History of Linux [A Complete Overview]

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Nowadays Linux is the popular operating system that users can use from wristwatches to supercomputers because of its flexibility. But the important question is what is the history of Linux, and why it was created? It began when Linux Torvalds released an operating system kernel on 17 September 1991. Now, through this writing, I will walk you into the history of Linux! So let’s start!

What is Linux?

As a Unix-like operating system, Linux, the open-source community, manages the hardware and resources. Similar to Windows, Mac, and other OS, the operating system forms the basis of Linux Distros. It launches the programs and creates a connection between the user and the hardware.

Precursor of Linux

Linux is an OS that resembles Unix. So first one has to learn about the history of the Unix Operating system. Below I will show the graphical presentation of the main events of the evolution of the Unix operating system & will describe each block of this image in detail for you to understand better:

The events of the development of Linux

  • Unix Development: Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson were the first to design an operating system named Unix after the Multic projects had been dropped out. In 1969, Unix was started as a small project at AT&T Bell Lab.
  • First Unix Version: The version of Unix was released in 1970 and written in assembly language. It was used for text processing.
  • Fourth Version: This Unix version was written in a Higher level of C language which was portable and it was released in 1973.
  • Fifth Version: The fifth version was released in 1973 which was the first version that was licensed for the educational institute.
  • Sixth Version: The sixth version was released in 1975 and this version was licensed for the companies, it was the version from which the first BSD was derived.
  • Last developed version: The seventh edition of Unix is the official last version that was developed under the Bell Lab which later developed the Unix and Unix-like operating system carried forward by other open-source and commercial branches.
  • BSD Release: Berkeley released a free Unix-like operating system that was named Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) in 1977. It was sued because its code was replicated from Unix.
  • GNU Project: In 1983, Stallman introduced the GNU operating system which was a free Unix-like operating system and he also wrote the GNU General Public License that successfully attracted developers. But its kernel was not that developed so the project was not further proceeded.
  • Release of MINIX: In 1987, a Unix-like operating system was released by Andrew S. Tanenbaum. It was only used for academic purposes which was available but the modification of the code was restricted.

Key Features of the Unix Operating System

Users use the Unix operating system for its stability, security, building block approach, and strong file system. Below I have shown some features of this operating system:

  • Open Source

The source code of the Unix operating system is open and modifiable for the user. So the user can easily modify and customize the code according to the user’s needs. It helps in the improvement of the user.

  • Portability

Unix is a portable operating system that the users can use for any of the hardware architecture. It has high compatibility that makes it usable for different hardware systems.

  • Structured File System

It comes with a hierarchical file structure where all files are categorized by their type and stored in a specific directory.

  • UNIX Toolkit

Unix provides a host application support to enhance the facilities because all the tasks can not done by the kernel alone.

  • Program Execution

The users do all the Unix commands and programs on the shell. Programmers design the shell in such a way that makes it compatible with the programming languages.

  • Multiuser and Multitask System

It supports multiple users simultaneously to do different types of work. Users can do it in two ways.

  1. Single users doing multiple tasks.
  2. Multiple users do multiple tasks which include editing files, and using browsing facilities at the same time.
  • Pattern Matching

Unix provides a special character support which is ‘*’ and by using this one can match the patterns.

  • Building-Block Approach

Unix uses a building block approach which means it uses a single small command for a specific job. When one needs multiple works then he can use pipe two or more commands. This helps to filter the data.

  • Documentation

Unix has strong documentation as it has manual pages that provide complete information. When one does not understand anything then he can get help from these pages.

  • File Handling

The handling of the files can be easy with the use of redirection and piping. The user redirects the input and output commands to create desired data pipelines.

Beginning of Linux

Linus Benedict Torvalds, while studying at the University of Helsinki in Finland in 1991 was 21 years old, and he was using Minix, a non-free operating system. At that moment, he became aware of the need for a free and open-source operating system that would forward the goals of GNU.

How Did Linux Come To Be?

  • Torvalds wrote code for such an operating system in 1991 that was independent but compatible with his new hardware.
  • Following the Unix design principle, Linus developed the source code of MINIX using the GNU C compiler.
  • He attempted to implement system calls on that operating system on 3 July 1991.
  • He tried to get the digital copy of the POSIX but failed to find the documentation. So, he had to work out with the system calls from SunOS documentation.
  • In that year he ported Bash and GCC.
  • It was free from any MINIX code and not portable

The Naming of Linux

Torvalds wanted to name this operating system Freax. In September 1991, Torvalds uploaded the source code files to develop the system. The administration of the server renamed the project and named it Linux without Torvald’s consent. Linux combines the initial name of Torvalds Linus and the operating system Unix.

Release Of Linux Under GPL

In September 1991, Torvalds published the first kernel but he restricted the source for commercial purposes. The first released version name was Linux 0.01. Torvalds stated that to run this kernel one needed a bash as it included a bash shell, compilers, and libraries. The tools were not in the distribution it was under the GNU copyleft.

In 1992, Torvalds decided to release the code under the GNU General Public License. In December 1992 he released a 0.99 version under the GPL. Both Linus and GNU developers tried to make it free software by combining the GNU components with Linux. Torvalds stated that Linux became famous when it supported the Graphical User Interface with the porting of X Windows system.

Official Mascot of Linux

The mascot of the Linux Operating system is a Penguinie which was named Tux which is the short form of ‘Torvalds Unix’. Larry Ewing designed the mascot in 1996 for the Linux kernel. It became very popular in a few days and it is now one of Linux’s popular icons. The penguin was chosen because it is a rare animal found in Antarctica like Linux which is a unique and powerful operating system.

Expansion of the Linux Operating System

At the beginning of the journey of Linux, there were around 100 developers but one year later the number multiplied and reached around 1000. As it was free software, it has undergone several modifications and developments which resulted in the release of multiple versions. Here I have shown the expansion of the Linux operating system:

  • First Linux Distribution

In 1992 Linux was licensed under the GNU GPL and the first Linux distribution was created.

  • Slackware and Debian Distribution

After combining with the GNU project, the number of applications increased, and the first distribution of Slackware was released in 1993. In the same year, another distribution Debian was also released which is now one of the biggest distributions.

  • RedHat Distribution:

After Linux version 1.0 was released in 1994, RedHat and SUSE distributions were also released.

  • Linux-based Supercomputer:

In 1996 Linux version 2.0 was released, and several companies like IBM, and Oracle supported Linux in 1998. The developers and programmerss developed the graphical interface KDE in Linux. David Bader invented the first Linux-based supercomputer. ARM port was merged with Linux.

  • IBM support:

In 1999, version 2.2 was released, and IBM supported Linux by announcing a project. This year developers released another graphical interface GNOME which was the replacement of KDE.

  • A different version of the kernel:

In 2001 and 2003 the Linux 2.4 and 2.6 version was released respectively. OpenSUSE started a free software distribution in 2005. In 2006, oracle released its distribution RHEL (RedHat Enterprise Linux). Ubuntu came as a pre-installed system on the Dell laptops in 2007. In 2011 Linux version 3.0 was released. Linux version 6.0 was released in 2023.

  • Android OS:

Google’s Linux-based Android Platform held around 75% of the smartphone market till 2013. In 2024, ubuntu claimed that it has then 20.00,000 users.

Key Features of the Linux Operating System

Torvalds and other developers wrote the Linux code following the Unix principle, it has many similar features to Unix. I have shown some of the different features of Linux below:

  • Free Software

It is free software that is available for all user and also provide open-source support that’s why developers and users can modify it as one’s preference. Some Unix versions are free otherwise it is very expensive.

  • Multiple Language

Linux supports multiple languages on the other hand Unix only supports English.

  • File System

Both operating systems support hierarchical file systems. But Linux supports more file systems than Unix.

Development of Linux

Linux is an open-source software that modified with time and released the modified versions. It is continuously evolving and expanding which shows the continuous development of the Linux kernel. I have shown some of the developments below:

  • As an open-source operating system, it developed many new features like supporting Windows Subsystem Linux. It also improves the version of Kubernetes. For managing the applications it develops technologies the Docker and Kubernetes.
  • The continuous development of the Linux distribution provides new Ubuntu versions. Recently, the 23.04 LTS Ubuntu version has been released. It has newer features and modules but it is not stable like 22.04 LTS because it lasts for nine months.
  • The programmers have made a Linux community support who use Linux and gave their suggestions to the maintainer. It helps the maintainer to improve the efficiency of Linux. The distributors of the project are Debian, Fedora, and OpenSUSE.
  • Developers have developed Linux kernel with time and the recently released Linux kernel version 6.5 adds some new features. This kernel supports Intel TPMI, provides runnable boosting features, and boosts the Btrfs file system.

Current Situation of Linux

The uses of Linux are increasing day by day because of its growth in cloud computing and flexibility. Below I have shown some statistics:

  • Linux has around 600 distributions.
  • Around 80% of web servers are using Linux.
  • The Linux market share of this operating system is $3.89 billion.
  • Approximately 85% of smartphones run on Linux.
  • Nowadays users use Linux in embedded systems, mobile devices supercomputers, and servers.

Linux Distributions

Linux distribution refers to the set of software that comes with the Linux operating system, such as the package management system and Linux kernel. The short form of Linux distribution is distro. Various Linux distributions are accessible. I’ve included some well-known Linux distributions below:

  • Debian
  • Ubuntu
  • Linux Mint
  • Fedora
  • CentOS
  • RedHat
  • OpenSUSE
  • Arch Linux


This article mainly shows the events that took place in the creation and development of the Linux operating system, the key features, and some popular Linux distributions. I hope the beginner will understand the connection between Unix, and MINIX from the background and why it is a Unix-like operating system.

People Also Ask

What year was the first release of the Linux operating system?

The first version of the Linux operating system was released on 17 September 1991 by Linus Torvalds. The first release kernel is known as Linux 0.01.

Despite having a monolithic Kernel, Why is it still relevant?

As you know Linux is open source and provides strong community support, so the user can modify the source code and it has improved day by day. It also provides strong community support. Again, for using a monolithic kernel it should be unstable. But because of the structured and strong kernel code of Linus, it shows greater stability.

Why did the Gnu project not succeed?

Despite having a free and open-source operating system, the GNU project failed to attract others. I believe its underdeveloped kernel is the primary reason for this. Whereas Torvalds wrote the Linux OS kernel code very well that the users now use widely. However, Developers install the GNU modules and utilities on many famous operating systems.

Why free software was important?

If the software is proprietary then it will be very expensive for the user. The developers and programmers restrict the source code to copyright licensing. It will take a huge for licensing to edit the source code. For that reason, free software is important.

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Afia Zahin Oishi

Assalamualaikum, I am Afia Zahin, completed my graduation in Biomedical Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, currently working as a Linux Content Developer Executive at SOFTEKO. A high achieving professional with a strong work ethic and able to work in a team in order to consistently achieve my goal and build my skillset. Able to handle difficult problems with patience and swift decision-making. Read Full Bio

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