Twenty-six years ago this month, a geeky student in Finland released the Linux kernel to the world. Today, hundreds of millions of people are using Linux. Why? That’s a question I try to answer in my new book For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution.
Sure, you can explain Linux’s popularity today in terms of factors that exist in the present — its technical features, the dynamism of the open source community, the corporate backing that Linux enjoys today, and so on.
But, to understand what really launched Linux into the position it enjoys today, however, you need to know the history of Linux — as well as the history of the larger free and open source software universe.
You have to look at some big questions about Linux’s past, such as:
- Why did Linux beat out much bigger and better-funded kernels, like GNUs and BSDs, to become probably the most important open source software project in history?
- Why did Linus Torvalds, the student who created Linux, decide to give his code away for free?
- Why did Linux programmers succeed in producing a feature-rich kernel so quickly, while so many other free software projects in the early 1990s struggled to get a working kernel up and running?
For Fun and Profit
I explore these questions and more in the book, which was published this month by MIT Press. This book isn’t about just Linux, though. It’s about the history of free and open source software writ large. However, explaining the what, why, and how of the Linux kernel’s history is a major focus of the book. The book tells the story of how Linux came to be what it is today. It not only explains the major events and personalities that shaped the kernel, but also considers why Linux followed the specific historical path that led to today — a path that no one could have foreseen back when Torvalds announced Linux on the Minix Usenet group in August 1991.