The Kernal Guy With A Computer

An Extremely Brief History Of Linux From 1991 To 1993

1991

It’s the year 1991! The internet is growing, Windows is still just a DOS program, and Unix is killing it. SunOS, System 6, and MINIX are making computers much more attainable for the average Joe. But, although they were still quite impressive for their time, a lot of these OS’s weren’t the most ideal. Undoubtedly, the biggest problem was that most of them didn’t officially support the cheaper, and increasingly popular Intel x86 processors. Most of the ports available for the platform were either developed by the community, or lacking the performance you would expect from officially supported CPU architectures. And so, Linus Torvalds, while attending university for computer science in 1991, decided to, just for fun, write his own operating system. And after about 4 months of work, he announced his creation to the Minix newsgroup with this now famous post.

Hello everybody out there using minix -

I'm doing a (free) o 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 (torvalds@kruuna.helsinki.fi)

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

— Linus Torvalds

A month later, Linus releases Linux 0.01 under his own license, which stated that the, “Full source must be available” and that “You may not distribute this for a fee”. The entire license was only less than 200 words, and managed to stick around for a whole year’s worth of time.

The operating system itself was pretty bare-bones at the start, as it launched initially with nothing but a shell and compiler. But just a couple months after being released to the public, the community around Linux was already starting to form. Many common Unix applications began to be ported, and people were able to actually use Linux as a functional, albeit, impractical operating system. Like Minix, Linux remained a purely text-based operating system. But, unlike the stable and well supported Minix, Linux was too new to be used as a daily desktop, and too unstable to be run as a server. It showed promise, but it’d need quite a lot of development before it could be used for anything other than a fun toy for computer enthusiests to tinker with.

1992

This is when things started to get interesting. X worked on Linux, allowing for graphical applications and window managers. This development launched Linux directly into the stratosphere. In combination with GNU utilities and software ports from the community, Linux was becoming a more viable operating system by the minute. You could browse the web, write papers, answer Emails, and do almost anything else you would want a computer to do in 1992.

This year also marked the launch of the first Linux distros. Back then, many people rolled their own version of Linux from scratch, but early computing companies and schools started to create some proper Linux distros for personal and professional use.

MCC Linux

The first ever Linux distro was MCC, from the Manchester Computing Center, made by Owen Le Blanc. It didn’t have X, but it did come with an actual installer, GNU coreutils, and a lot of the other luxuries that come for granted on Linux nowadays. It may not look like anything too special, but back then, it was a huge improvement to a lot of the other Unix based systems that were in use at the time.

TAMU Linux

But all of that success would soon be overshadowed by Texas A&M’s new masterpiece, TAMU Linux. TAMU Linux was the second ever Linux distro, and the first one to ship with the X windowing system. TAMU was instantly a hit, shipping with the fvwm window manager, Emacs text editor, and even Tetris. Network configuration and disk partitioning were done automatically, and the desktop was clean and easy to understand. TAMU was, undoubtedly, the fist ever real desktop Linux distro.

SLS

However, SLS (Softlanding Linux System) is undoubtedly the Linux distro in 1992 that had the most effect. While SLS also had the X windowing system, it was beaten to the punch by TAMU Linux by only a few days. SLS Linux was created by Patrik Volderkin, who would charge 99 US dollars plus a shipping and handling fee for an instillation medium. But what made SLS so great that people were willing to pay the equivalent of 212$ for it? It shipped with an installer, disk space optimization, package management, and even a fully-featured DOS emulator. It was simply the best available Linux distro at the time. And most important of all, SLS served as the initial building block for many future Linux distros.

It is also worth noting, that SUSE, a company still in business to this day, was created this year with the goal of developing and selling Linux products to businesses, but they would not make their first official Linux distro for 4 more years.

As for the kernel itself, 1992 came with a lot of development. Obviously, with more widespread adoption, more drivers were added and the kernel got more optimized in general (The size of the kernel doubled). But the real news came right at the end of the year, when Linux was officially released under the GNU GPL version 2. The GPL is much more coherent than the cobbled-together mess that Linus wrote, and is undoubtedly part of the reason that Linux is still so prevalent today. The GPL made it a requirement that if you use Linux in a product, you must publish all of the source code, including your changes. This stopped any big companies from creating their own proprietary versions of Linux, while still allowing for profitable commercial products. Which, as you can imagine, did wonders for Linux’s future financial success.

1993

1993 is the year in which two great titans of the Linux world were created: Slackware and Debian.

Slackware

Although released under a different name, Slackware was, at this time, undoubtedly an extension of the original SLS Linux operating system. Slackware was created by Patrick Volkerding, who, apart from having an eerily similar name to Patrik Volderkin, shared an interest in making Linux simpler and more reliable. While he didn’t do a lot of the heavy lifting that comes with making an OS from scratch, he was able to patch bugs and fine-tune SLS, to make a substantially more stable and fast operating system. And because of this stability, Slackware remained the defacto Linux distro for a mind-boggling amount of time.

Debian

Debian is another staple Linux distro created in 1993. It wasn’t anything close to the Debian you know today, but there was something there. Just like Slackware, Debian was based on SLS. And over the year, there was a tremendous amount of work being done. However, while Debian officially started in 1993, there’s not much to talk about, as the first public release wasn’t available till early 1994.

Slackware and Debian were a huge push towards making Linux viable as a consumer desktop operating system, as well as a commercial OS for servers and office work.

And while distros were being released by the second, the kernel remained stagnant. There was not a single new version of the kernel released this year. The kernel was on version 0.99, and there was a lot of work being done to ensure that version 1.0 would be the best that it could possibly be. And with only 100 people working on Linux, it’s understandable why a new release took so long.