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Linux is essentially a clone of the Unix operating system. This means that its commands, file structure, and behavior are a lot like Unix. In fact, in many cases they are exactly like Unix. This also means that our story must begin with the history of Unix. This history could be quite lengthy. However, for our purposes, we just need to cover the highlights.
Unix was the creation of the legendary Bell Laboratories. For those readers who are not familiar with Bell Laboratories, it is famous for a plethora of technological and scientific breakthroughs, including the discovery of the first evidence of the Big Bang and the creation of the C programming language. At the time that Unix was developed (late 1960s), operating systems were written for a specific machine’s hardware. This meant that even if you were an expert on a given operating system, the odds were that your expertise would not transfer to other machines. Unix was an attempt to create an operating system that could run on various hardware, and it turned out to be an unequivocal success. Unix was first released in 1971, and more than 30 years later it is still a top-notch operating system. In the world of computing, five years is often considered woefully out of date, and any technology a decade or more old is likely to be considered a quaint antique. For an operating system to survive and flourish for over 30 years speaks volumes about that operating system’s stability and functionality. Unix is used around the world, particularly on high-end systems that must service a large number of users. It is renowned for its efficiency and stability. Most experts agree that even today there is no operating system more stable than Unix. Unfortunately, Unix is also known for its high cost. A Sun Solaris® Unix machine or an SCO® Unix machine is quite expensive.
SCO and Solaris are simply brand names for individual companies’ versions of Unix. SCO is an acronym for Santa Cruz Operation, and Solaris is made by Sun Microsystems, which also created the Java programming language.
Sun Solaris machines cost from $3,000 to more than one million dollars. That is a lot more expensive than your standard Windows PC or even a high-end Windows server. Of course, Sun Microsystems would probably like to point out that their higher-end Unix servers are in a completely different class than a Windows server running on a standard PC. They are able to handle much more work than any Windows/PC server. These Unix servers are designed for very intensive projects, thus their expense.
This cost, combined with the perceived complexity of Unix, prevented it from becoming a player in the desktop operating system market. Unix was primarily an operating system for high-end servers. The advent of the open source movement would eventually change this. Open source, briefly described earlier, was first brought to the public forefront by Richard Stallman, who in 1985 published his famous “GNU Manifesto,” a document outlining the parameters for open source licensing. Stallman had begun working on his own operating system in 1983. He called this system GNU (GNU is Not Unix). His goal was to create an open source version of Unix. Stallman’s Free Software Foundation later created the GNU General Public License that today allows Linux and other software to remain completely free. This open source movement was the start of a really big idea. An idea others ran with.
In 1987, Andrew S. Tanenbaum created Minix, an operating system quite similar to Unix. Minix was a fairly stable and functional system and a reasonably good Unix clone. Although Minix failed to gain the popularity of some other Unix variants, it was an inspiration for the creator of Linux.
The story of the Linux operating system starts with a young computer science graduate student named Linus Torvalds. Torvalds was introduced to Minix and, while still in graduate school, decided to create his own open source Unix clone. Torvalds found many things he liked about the Minix operating system, but he believed that he could make a better Unix variant. He chose the name Linux, as a combination of his first name and the end of the word Unix. He began by posting the operating system code on an Internet discussion board, allowing anyone to use it, play with it, or modify it. Finally, he released Linux 0.01 on the Internet under a GNU public license. Torvalds not only released the operating system for free, he released the source code and even invited other programmers to lend a hand in making the system more workable.
Over the years, Linux’s popularity has grown. It has moved from a hobby operating system for computer enthusiasts to a full-fledged business operating system. Vendors like Red Hat, SuSE, and Debian have released popular distributions of Linux that bundle the operating system with useful programs and a graphical interface. You can find out more about the history of Linux at any of these Web sites:
You may be wondering how these vendors make money. If the operating system can be downloaded for free from the Internet, it would seem that any Linux company would have a very narrow profit margin. The first way they make money is by selling their operating systems in neatly packaged boxes with manuals and easy-to-install CDs. If you download a free version of Linux from the Internet, you do not get any manuals or CDs, installation can be quite tricky, and the download time will severely tax even a high-speed cable connection. These vendors also make money by selling support for Linux. If you purchase Red Hat Linux, you also can call their support line for help on a fee-per-call basis.
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