History Lesson

The follow six sections include a brief description for those who may not know or possibly need a small refresher regarding the history of Linux. The following is easily found elsewhere on the Internet but is compiled into a quick and easy to read format that will provide the background for further endeavors into the Linux and open source world. This is not meant to be a complete guide but provides enough history to answer most basic questions.

What is Linux

Linux, generally is used to refer to as a whole distribution, such as Ubuntu, which includes software, a GUI, and more. In actuality, it is the operating system, more specifically the kernel, which allows the execution of applications, task scheduling, peripheral control and those types of activities. It is the piece that allows applications to run in parallel, providing access to the memory, the processor and allowing your computer to be functional for everyday tasks we generally take for granted. You may be wondering what makes Linux different from other operating systems such as Microsoft’s Windows. Linux is based on an older operating system known as Unix. It has many similarities to Unix, although there are differences as well. In general, though the UNIX philosophies have been carried over into Linux and adopted by a newer culture. We will discuss the UNIX history in the following lecture.

UNIX Background

UNIX is a multiuser, multitasking operating system. Originally developed by AT&T’s Bell Labs by Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, UNIX was designed to be a modular system that was easily extendable to fit the needs of those using the system. Later UNIX was released to third parties, including universities. The release included the source code, which gave third parties the ability to extend and improve upon the UNIX operating system. The ability to modify the source code and the systems modularity, are major key aspects of UNIX that have been carried over into the Linux operating system.

Creation of Linux

Linux was created in 1991 by Linus Torvalds while he was attending the University of Helsinki. It was originally created to run on Intel x86 hardware but has since been ported to many computing platforms from supercomputers to mobile phones to embedded systems. The source code is written in the C programming language, and as of version 3.10 there where more than 17 million lines of code in the kernel. Development comes from volunteers to giant corporations, although the code remains free and open source for all to view, use and modify.


GNU was originally intended to be a free UNIX-like operating system and was conceived by Richard Stallman. The GNU operating system has unfortunately not seen as much development or adoption as the Linux kernel. Other UNIX pieces created under the GNU umbrella have been used with the Linux kernel though, in order to create a full-fledged operating system. Without the GNU software pieces, the Linux kernel would not have been so successful. Together they complement each other and provide many of the general computer processes and programs for the computer to run. Because of this, some people refer to Linux as GNU/Linux.


Linux is licensed under the GPL or the GNU General Public License. This license is designed to provide freedom to the user, allowing them access to the source code and the right to modify the source code to fit their needs. It also helps further development by requiring any changes to the source code to be made public, thereby giving back to the community. There are many benefits to this license, although there are arguments against the GPL and similar licenses. Other licenses that are similar but not exact include the BSD licensing and the Apache licensing.


Just like many good things in life, Linux has a mascot. His name is Tux. He is a penguin with a yellow beak and feet. Tux was originally created by Larry Ewing using Gimp, a free software graphics program similar to Photoshop. There are many Linux games designed that include the mascot, including Tux Racer and Super Tux. Early Linux users will more than likely have had some experience with these and new users should find them enjoyable to pass the time by when needing some relaxation.


Published by Brandon

Software Developer and Computer Science Student

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