When did you first use Linux?

At the recent Linux Foundation Summit in San Francisco, several people were asked when they started with Linux, which lead me to the same question. First, though, I watched the Linux Foundation's video of their answers. Boy, do I feel old now.

Most of them have been using Linux for about a decade and they were introduced to it in--moan!--high school. I started using Linux in 1993, but I don't consider myself an early Linux user.

Linux got its start in 1991 with Linus Torvalds' famous Usenet message announcing that he was working on "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 (torvalds@kruuna.helsinki.fi) PS. Yes - it's free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that's all I have :-(."

It got a wee bit bigger than Torvalds thought it would. By 1993, when I came on board, Linux was already gathering steam. I'd heard about Linux from Usenet, but I didn't compile it from source code. Instead, I start playing with Linux with Slackware, one of the very first Linux distributions.

Believe it or not, I wasn't an early Linux fan. At the time, I was much more interested in the SVR4 (System V Release 4) and SVR4.2 Unix operating systems like Interactive Unix, Dell Unix (Yes, Dell once had its own house-brand of Unix), SCO Desktop, and NeXTStep.

By 1995, though, I was giving up on the x86 Unixes. I saw the x86 Unix vendors were going to follow their mini-computer brothers into irrelevance by refusing to co-operate with each other on open standards. They couldn't get it through their heads that by making it impossible for ISVs (independent software vendors) to write programs that would run on more than one specific Unix brand, they were killing themselves off.

So it was that I started taking a longer look at Linux. Throughout this period I was, and I still am, watching the BSD Unixes, like FreeBSD and NetBSD. The BSD Unixes, while embracing open source and open standards, have never learned how to work and play well with each other. Technically, the BSDs are great. But, they've never been united enough to gain a major share of the operating system world.

It quickly became clear to me that Linux was not only maturing as an operating system but, unlike the SVRx Unixes and the BSDs, the Linux businesses, like Red Hat, Caldera, and SuSE, could embrace openness and get along. That last part was vital.

Technologies can be great for their own sakes, but without strong business support, they're destined for history's scrap-heap. Linux, which was blessed with a strong leader, Linus Torvalds, and companies, which realized that they had far more to gain by co-operating with each other than by trying to destroy each other, was on its way to being the operating system power that it is today.

So, that's the story of how I first came to find Linux and become convinced that Linux was destined to be an important operating system. What's your story?

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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