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

Rising tide raises all boats

In the three decades of its existence, Linux has become the leading example for collaborative software development, and the larger open source ecosystem.

Matt Yonkovit, Head of Open Source Strategy, Percona goes as far as to suggest that Linux in fact built open source. 

“So many projects have started with an idea, a Linux machine, and a terminal. It’s hard to see the open source we all love today without having Linux so widely available,” believes Yonkovit.  

In the release notes of the 0.01 release of the kernel, Torvalds noted that “a kernel by itself gets you nowhere. To get a working system you need a shell, compilers, a library, etc… Most of the tools used with Linux are GNU software and are under the GNU copyleft.”

This brief point highlights the fact that a kernel needs to be paired with various other software, from drivers to apps, to create a working system or a distribution (distro) that end users can install and and use.

Dawn of the distro

While Linux has been roped inside hundreds of distros through the years, one of the oldest that’s still going strong is Slackware.

Slackware Linux started as a personal project of a student who wanted to create a more functional out-of-the-box version of the now-defunct SLS Linux distro. The distro’s first release came out in July 1993 and was based on Linux 0.99pl11-alpha. 

Slackware shipped as a set of dozens of floppy disk images, and soon became the working base for a whole gamut of Linux distros, such as the initial release of SUSE Linux.

In a blog post celebrating Linux’s milestone, Richard Jones, a senior principal software engineer with Red Hat's R&D Platform team, says he had been using Minix prior to discovering Linux via Slackware Linux. 

Linux computer

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

"It came on.... something like 30 3.5-inch disks if you wanted a full-featured distribution. It took a day just to download and copy to floppies," shares Jones who was working for the government at the time and had access to the Internet in the early 90s.

1993 also saw the release of the second-oldest surviving Linux distro, Debian GNU/Linux, which was sponsored in its debut year by the Free Software Foundation. 

Later on, Debian went on to form its own non-profit organization called Software in the Public Interest (SPI), which has since sponsored dozens of influential open source projects, including LibreOffice, PostgreSQL, Arch Linux, and dozens more.

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.