Twenty-five years ago this month, Linus Torvalds posted a message to the comp.os.minix newsgroup asking for ideas for a new project he’d been working on. The project — “just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu” — was an operating system. At the time, it was unnamed, but, as I’m sure you all know, over the next quarter of a century, Linux popularized a new way of thinking about software development and became the seed that allowed thousands of businesses to flourish.
If you’re reading this article, your business’ infrastructure probably runs on Linux. In 2016, it seems natural that there should be a free operating system to power our servers (and much else besides). Back in 1991, the idea would have been considered laughable. Unix was the domain of companies like Sun and IBM, and a Unix license came with a huge price tag plus an expensive support contract.
ServerMania was founded in 2002, eleven years after the first Linux release. Just as today, most of our hosting plans were built around Linux, and it’s fair to say that it’s unlikely ServerMania would exist in its current form if it weren’t for Linux.
Richard Stallman — the free software pioneer and founder of GNU — had been working to create a free operating system since the early eighties. But, although the work of the GNU developers is a marvel in itself, there was a missing piece. The project’s Hurd kernel had started development a year before Linux was announced, but with the release of Linux, which used the GNU compiler and tools like Bash, efforts became focused on building a fully functional operating system around it.
The first Linux distributions — Softlanding Linux System and Yggdrasil Linux, among others — were released the following year. In 1993, Debian and Slackware, both of which are still with us, were created. Red Hat appeared a couple of years later, and the rest is history.
ServerMania’s story is one of tens of thousands that would have been completely different but for Linux, Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman, and the thousands of developers and companies who contribute to the free software community. This is one of those rare occasions where the phrase “changed the world” is something of an understatement.
The inexpensive web hosting, server hosting, and cloud infrastructure hosting that allows anyone with an idea to connect with the world isn’t a natural consequence of the software and infrastructure industry that existed in the late 80s — it took a new idea of how to create software and the technical ability to write the code to make that happen. From that kernel, a thousand projects grew, including Apache, MySQL, PHP, and WordPress, to name just one popular combination.
So, Happy Birthday Linux! Here’s to another quarter-century of innovation.