Celebrating 20 Years of Linux [Infographic]

An infographic celebrates Linux’s 20th anniversary by taking a look at how it’s grown since 1991 to today.

In 1991, a Finnish computer science student by the name of Linux Torvalds wanted to use Unix on his PC without paying outrageous license fees. So he did what any enterprising geek would do: he wrote his own. He announced his kernel, or the main part of the OS, to Usenet in August of that year.


Some clever users married the kernel, dubbed “Linux,” to the free (“as in speech, not as in beer”) tools developed by the GNU (“GNU’s Not Unix”) project spearheaded by Richard Stallman, to create distributions (or “distros”) and soon developers around the world were trading code back and forth across the world, thanks to licenses that allowed people to modify and share the code, instead of locking it up like Microsoft did.

In 1992, shortly after Linux actually launched, there were about 100 developers collaborating on Linux. In 2010, that number grew to about 1000 active contributors. (The number of one-off contributions may be higher. And since Linux is open source, the number of people who have actually looked at the code is no doubt very high.)

With the the boom in the popularity of Linux came the rise of the first Internet bubble. Startups could buy some cheap PCs to use as servers and get the operating system for free, which was just like the Unix the programmers had cut their teeth on in college.

To this day, lots of Web-based startups run on the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python/any other language that starts with “P”) stack.

The growth in usage has led to a growth in the size of the kernel as well. In 1995, Linux had 250,000 lines of code. In 2010, that number had grown to 14 million. A lot of this comes from programmers writing drivers in order to support hardware that the kernel didn’t support previously.

The technology market has changed outside of the Linux world as well, as the infographic shows. In 1997, there were 100 million cell phones sold worldwide. In 2010, there were over 4.6 billion sold.

Another big jump was in Internet users, which Linux no doubt helped, going from 16 million in 1995 to 1.6 billion and growing in 2010.

In 2011, it seems that Linux is everywhere. As mentioned before, lots of big Web companies run it, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter. It also powers Android-based phones.

The only place Linux doesn’t rule is the desktop. One reason is that Windows is so entrenched in the business market, and people just seem reluctant to switch. Another reason is that in the past, Linux distributions had a reputation of being geek-friendly and bewildering to almost everyone else, something which Ubuntu is trying to remedy. Another is simply legal. Microsoft has claimed it owns various patents related to Linux in an apparent attempt to scare off business customers considering it, which critics point to as an example of the company’s FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) tactics. SCO, claiming they had the rights to Unix, tried to sue some companies who used Linux only to have the courts declare that SCO didn’t have the actual rights to Unix.

Linux has come a long way, and seems to have only good things in its future. If you want to celebrate, why not give Linux a spin if you haven’t already, by running Ubuntu inside of Windows or a “live” distro from a USB stick?