11 Milestones In Linux History

As Linux turns 20, we look back on key moments for the OS that started as a school project and became a major force in technology.

Robert Strohmeyer, Contributor

August 18, 2011

3 Min Read

Top 20 Android Productivity Apps

Top 20 Android Productivity Apps

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Twenty years ago, the tech landscape looked very different from that of today. Cell phones were a luxury of the rich, and the devices themselves were pretty dumb. Microsoft ruled the desktop landscape barely challenged by competition from IBM and Apple. The Internet was just a gleam in Al Gore's eye (kidding!). And a young University of Helsinki student named Linus Torvalds started work on an operating system that came to be known as Linux.

Linux has come a long way since the early tinkerings of Torvalds in 1991. The OS has proliferated around the world and into every kind of computer, from smartphones to supercomputers. Here are 11 major milestones in the 20-year history of Linux.

April 1991: From his dorm room at the University of Helsinki, college student Linus Torvalds begins working on his own operating system kernel, mostly just to see if he could do it. As he was doing his early development in a Unix clone called Minix, he posted a note to a Minix newsgroup that said, "I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones." Torvalds was wrong in his assessment of his creation's potential.

May 1992: Just over a year after Torvalds began working on his pet project, the first comprehensive distribution of Linux, Softlanding Linux System, shipped to users. SLS stood out for its incorporation of TCP/IP and X Windows.

July 1993: Slackware Linux, developed by Patrick Volkerding, launches as the first commercial Linux distribution. It is currently the oldest Linux distribution still under development.

March 1994: Linus Torvalds releases Linux 1.0, consisting of 176,250 lines of code.

April 1995: Linux gets its own trade conference, Linux Expo, created by Donnie Barnes at North Carolina State University. Barnes went on to work for Red Hat, which later took over the expo.

November 1998: In the midst of a federal antitrust lawsuit, Microsoft lawyers present a box of Red Hat Linux as evidence that Windows did not represent a monopoly on the OS market.

November 1999: VA Systems launches SourceForge, which becomes a leading repository of open source projects for Linux and other platforms.

October 2004: Canonical releases Ubuntu 4.1, aka "Warty Warthog," which raised the bar for community-developed Linux distributions with a six-month release cycle and a focus on user experience.

January 2007: Several leading mobile technology companies, including Motorola, NEC, Samsung, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic, and Vodafone form the LiMo Foundation to collaborate on Linux-based smartphones. This represents a major shift in the direction of Linux devices, and presages the arrival of Google Android.

November 2007: The Open Handset Alliance, which includes Google, Intel, Sony, HTC, Motorola, and 78 other companies, announces its presence with a preview of Android. One week later, the OHA released a SDK to developers.

October 2008: The first commercial Android phone, the T-Mobile G1, ships to consumers, marking the emergence of Linux onto mainstream consumer computing devices. On mobile phones, Android has gone on to compete mightily with Apple's iOS, putting Linux squarely in the forefront of today's hottest platform war.

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