History of Linux OS and Linux Distributions 

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This article will look at the History of Linux, as well as some of the modern impacts of Linux today. The following are the sections you will find below:

  • History of Linux
  • Difference Between Linux Kernel and Linux Distribution

For more information see:

A Short History of Linux


The Linux kernel was first made available in 1991 after a student named Linus Torvalds finished developing it as an alternative to the MINIX Operating system.  MINIX was an operating system based off of UNIX, which was developed in 1969 and had become a popular OS within the education environment and industry.  While there are some sources that suggest the software was always meant to be free, others suggest that it became free approximately a year after its release. Regardless, the end result was ultimately the same.  The Linux kernel was free to use and it was quickly taken up by developers around the world.  It wasn’t long before there were several distributions of operating systems running with the Linux kernel.  One of the especially notable projects was the GNU project, which was started by Richard Stallman in the mid 80’s.  Richard Stallman wanted to help start a community that was built around the idea of free and open software. Stallman decided the best place to start was with an Operating system, and by 1990 he had completed most of the GNU project with the exception of the kernel.  Thus, when the Linux kernel was made available, the GNU suite of software was pieced together with the kernel to form the GNU/Linux operating system.  This combined package would go on to be the back bone to many other Linux distributions.  By the end of 1994, Linux version 1.0.0 had been released and the world had begun to take notice of the ever growing number of distributions.

As the Linux kernel and its distributions continued to improve and grow in popularity, larger companies began to offer more and more support for the free OS and the idea of free software in general.  From 1994-1997, Linux began to be picked up in mainstream publications such as Wired magazine as well as gain notice from tradeshows.  The year 1998 was especially fruitful for Linux, with support beginning to come from the Google search engine in May and software for Linux from companies such as Informix and Oracle in July.  It was also announced during that Intel and Netscape had invested money into the Red Hat company (the Red Hat distribution was one of the earlier Linux distributions and would go on to be the back bone to many popular distributions and even end up on board of a submarine).  Near the end of that same year Linux had become so popular that even Microsoft had taken notice of the OS and placed “Linux as a competitive threat in its annual SEC (US securities and Exchange Commission) filing”.  With more and more improvements on the software, and the release of such notable desktop environments as KDE and Gnome in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Linux was beginning to really take hold of the computer industry.

The new millennium saw many exciting steps forward for Linux, as well as some set-backs. In the year 2000 the Linux kernel received an updated version to 2.4 which ended up having a run of support until 2011, with the final version being  General Linux support groups, designed to help encourage Linux’s growth and popularity (such as The Embedded Linux Consortium and the Linux foundation), also came into being during the year 2000.  One of the most notable distribution during the early years of the millennium was Ubuntu, which was released near the end of 2004.  Ubuntu was important for Linux as it helped make the OS more user friendly.   After the release of Ubuntu there were a few set-backs with different desktop environments.  The release of the KDE4, Gnome 3 and the Unity desktop environments were all met with harsh criticism (Unity was particularly an Ubuntu interface that some believe have caused many people to move away from the OS on to other distributions).  However, despite these set-backs within the community, on September 23, 2008, the world saw the first version of the Android, a Linux based mobile OS that would later go on to take hold of 80% of the world wide mobile device market.

Today, the most recent release of the Linux kernel is version 3.13-rc8 (as of 2014-01-12, although the latest stable version is 3.12.7 which was released in 2014-01-09).  Linux can be found in virtually any type of device, from desktop computers, embedded systems and internet servers.  Thanks to its open format it has become an ideal product for the average hobbyist.  The Raspberry pi, a small computer that can fit in the palm of a person’s hand officially carries several revised versions of previously existing Linux distributions.  While Linux has not necessarily dominated the desktop market, there is no denying its presence and impact on and within the computer industry as a whole.

The Difference between the Linux Kernel and Linux Distribution

The Linux kernel is the heart of the Linux operating system.  It allows the overlying software to interface easily with the hardware of the machine that the kernel is installed on.  It also allows the operating system to switch between tasks and provides an organized way of jumping back and forth between processes.  Surrounding the kernel are a series of other important programs, compilers, and utilities that when run/compiled together form the complete operating system.  There are many different versions of the software that can surround the kernel and that is what makes up a Linux distribution.  Distributions of Linux are completely compiled versions of the collective of software essential to making a fully functional Linux operating system.  Because there are so many different free and proprietary software there are many different types of distributions that can meet many different needs. In essences, the kernel is the core of the distribution.


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