Linux was first released in 1991 by Linus Torvalds, with the intention of creating a UNIX-like kernel that ran on x86 machines. Torvalds released the kernel under the GNU GPL, and never intended for the kernel to be as popular as it is today. By releasing the kernel under the GNU General Public License (an open source software license), however, Torvalds primed the kernel up for rapid collaborative development. It was not long before the Linux kernel became a viable solution for those desiring to run a UNIX-like operating system without the prohibitive price-tag of UNIX platforms. With time, the kernel would be ported to other architectures, and today Linux, in conjunction with the popular GNU utilities, is increasingly replacing the waning UNIX platforms that were once popular for enterprises.
Richard Stallman is a software developer who headed up the GNU project - the GNU project originally attempted to create free and open source utilities to run on the proprietary UNIX platforms of the day; for instance, the GNU project was responsible (and is still responsible for maintaing) bash, an open source alternative to the Bourne shell commonly found on UNIX platforms. Eventually, GNU hackers managed to create open-source replacements for almost every main utility that ran on UNIX - but work on a kernel was not yielding good results, and to this day, the GNU kernel (HURD) is not widely used.
Linus's release of the Linux kernel and the failure of the GNU project to create a kernel that many end users would find workable led to the start of a casual fusing of GNU and Linux. A kernel being the only thing the GNU project was missing, the use of GNU tools on top of a UNIX-like kernel like Linux was natural. Linux at this point was nothing more than a kernel and a simple shell.
Many users simply started compiling the GNU applications for the Linux kernel. Eventually, some people started distributing GNU/Linux distributions to ease installation of a system running GNU and Linux (one of the earliest distributions with this intent is the venerable Slackware, still in active development). To this day, new distributions are being started and old ones are dying; some are commercially sponsored and developed (like Redhat and SuSE), while many are developed by volunteers and distributed free of charge. Some, like Fedora, are somewhere in between, having corporate sponsorship but being distributed gratis.
Because of the fact that GNU and Linux are usually distributed together, there is some consternation among Stallman and other GNU hackers about the fact that, today, GNU/Linux distributions are often simply referred to as "Linux distributions" - the argument being, of course, that calling such software distributions "just Linux" diminishes the work and toil of the GNU Project. Projects like Debian, for example, are specifically marketed as "Debian GNU/Linux," while many other distributions' websites claim them to be "Linux distributions."
The "GNU/Linux" versus "Linux" terminological dispute will not be further explored on this page other than to mention that those new to GNU and Linux should note that most - if not all - mdoern software distributions contain GNU utilities. Simply keep in mind that there are terminological disputes, and even though the community at large casually uses just "Linux distribution," some sticklers insist on the term "GNU/Linux."
Linux & GNU todayEdit
Today, Linux is a leading operating system for servers owing to its flexibility, scalability, cheap cost (often zero), and power. Linux is becoming more popular on the SOHO desktop and workstation as well, with some computer vendors even beginning to distribute computers with GNU/Linux distributions pre-installed. Several large companies, governments, and schools have also switched away from Microsoft platforms entirely in favor of Linux-based platforms.
- Linus Torvalds on Wikipedia
- Linus's skeletal homepage?
- kernel.org - official site of the kernel, including distribution of kernel sources; public ftp access of kernel sources can be found at ftp.kernel.org
- Linux on Wikipedia