The technology industry has marked the 25th anniversary since the initial release of the Linux kernel by Linus Torvalds on the comp.os.minix message board.
“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,” Torvalds famously wrote in August 1991.
“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”.
Two-and-a-half decades on, Torvalds found himself on-stage at LinuxCon marking the occasion.
At the start, the kernel was 10,000 lines of code and worked only on the same type of hard disk as Torvalds owned.
Now it is 22 million lines of code, and is the basis of distributions that power everything from cloud infrastructure to smartphones and supercomputers.
Linux is a professional operating system in its own right.
But the path to professional OS hasn’t been without its hiccups. Torvalds told LinuxCon that things almost became unworkable 15 years ago as commercial interest in the code increased.
However, he always found himself coming back to Linux, no matter what made him angry in its evolution and ascension.
The Linux Foundation said in a research report released this week that companies are increasingly contributing to the development and improvement of the kernel.
Intel and Red Hat are the two strongest contributors, but in reality over 500 corporations are contributing some form of development resources back to Linux.
The report marks the 25th anniversary of the kernel by providing a series of lessons learned since Linux was conceived.
Short release cycles have benefitted the operating system, the report said.
“In the early days of the Linux project, a new major kernel release only came once every few years,” it said.
“That meant considerable delays in getting new features to users, which was frustrating to users and distributors alike.
“But, more importantly, such long cycles meant that huge amounts of code had to be integrated at once, and that there was a great deal of pressure to get code into the next release, even if it wasn’t ready.”
Making more people responsible for code review also helped the kernel grow in size and stature.
“Once upon a time, all changes went directly to Linus Torvalds, but even a developer with his talents cannot keep up with a project moving as quickly as the kernel,” the foundation said.
“Spreading out the responsibility for code review and integration across 100 or more maintainers gives the project the resources to cope with tens of thousands of changes without sacrificing review or quality.”
In addition, keeping the kernel open to contributions from any company has been important.
“Corporate participation in the process is crucial, but no single company dominates kernel development,” the foundation said.
“So, while any company can improve the kernel for its specific needs, no company can drive development in directions that hurt the others or restrict what the kernel can do.”
The 25th anniversary of the kernel not only has many looking back, but others looking forward.
“The success of the Android mobile platform brought Linux to more than a billion devices. It seems every nook and cranny of digital life runs a Linux kernel these days, from refrigerators to televisions to thermostats to the International Space Station,” InfoWorld opined.
“That’s not to say that Linux has conquered everything … yet.
“The road to mainstream Linux desktop adoption presents serious obstacles, but given Linux's remarkable resilience over the years, it would be foolish to bet against the OS over the long haul.”