The Real Story Behind GNU/Linux

If the prospect of another week stretching out before you is getting you down, I've got good news. There's a post about GNU/Linux that is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. It's a real stonker - try this for a start:

Linux was created by* IBM (IBM), HP (HP) and other former IT systems monopolists that realized that Microsoft was taking their systems monopoly away from them. IBM, HP, Digital Equipment (now part of HP), etc. had banded together for this purpose in the early 1980s while Linus Torvalds, the nominal creator of Linux and who now works for one of the groups IBM, HP, etc. put together for its trust-like purposes, was still in short pants. Ten years later, the consortium chose a small piece of software code, "forked" by Linus from some other code while he was in college, to complement the still ongoing technical development effort by IBM, HP, etc. to come up with "one Unix." What is today called Linux is the result of that one-Unix effort.

There: don't you feel the healing power of uncontrollable mirth bubbling up within you?

Interestingly, the piece starts off well before going completely downhill. Its title - “A Great Holy Forum Did Not "Create" Linux to Compete with "Microsoft's Near Monopoloy" – is indeed true, but not for the reasons the author seems to believe.

For the creation of GNU/Linux – not “Linux”, the use of which often leads, as here, to all kinds of confusion – dates back to a decision by Richard Stallman in September 1983 to come up with his own operating system that would be doubly free. He certainly didn't conceive of it to “compete” with “Microsoft's Near Monopoly”, since nothing of the kind existed: MS-DOS was only a few years old, and was not regarded as a “proper” operating system by real computer scientists.

As Stallman told me in 1999, one of the reason he chose Unix as his model fro GNU was its portability:

Unix was, at least as far as I knew, the only portable system that really had users on different kinds of computers. So it was portable not just in theory but in actual practice. I wanted to be sure of making a portable system so that it wouldn't become useless if another - if I'd made a non-portable system for one particular kind of computer, there was always the danger that that kind of computer would be discontinued, or just might not be very popular, and it would make the work be wasted. So I choose to make a portable system.

Another reason was that he wanted to build on the Unix knowledge already out there:

I decided to make the system compatible with Unix so people who had already written programs for Unix would be able to run them on this system, and people who knew how to use Unix would know how to use this system without being required to learn something new.

So, far from being a “banding together” by manufacturers like IBM, HP and DEC to come up with an answer to the Microsoft threat (which was non-existent at that time), GNU was conceived as completely hardware-independent.

Now let's consider where “the nominal creator of Linux”, as the post puts it, fits in with all this.

According to the post questioning GNU/Linux's origins, the Linux kernel was "forked" by Linus from some other code while he was in college.” Although the post doesn't say so, presumably that “other code” was Minix, another Unix-like operating, which had been created by Andrew Tanenbaum for teaching purposes. But Linux was never forked from Minix. Linux actually began life as a very simple newsreader that grew out of some very basic code. Here's what Linus told me in 1996:

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