20 Years of Linux

I was reminded recently that Linux is 20 years old. This feels like a bit of a milestone, and as I read several articles on the topic I realized this: tech writers still don’t understand it. For instance, in this CNN article the writer states:

Torvalds initially conceived of Linux as a free alternative to Windows. But the collaborative-development, peace-loving ideologies of Linux were no match for the freewheeling, business-savvy, marketing power of Microsoft.

I can’t think of anything that is more false. Torvalds conceived of Linux as a free alternative to UNIX (as the name implies). Unix was never what we would consider a desktop operating system, but it ruled the server world. The second sentence is simply nonsensical. There was never any competition with Windows in the early years of Linux. It wasn’t until the turn of the century that there was a push to see Linux create a niche in the desktop market. That didn’t go too well, though we could talk about all the embedded devices (Andriod phones, etc) that rely on Linux or open-source software. Perhaps the largest way that everyone experiences Linux is when they browse the Internet. The majority of servers run Linux–it has handily displaced Unix.

So, consider this a plea to get your facts straight. Linux was never about beating Microsoft. It was about providing an amazing operating system based on free-software principles. It has accomplished this goal a thousand times over. Somehow it just seems proper that millions of people use Linux variants or Linux-derived software everyday without knowing it.


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