This month in tech history: August - Linux created

25th August 1991 – “I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big…)”

Tech mascots haven’t always been popular (think Microsoft’s Clippy), but I confess I have a soft spot for Tux – Linux’s mascot. Granted, this is more to do with the fact that he’s a cute little penguin than anything else, but, since Linux turns 25 this month, I decided it was a good opportunity to look back at where and how it started, how far it’s come… and why a penguin?


So what is Linux? (If you’re not sure how to pronounce it, you can hear the master here.)

According to the Linux Kernal Archives, “Linux is a clone of the operating system Unix, written from scratch by Linus Torvalds with assistance from a loosely-knit team of hackers across the Net. It aims towards POSIX and Single UNIX Specification compliance.”

The focal point of any operating system is its ‘kernel’. linux.org likens the kernel to the spaghetti in Spaghetti Bolognese, where the Spaghetti Bolognese is the operating system. Personally I prefer a pizza analogy (the kernel is the pizza dough, and the operating system is the finished pizza) but the point is the same - without a kernel, an operating system doesn't exist; without programs, a kernel is useless.

There’s a number of stories as to the reason that Finnish-American software engineer, Torvalds felt the need to create the Linux kernel in the place, but all are based on frustrations with MINIX. After asking the newsgroup comp.os.minix if there was anything they'd like to see most in MINIX, Torvalds announced that he was developing his own Unix-based operating system that would allow for improvements based on users’ comments and suggestions.

The Linux kernel was created by Torvalds in 1991, specifically for the hardware he was using and independent of an operating system, and developed on MINIX using the GNU C compiler. The GNU C Compiler continues to be the main choice for compiling Linux today, although the code can be built with other compilers. On 25 August 1991, Torvalds (at age 21) made an announcement in a Usenet posting to the newsgroup “comp.os.minix.”:

Hello everybody out there using minix -
I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I'd like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).
I've currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work. This implies that I'll get something practical within a few months, and I'd like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won't promise I'll implement them :-)
Linus (t****@kruuna.helsinki.fi)
PS. Yes - it's free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. It is NOT portable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that's all I have :-(.

Torvalds had wanted to call his kernal “Freax”, (think “free”, “freak”, and “x” (for Unix)). He considered the name “Linux”, but according to his book, Just for Fun, dismissed it as too egotistical. “Linux” was adopted after Ari Lemmke, Torvalds’ coworker at the Helsinki University of Technology (HUT) named the project “Linux” when uploading the files to the FTP server (ftp.funet.fi) in September 1991.


Who’s Tux?

Tux was ‘born’ in 1996, the result of a competition to find an appropriate logo for Linux. (Actually, Tux apparently wasn’t the winner, but has been almost universally adopted regardless. However, this is why he is referred to as Linux’s mascot, rather than logo.)

After several suggestions, including penguins in different poses, with one attempting to hold up the world, Torvalds stepped in.

Somebody had a logo competition announcement, maybe people can send their ideas to a web-site..
Anyway, this one looks like the poor penguin is not really strong enough to hold up the world, and it's going to get squashed. Not a good, positive logo, in that respect.. Now, when you think about penguins, first take a deep calming breath, and then think "cuddly". Take another breath, and think "cute". Go back to "cuddly" for a while (and go on breathing), then think "contented".
With me so far? Good..
Now, with penguins, (cuddly such), "contented" means it has either just gotten laid, or it's stuffed on herring. Take it from me, I'm an expert on penguins, those are really the only two options.
Now, working on that angle, we don't really want to be associated with a randy penguin (well, we do, but it's not politic, so we won't), so we should be looking at the "stuffed to its brim with herring" angle here.
So when you think "penguin", you should be imagining a slighly overweight penguin (*), sitting down after having gorged itself, and having just burped. It's sitting there with a beatific smile - the world is a good place to be when you have just eaten a few gallons of raw fish and you can feel another "burp" coming.
(*) Not FAT, but you should be able to see that it's sitting down because it's really too stuffed to stand up. Think "bean bag" here.
Now, if you have problems associating yourself with something that gets off by eating raw fish, think "chocolate" or something, but you get the idea.
Ok, so we should be thinking of a lovable, cuddly, stuffed penguin sitting down after having gorged itself on herring. Still with me?
NOW comes the hard part. With this image firmly etched on your eyeballs, you then scetch a stylizied version of it. Not a lot of detail - just a black brush-type outline (you know the effect you get with a brush where the thickness of the line varies). THAT requires talent. Give people the outline, and they should say [ sickly sweet voice, babytalk almost ]"Ooh, what a cuddly penguin, I bet he is just _stuffed_ with herring", and small children will jump up and down and scream "mommy mommy, can I have one too?".
Then we can do a larger version with some more detail (maybe leaning against a globe of the world, but I don't think we really want to give any "macho penguin" image here about Atlas or anything). That more detailed version can spank billy-boy to tears for all I care, or play ice-hockey with the FreeBSD demon. But the simple, single penguin would be the logo, and the others would just be that cuddly penguin being used as an actor in some tableau.


Tux was created by Larry Ewing using GIMP. He released it under the following condition:

Permission to use and/or modify this image is granted provided you acknowledge me lewing@isc.tamu.edu and The GIMP if someone asks.

 The first person to name him “Tux” was James Hughes, explaining that it stood for “(T)orvalds (U)ni(X)”. (Of course it helps that tux is short for tuxedo, which let’s face it, is what penguins look like they’re wearing.)

Tux is as popular in the Linux community as Mario in the Nintendo community. He appears in Linux-based versions other mainstream games, such as Tux RacerSuperTux, and SuperTuxKart.

This year, Tux became the basis of a new toy distributed by October Toys, called a Gwin. “Gwins spend most of their time eating, sleeping, and hoarding treasure.” There are currently three series of Gwims with limited edition designs created by different artists, six specials, and blank (black, white or clear, and mega or mini) Gwims available for artists to paint and customise as a one-off art piece.


Why a penguin? Linus likes them.


The march of a penguin

by-mmlabeeb-own-work-gfdl-2True to Torvalds’ original intention, Linux continues to be available under the model of free and open-source software development and distribution. While it was originally based on the Intel x86 architecture, it has since been ported to more computer hardware platforms than any other OS. Most of the work on Linux is performed by the community, though various companies have also contributed to the development of the kernels, as well as the auxiliary software that is distributed with Linux. According to the Linux Foundation in February 2015, over 80% of Linux kernel developers are paid [gated].


According to NetMarketShare statistics, as of June 2016, the estimated market share of Linux on desktops is around 2.02% (Microsoft Windows has 89.79%, while Mac OS covers around 8.19%). Stats from W3Cook show the market share of operating systems used by web servers this month as 96.08% running Linux (or flavours of) and 1.78% running Windows. Android (based on the Linux kernel) is now the dominant smartphone OS. The first major film produced on Linux servers was Titanic in 1997, as well as Star Trek Nemesis in 2003. According to the Linux Movies Group, Linux is the most popular OS for studio animation and visual effects, and is used by the likes of Disney, DreamWorks Animation, and Sony.


For Torvalds’ own history of Linux, click here.

To print your own template to make your very own Tux, click here.

To check out ‘SuperTux’ (the game), click here.


Also read:

This month in tech history: July – Donkey Kong (and Mario’s) birthday

The difference between ‘open’ and ‘open source’

Port to (Data) Port: What Linux containers can learn from shipping containers

Microsoft’s big Linux switch shows Nadella’s openness strategy

LinuxCon Dublin: Anniversaries & algorithms vs. humans

Will Ubuntu's Linux Tablet Shake Up the Market?

FOSS Guru maddog Sees World of Opportunity in Tech Freedom



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Kate Hoy

Kate Hoy is Editor of IDG Connect

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