We get it. Linux is just for nerds. Not mere nerds—we're all nerds—Linux nerds. It's a hobbyist OS for contrarians. It's an antique. An oddity. Pointless. Right? Very, very wrong. Happy birthday, Linux—let's celebrate you like we should
Linux started off humbly enough—just some guy, some programmer's side project. A blip on a niche usenet group typed by Linus Torvalds, 20 years ago today:
August 25th 1991 - Linus posted the following to comp.os.minix (a usenet newsgroup):
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 :-)
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 :-(.
Yes, this is mostly programmer gobbledygook. It doesn't really matter, today. What matters is that Torvalds' claim that his creation will be "just a hobby, [not] big and professional" was completely wrong. Like, it could not be more incorrect. You might think of Linux as just that thing your nerdy Windows-hating friend struggles to get games working on. But it's more than just what he tinkers with in his bedroom—it's all over the place, and you've probably already used it today. It may have lost the OS wars long ago (if it even had a battle), but Linux is still an invisible king.
Your Android device? I don't care if it's a Gingerbread phone or a Honeycomb tablet—both are built on the back of Linux code.
Your TiVo? Linux. Along with a lot of the other cable and set top media boxes you might have stuffed under your TV.
The New York Stock Exchange? The whole shebang runs on a cluster of HP Linux boxes. Those boxes are more important than the ones under your TV.
Google something. Go ahead! That search? Executed on servers running customized Linux.
That ATM you withdrew cash from last night? An increasing number are using a Linux variant.
And of course, there is the tremendous number of servers powered by Linux that run the websites you frequent daily.
Linux is a workhorse. It's value in this little world of ours isn't to sit in front of your nose on a nice display. It's not something to be talked about. Most of us will never care about its history, or features, or future. And that's because we don't have to—it sits there, invisibly, and carries the things we care about. It doesn't have OS X's chicness or Windows' geniality. It keeps its head down and hustles. And it's been at it for two decades now. So happy 20th, Linux—we're glad you didn't just stay a hobby.
Photo of Larry Ellison, who cares a lot about Linux no matter what, by Justin Sullivan/Getty