The History of Linux Operating System

T|he history of Linux, from Linus Torvalds' early days as a student to the development challenges and innovations that shaped it into the influential operating system it is today.

12/8/20232 min read

a computer screen with Linux command
a computer screen with Linux command

The History of Linux Operating System

In April 1991, Linus Torvalds, a 21-year-old student studying software engineering at the University of Helsinki, Finland, embarked on a task: creating a new kernel operating system. This modest undertaking would evolve into the globally celebrated Linux operating system, establishing Linus as one of the most influential individuals in today's technology realm.

Linus Benedict Torvalds, born on December 28, 1969, in Helsinki, Finland, is the son of Nils and Anna Torvalds. Raised by his mother and grandparents following his parents' separation, the Torvalds family belongs to the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland, numbering around 300,000. Linus's early fascination with computers was influenced by his maternal grandfather, Leo Toerngvist, a statistics professor at the University of Helsinki, who acquired one of the first computers, a Commodore Vic 20, in the 1970s.

In secondary school, programming and mathematics became Torvalds' passions. Despite his father's efforts to introduce him to sports and social activities, Linus admitted to having little talent or interest in such pursuits. In 1988, he enrolled at the University of Helsinki, a leading institution of higher education in Finland, where he excelled in computer science. In 1990, he achieved top honors in the C programming language, which he would soon use to write the Linux kernel—the core of the operating system.

At the beginning of 1991, Torvalds purchased an IBM-compatible PC with a 33MHz Intel 386 processor and 4MB of memory, a significant improvement over earlier chips. Despite his fascination with the hardware, Linus was disappointed with the MS-DOS operating system that accompanied it. Favoring the more powerful and stable UNIX system, which he had learned to use on the university's computers, Linus attempted to obtain a version of UNIX for his new PC. Failing to find a basic system for less than $5,000, he acquired MINIX, a UNIX clone created by operating system expert Andrew Tanenbaum in 1987.

While more powerful than MS-DOS, MINIX had its drawbacks, including undisclosed source code, missing UNIX features, and a licensing fee. Torvalds, displeased with MINIX's inability to perform terminal emulation, a necessity for connecting to the university's Unix computers, decided to create his terminal emulation program independently. This marked the inception of Linux.

Development took place on MINIX using the GNU C compiler, which remains the primary choice for compiling Linux today. Linus swiftly developed the terminal emulation program, sufficient for his needs initially. However, he envisioned Linux as a platform capable of more extensive tasks such as moving and saving files, giving rise to the true birth of Linux.