Most prospective fathers have big hopes, but, when Linus Torvalds, then a student at the University of Helsinki, uploaded the first version of Linux to an FTP server and sent the now famous announcement of its birth, he can’t in his wildest dreams have imagined how ubiquitous and necessary to the life of the Internet his creation would become.
Linux recently celebrated its 22nd birthday. Back when Linux was first created, the Internet itself was well established, but the World Wide Web, the Internet’s killer app, barely existed. Torvald’s announcement of Linux was posted on August 26th, 1991. Tim Berners-Lee first uploaded his public summary of the WWW project just three weeks before, and the first publicly available service on the web didn’t go live until August 23rd of that year.
Back in those early days, most web sites were hosted on servers running proprietary Unixes, but it didn’t take long before web hosting companies came to see the advantage of using Linux on their servers. It’s fair to say that the growth of the web and the growth of Linux are mutually intertwined. The web would not be what it is today without Linux, and Linux could not have developed in the way that it did without the web.
In 2013, it’s fair to say that anyone living in technologically advanced nation and many who don’t will have some interaction with Linux on a daily basis, although though they may not realize it. Linux is ubiquitous, powering everything from smartphones and set-top boxes to the most powerful super computers. Everywhere we use computers, Linux is likely to found, from the most prosaic of earthbound applications to the International Space Station.
For a while, it looked like every year would be the year of the Linux desktop, but that’s one market that the operating system failed to persuasively conquer. However, because of the advent of cloud computing, where more and more our personal computers are becoming thin clients for software running in data centers, the meaning of desktop computing is changing. Linux may never take the place of Microsoft Windows or OS X (although never say never), but that may not matter. Linux is at the heart of almost every web service, application, and site. To use the web is to use Linux, and as we offload more and more of our computing, communication, and data storage requirements to the cloud, Linux becomes the de facto king of the desktop.
No doubt Linux will be with us for a long time, but around its birthday it seems appropriate to take a moment to think about how we’ve all benefited, and send some thanks to Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman, and the many thousands of others who have made our favorite operating system what it is today.