys and is it even possible or necessary?

    • Re:My first post (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jhoegl ( 638955 ) on Thursday August 25, 2011 @12:16PM (#37207678)
      The influence will most likely come from outside the US, EU, China, India, or other large tech countries.
      Reason being? Restrictive policies that hamper innovation, such as copyright, "method patents", and large companies afraid of competition.
      • Just one question? Are you also a GPL zealot?

        The only people I see get so uptight about this sort of stuff are also GPL zealots, which is ironic considering GPL depends on copyright to exist.

        • Not a GPL zealot - but the GPL depends on copyright. It does NOT depend on the mutated abortion that we call "copyright law" today.

        • by spazdor ( 902907 )

          I'm only a GPL zergling, but that's kind of like saying that non-aggression pacts depend upon war to exist.

        • by Eivind ( 15695 )

          Yeah. The GPL depends on Copyright.

          I don't know anyone who'd like to *completely* eradicate copyright. But I know many, myself included, who thinks that what was supposed to be a balance, has swung much too far in one direction.

          Copyright is absurdly long. There should be exceptions for works who are no longer available ("abandonware") and fair use should be substantially expanded - for example there should be zero question that making a small number of copies for your own personal use is allowed.

          Also, no le

      • by mikael ( 484 )

        There seems to be several essential ingredients.

        You need to have control over your overheads. I've heard stories of startup companies which were successful enough to survive in the marketplace, ended up being killed off by the landlord upping the rent/lease and sucking out the money intended research funding). One company made the mistake for competing for public research funds while leasing offices from a university landlord. Silicon valley people just used their garage as a workshop.

        Having an education an

    • Re:My first post (Score:5, Interesting)

      by peter hoffman ( 2017 ) on Thursday August 25, 2011 @12:44PM (#37208060) Homepage

      I don't think anyone will be as influential in the computer world. It was a much smaller community back then and it was easier to stand out. That's not to say there won't be people who do things that are as meaningful but they will now be one of dozens of projects.

      If a person is going to be that sort of stand out today, he will have to be in another field - perhaps nanotechnology or bio-engineering - where the foundations are still being laid.

  • by ak_hepcat ( 468765 ) <leif@de n a l i . net> on Thursday August 25, 2011 @12:13PM (#37207626) Homepage Journal

    Brings back the memories. I remember the usenet post because I was camping on the .minix trying to decide how best to conquer my computer...

    then Linus showed up with his post, and I soon had my answer.

    I've been running Linux non-stop since 1993, and have never looked back.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Related - post from Lars Wirzenius []

      • Thanks for the link. (And thanks to Lars for posting it.)

        I started using Linux in 1995, and have been using it almost exclusively since about 1999. But I never knew so much "deep background" about the early days.

        Congrats and thanks to all who have contributed over the years! Many happy returns.

    • Re:oh yeah... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by peter hoffman ( 2017 ) on Thursday August 25, 2011 @12:36PM (#37207960) Homepage
      I was running Coherent at the time and looking for something better. I'd looked at Minix but I was looking for something open. I started playing with Linux as soon as code first became available for download and also played with 386BSD which had the lead over Linux for some time. Soon after that, the AT&T lawsuit began to cast a pall over the BSD community and Linux got TCP/IP going. Not wanting to depend on something potentially embroiled in a lawsuit (who might get sued wasn't clear then), I went with Linux as my base OS. Since then, I have continued to dabble with the various BSDs and use OpenBSD when security is a strong concern but Linux has been my first choice. It's interesting to wonder how things might have turned out if the lawsuit hadn't happened.
      • by Jonathan ( 5011 )

        I was thinking of using Coherent at the time too, but I was an undergrad and even it was too expensive for me :-)

        My favorite moment in early Linux history was asking if X11 was going to be ported, and getting a personal message from Linus saying "maybe, but don't count on it". I still ended up installing Linux in fall of 1991 despite the lack of X.

      • I ran Coherent for a while, but lack of virtual memory and the GNU userland was more than I could hack. I considered Minix, but even then it seemed more like a toy. A buddy of mine told me somewhere around 1993 about a BBS in a nearby town that had the Slackware 1 floppy images available for download. The BBS had a call-back feature to minimize long distance calls and over a few evenings I downloaded the images, put them on floppies and then I spent a few hours installing my first Linux install on a 25mh

    • by Tsingi ( 870990 )

      I've been running Linux non-stop since 1993, and have never looked back.

      Me too, built an ISP with Linux 1993. Had a Sun box on back order, but eventually we just cancelled it and got everything working for free.

      That was awesome.

  • FIRST POST! (Score:5, Informative)

    by ilsaloving ( 1534307 ) on Thursday August 25, 2011 @12:13PM (#37207632)

    From: torvalds@klaava.Helsinki.FI (Linus Benedict Torvalds)
    Newsgroups: comp.os.minix
    Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?
    Summary: small poll for my new operating system
    Date: 25 Aug 91 20:57:08 GMT
    Organization: University of Helsinki

    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. This has been brewing
    since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on
    things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat
    (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons)
    among other things).

    I’ve currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work.
    This implies that I’ll get something practical within a few months, and
    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 (

    PS. Yes – it’s free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs.
    It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never
    will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that’s all I have :-(.

  • Midsummer is in June, not in August.

  • This story is 20 years old. How about something new and fresh?
  • 20 years ago today? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 25, 2011 @12:23PM (#37207772)

    Well, Linux has been going in and out of style, but it's still guaranteed to raise a smile.

  • by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Thursday August 25, 2011 @12:29PM (#37207840) Homepage Journal

    It was twenty years ago today
    Col. Torvalds gave the source away.
    We've been going in and out of drives
    but we guarantee to raise uptimes.
    So may I introduce to you
    the hack you've known for all these years
    Col. Torvalds' Linux slash GNU Band!

    We're Col. Torvalds' Linux slash GNU Band,
    we hope you will enjoy the code.
    Col. Torvalds' Linux slash GNU Band,
    just hack and let the evening go!

    Col. Torvalds' Linux
    Col. Torvalds' Linux
    Col. Torvalds' Linux slash GNU Band!

    It's wonderful to post here,
    it's certainly no troll.
    You're such a loyal userbase,
    we'd like to merge your code with ours,
    we'd love to grep your /home.

    I don't really want to freeze the code,
    but I thought you might like to know
    this release is going to fix the root
    and we want you all to patch for good.
    So let me introduce to you
    the one and only Billy's fear
    Col. Torvalds' Linux slash GNU Band!

  • What is it with geeks choosing really horrible, horrible names for software products? I can't count the number of directors at public companies that I've spoken with in the past who refuse to go anywhere even near GIMP based on its name alone.

    • What is it with geeks choosing really horrible, horrible names for software products?

      Maybe because it was "just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu". I think being a geek is all about having fun in your own way, and that means not succumbing to boring corporate ideals. "Freax" was short for "free freak unix" or something like that -- perhaps not the most creative name for an OS, but nevertheless reflects the verbally playful side that many geeks seem to have.

  • by SomeoneGotMyNick ( 200685 ) on Thursday August 25, 2011 @12:35PM (#37207942) Journal redirect the news focus AWAY from this historical anniversary.

    • by drfreak ( 303147 )

      Funny, for sure. But you bring up a good point: Where's the anniversary of BSD and NeXT? Sure, NeXT's Mach was more of a kernel like Linux, but it used BSD's user land instead of GNU. Mac users need to respect their OS elders, not just the founders! Being a Mac user myself now, I think it is important because I never touched a mac for personal purchase or use until OSX was good and stable. If I wanted unstable and fun back then, my Amiga was more than adequate.

  • by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Thursday August 25, 2011 @12:41PM (#37208016) Journal

    Just a few months later, I was really wanting a Unixy like OS for my 16 MHz 386 PC with a whopping 2.5 Mb of RAM and 40MB hard disc. In the cold wet January of 1992, I think it was Linux (kernel 0.12, or perhaps 0.11) which we started with.

    Two of us made a few of the PCs in the university's PC lab dual boot Linux and DOS. In those days there were no distros, you had a root disc and boot disc, and had to use cp -r to copy the root disc to the hard disc, then use a hex editor to change the kernel binary to use the hard disc for the root filesystem instead of the floppy.

    I started learning C on this system. All the stuff I needed to learn C on a partition of a 40MB IDE disc. (Later I had a 486 with an 80MB IDE disc, partitioned 50/50 DOS and Linux, on the Linux side I had the X Window System, a C compiler and all the development libraries and enough space to write programs in C for X11. By then there was an early TCP stack too, so a friend and I networked our computers and shared files with NFS).

    • by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) *

      Yea, and nowadays the networkmanager applet sucks up 20MB of resident set. Somehow I managed to have a graphical desktop with Netscape run on a machine with 8MB of RAM total and run well with 16MB. Granted it was Netscape 0.9 on an 8bit display but still. Then I ran RedHat 4.x on an old clunker laptop with a 486SX and 40MB ram and ran Netscape 4.x with 16bit color. Now Fedora has trouble installing if you don't have a GB of ram. And we wonder why we got left out of the embedded world. Yes it all 'runs

    • Jeebus! You had a 40MB hard drive in 1992?!?! I remember spending about $300 for an 8MB "Bigfoot" in the mid-90's... that computer must have cost you the price of a new car at the time.

      • by jmorris42 ( 1458 ) *

        > Jeebus! You had a 40MB hard drive in 1992?!?!

        Methinks you are misremembering and have misplaced the decimal point. I had a 10MB hard drive on my Tandy Color Computer 3 in 1988. It was a surplused out MIniscribe and a seperate Adaptec MFM to SCSI interface.

        By 1990 I had a PC with an 85MB drive. I suspect that 'Bigfoot' drive you mention was 800MB.

      • by mingot ( 665080 )

        Er, we're talking about megabytes.

      • In '92, I bought an Amiga 2000HD with a 120MB drive, with monitor, for under $1200.

      • Perhaps you shouldn't buy Apple equipment then :)

        I had a 40MB back then, the whole computer cost $3k, 386SX. I fondly remember watching over my dad's shoulder as he inserted more RAM chips (they were chips back then, not cards) and added the Co-processor.

      • 1995 or so was when the first 1GB drives were coming out. There's no way you bought a new 8MB drive then. I remember telling my dad about the Western Digital Caviar hard drive... it was 1GB and cost $500. He said: "No one could ever fill up all of that space". Like most of us, he has lived to eat his words.

    • Hex editor to change the kernel binary, huh? And people said Linux was too hard to use... :-P

    • then use a hex editor to change the kernel binary to use the hard disc for the root filesystem instead of the floppy.

      No, no, no. You didn't need no stinking hex editor. I distinctly remember pressing Emacs into service to change offsets 142 and 143 to ^A and ^B (my memory is dim on the exact offsets). :-)

      And you didn't have to log in (there wasn't an init yet to run "login") you were just dumped straight into a root shell. The release notes (readme) were two sheets of A4. Simpler times.

      This was on 0.12 (I downloaded 0.11 but when I was ready to run it, 0.12 had already been released.

  • That we're Linux Freax?

    - Thanks Linus!
  • "1992 will be the year of the Linux desktop!"

    • by pe1chl ( 90186 )

      I had a Linux desktop system in 1992 (ok, I installed it in december of that year) and it actually was quite impressive what you could already do back then.

      It had a working X11 system with many interesting applications.
      Even the networking already worked. I took it to work and connected it to the ethernet, and I could use it as an X client and server with the DEC VAX and X terminals we had there. Except that I had color and those X terminals were b/w :-)
      Everyone was really impressed...

      Remember that Windows

  • I downloaded and installed Linux onto a 386 PC that had been running Coherent (not very well, I might add). I think it was Slackware but it might have been Ygdrasil. I was pretty happy to get a version of Unix that I could afford. I have since run Red Hat, Suse, Centos, Debian and Ubuntu plus a couple BSDs. I have always thought of Linux as the "Swiss army knife" of operating systems because I've set up email servers, web servers, database servers, VPN routers, Vyatta routers, remote backup servers and desktops with LInux. I have one server with over 656 days of uptime.

    I have made a comfortable living from understanding Unix and applying that to Linux over the past 18 years.

    And it was way better than Coherent!!!

    Thanks, Linux. :)

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      one of the great things about early linux distros was that they came with lots of software.

      so a cd set of couple of distros was a real treasure trove.

    • by Tsingi ( 870990 )
      ditto. And I'm grateful too.
  • Wow, such memories...I was playing with Minix back then, and I didn't really start playing around with Linux until kernel v0.12...I would take the boot and root disks to people's places with a 386, and then boot it and type "ls"...and the list of files would show up, and everyone who was in the know would go "Wow....". Now, I have made a living using Linux, an I am typing this message on my main workstation, a Linux box using Salix (Slackware variant). Thanks to Linus, RMS, ESR and everyone from Multics on

  • I think I read the Slashdot article when it was ten years.
  • Americans pronounced it "Line-icks."

    • If by Americans you mean people from the U.S., then don't think that's true.

      With a very few exceptions, I've heard "lin-ucks" over here.

      Though, I would guess that it would be most accurately pronounced "lee-nucks."

      • by gatkinso ( 15975 )

        I can see you are a relative noob, since you do not recall the horrendous and devastating flame wars over this very topic.

        Linus said "lee-nooks"

        Euros said "lin-ucks" which is now the American standard and has been since about 2001ish.

        Americans said "line-icks"

  • by Zoxed ( 676559 ) on Thursday August 25, 2011 @01:45PM (#37209170) Homepage

    My favourite early Linux quote is v0.02 (I think) (still 1991) "Hurd will be out in a year (or two, or next month, who knows)", and little later "Wait for Hurd if you want something real.".

  • Is there a more appropriate day to listen to the kernel loudly? I guess not!

    The Linux Radio has been updated, with a new design and easy access to the lyrics : []

    Happy birthday Linux, I'm glad I've been invited, thank you! Tonight is party time : just you, the computer, and me!

    And as heard in mm/mempool.c : "Slash Asterisk we must not sleep!". PERIOD.

  • I'm not even a big Linux guy, but this quote just makes me giggle.

    I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.

    It's nice to see Linux has come so far from such humble origins! Here's to hoping it becomes even bigger.

  • Answer from the crowd: "Pr0n!!!"

  • I think the reason why Linux took of so quickly was because of all the gnu software out there already. Basically it was a car waiting on an engine. And when that engine arrived it took off. Thanks Linus and everyone who contributed to it.
  • I bet he didn't see that it would be a popular embedded and server OS either.

    Many seem to think Linux will grow on the desktop but that's unlikely to happen. It's easier to move into new markets.

Keep up the good work! But please don't ask me to help.