Linux is 30: How a student’s hobby became a key component in the business IT stack

Moving with the times

The keen-eyed would have noticed that Torvalds posted his 1991 message about Linux to the Minix news group.

Minix was created by Andrew Tanenbaum, primarily as an educational tool for people to learn about operating systems, and Torvalds initially created Linux by adding features to Minix. 

However, Torvalds had a very public falling out with Tanenbaum over the design of Linux. Minix uses a microkernel, while Linux uses a monolithic kernel, which didn’t impress the Minix crowd. However, history has vindicated Torvalds’ choice, and the two luminaries have since resolved their differences. 

From 10,000-odd lines in its first release written primarily by Torvalds, the kernel now spans well over 30 million lines of code contributed by thousands of developers, a majority of them paid by leading tech companies like Intel, and Microsoft to work on the kernel.

Computer code

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Runs everywhere

Back in 1991 Torvalds imagined that Linux would probably never “support anything other than AT-harddisks,” which is perhaps why one of the most widely ported operating system kernels, which runs on everything from system-on-chips (SoC) to mainframes, wasn’t actually designed to be portable. 

In fact, when Linux was first ported to another microarchitecture, Torvalds thought the modifications to his kernel were so extreme that he treated the Motorola 68000 port as a fork. But the port convinced Torvalds to re-imagine the kernel to make it more portable.

The kernel currently supports well over two dozen major hardware architectures, despite developers dropping support for out-of-vogue hardware, such as Torvalds’ original i386-based PC.

One of the most recent architectures that the kernel now supports is Apple’s Arm-based M1 SoC, which powers the latest line of Apple hardware such as the M1 Mac Mini, the M1 MacBook Pro, and others.

The times they are a-changin'

Many credit the kernel’s diversity and dexterity as one of the leading reasons behind its meteoric rise. 

A recent development that further underlines the kernel’s malleability is the move to add the Rust programming language as a second language to the kernel. 

While a majority of the Linux kernel is written in C, a section of kernel developers supported by companies such as Google, have started adding code written in the Rust programming language. 

The developers contend that Rust offers pretty much the same flexibility and performance of C, but comes with added security, which makes it a better option for the kernel’s areas where security and memory safety are of utmost importance, keeping Linux in tune with the prevailing cybersecurity sensibilities.

Mayank Sharma

With almost two decades of writing and reporting on Linux, Mayank Sharma would like everyone to think he’s TechRadar Pro’s expert on the topic. Of course, he’s just as interested in other computing topics, particularly cybersecurity, cloud, containers, and coding.