How Linux Became The Secret Operating System That Runs The Entire World

Ethan
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 LINUX

Do you know what the most popular operating system in the world is? The most common guesses would probably be Android or Windows and it’s not surprising why. These are the operating systems that we’re all familiar with. 

Windows has a total of 1.4 billion users while Android has a total of 3.6 billion users. But what if I told you that there was an operating system that was even more popular, one that virtually everyone connected to the tech world has to use: Linux

Hold on, wait a minute, it isn’t Linux, the open source software that only the super nerds use. Well, yes and no. If you look at the number of people who are directly running Linux, the number is indeed pretty low, just 32.8 million people. But, if you look at the number of people who are indirectly using Linux, it’s virtually everyone. 

number of people who are indirectly using Linux,


Here’s the thing, Android itself is based on Linux, so straight off the bat, we’re looking at 3.6 billion Linux users but that’s just from the consumer side of things. On the enterprise side of things, Linux is basically ubiquitous. In fact, 96.3% of the top one million web servers in the world use Linux, over 90% of the Fortune 500 relies on an enterprise version of Linux called Red Hat, and even Microsoft internally uses Linux instead of Windows. 

Microsoft internally uses Linux instead of Windows.


So, the true user count of Linux is likely around 5.3 billion people, or basically everyone who has access to the internet. But what’s so great about Linux in the first place? What can Linux accomplish that Windows or Mac can’t? Also, who exactly controls Linux because they essentially have influence over every single internet user in the entire world, not to mention, all of the world’s servers. 

Well, join me as we take a look at the man behind Linux and how Linux become the overlooked OS that runs the entire world. 



THE BIRTH OF LINUX 

Taking a look back, the story of Linux dates The Birth Of Linux back to a Finnish man named Linus Benedict Torvalds. Linus was born on December 28, 1969 to two journalists named Anna and Nils. It seems that his parents had pretty ambitious dreams for Linus from day one as his name itself was from a Nobel Prize winning chemist named Linus Pauling. 

But other than the name, nothing about Linus’ childhood was particularly noteworthy. He was just your average Finnish kid growing up just as the Cold War was starting to settle down. At age 11, Linus would get access to a computer: the Commodore VIC-20 and this sparked an interest in coding, but really, it wasn’t until college that he really built on this interest. 

 

THE BIRTH OF LINUX

He would attend the University of Helsinki where he majored in Computer Science and this is where Linux would come to life. Linus was by no means trying to create the next big thing or take on Windows or anything like that. All he was trying to do was use his new 80386 processor to its full potential without having to deal with the limitations of existing operating systems. 

This might sound insane. Writing your own barebones OS just to use a piece of hardware, but this was actually really common amongst computer geeks back in the day. In fact, it was so common that Linus would reach out to other programmers for help and feedback. 

He would start his message with “Hello everybody out there using minix - I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu).” Clearly, Linus didn’t know what was in the cards for Linux In fact, the first Linux kernel, which came out in 1991, wasn’t open source and Linus actually restricted commercial use. It wasn’t until one of his friends convinced him that making it open source could help Linus refine the code that Linus would make the jump in 1992. 

LINUX


Looking back, Linus says that this was one of his best decisions. Making it open source immediately boosted the popularity of Linux but there was still a long way to go until commercial adoption. In the meantime, Linus would simply continue his career as a software engineer. 

He would move to the US and take on a job at Transmeta corporation. In the meantime, we would start seeing some of the first adopters of Linux and one of the first major adopters was none other than NASA. For NASA, the choice to go with Linux was a practical one. With the Cold War coming to a close, NASA’s funding would fall off a cliff making it increasingly difficult for them to maintain their cluster of supercomputers. 

So, in mid 1990s, they would decide to just ditch the super computers and replace them with mainstream computers running the free Linux. This very much puts Linux on the map and would attract the attention of three computer juggernauts: IBM, Dell, and HP. Like NASA, though, this trio wasn’t exactly interested in Linux per se. Rather, they were just fed up with Windows’ monopoly and wanted to stick it to Microsoft by supporting a free open source alternative. 

But whatever the reason, these three stepping in gave way to the commercialization of Linux. And it didn’t take long for Linux to transition from being a pragmatic solution to being a desired solution. 



THE COMMERCIALIZATION OF LINUX

You’re probably wondering: what even makes The Commercialization Of Linux Linux so desirable in the first place and the answer to that actually goes back to the foundation of Linux. Linux is based on Unix which is widely regarded as the gold standard when it comes to programming and managing technical systems. 

Usually, something like Unix wouldn’t even be an advantage as everyone would be using it but in this case, there’s a notable exception: Windows. For some reason, Windows decided to create their own kernel, the Windows NT Kernal. 

Different Operating Systems


Windows NT has become far better over the years, but the general consensus is still that Unix is superior. If you’re a fan of the stability and security offered by MacOS and iOS, a lot of that is thanks to them being based on Unix. But while Apple has some great Unix offerings for consumers, Apple’s offerings hold no weight within the world of enterprise software because, as we all know, they have one major shortfall: no customization. 

Linux, on the other hand, is infinitely customizable which makes it especially useful when configuring servers. Regardless of what hardware you’re working with, Linux makes it easy to get the best performance out of it as it can be customized to your specific needs. But not only is Linux flexible, it’s also extremely secure thanks to its open source nature. With something like Windows or MacOS, the entire burden of security falls on Microsoft and Apple and all of their engineers. 

Fortunately, these are some of the best engineers in the world but that’s still nothing in comparison to Linux. Given that Linux is opensource, the entire software engineering world is able to scrutinize the codebase. Also, this isn’t just a 1 or 2 week thing. 

Linux has been under the microscope for decades, making it arguably the safest OS in the world. For companies that are dealing with the private data of tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of people, security is of utmost importance. Speaking of hundreds of millions of users, Linux is also quite desirable when it comes to scale. 

Given its customizability, Linux can be configured to leverage thousands of machines in unison, allowing tech companies to serve the extraordinary amount of traffic that their websites and apps receive. 

So, as you can see, Linux is by far the best choice for companies in terms of customizability, security, and scalability. So, most companies would likely choose Linux regardless of price but the price just makes Linux a no brainer. 

Now, I do want to note that the Linux that corporations use is not free. It’s far from being free. The likely most popular enterprise version of Linux is from Red Hat, which charges anywhere between $180 and $2,500. But this is still far cheaper than offerings from Oracle or Microsoft. Microsoft, for example, charges anywhere between $500 and $6,000 for their server software. 

The reason is simple. With Microsoft, enterprise customers are having to pay for software and support. With Red Hat, customers are only having to pay for support because the software is basically free. Also, if you’re wondering who owns Red Hat, it’s IBM who bought them a couple of years ago for $34 billion. 

But anyway, given that Linux was not only the superior solution but also the cheaper solution, Linux adoption would begin to skyrocket in the early 2000s. 



LEGACY OF LINUX

With Linux rapidly growing in popularity, The Legacy Of Linux Linus would finally start to see some monetary return for his work even though it was open source. In 1999 for example, RedHat and VA Linux, two of the leading Linux-based enterprise solution providers, would give Linus stock in their companies. If these companies went public, Linus would end up with a net worth of $20 million. 

But, despite tasting some financial success, Linus never really changed his perspective regarding open source software. Linus strongly believes that open source is the only right way to do software, though he’s not a stickler for open source. 

He’s not one of those people who support an open source piece of software just because it’s open source. Rather, he prefers to use the best solution on the market. His goal is simply to draw more attention towards open source solutions so that they are the best solutions on the market. This brings us into the Linux Foundation. 

In 2003, Linus would join a non-profit organization called the Open Source Development Labs. As the name suggests, these guys are focused on sponsoring and supporting open source initiatives. 4 years after Linus joined, this non-profit would merge with another similar non-profit called the Free Standards Group and together they would become the Linux Foundation. 

The foundation of course accepts donations but their main source of funding is companies or as they like to call it members. Essentially, the foundation has convinced all of the biggest companies in the world to pay them an annual membership fee in order keep improving and refining Linux. 

Memberships cost as much as $500,000 per year and given that they have over a thousand members, this adds up to quite a bit of money. In fact, the foundation pulls in nearly $200 million per year in revenue, which is enough to support a couple hundred full-time employees. 

LEGACY OF LINUX


To this day, Linus is still the leader of the foundation and is still very much involved in Linux, but with that being said, Linux has grown to be much larger than any one person. Today, there are dozens of different Linux distros like Ubuntu, Debian, and Fedora, hundreds of different versions, thousands of different plugins and drivers, millions of direct users, and billions of indirect users.

 And all of this brings us back to the original question: is it safe for Linux to have so much power and influence? Well yes, because Linux isn’t really a singular person or entity. Unlike other opensource projects like Android which is basically just controlled by Google, Linux is truly a community and not a small one either. 

We’re talking about a community that virtually encompasses the entire tech world, from companies to developers to cloud architects to database administrators to basically any other tech role that you can think of. 

The beauty of Linux is that it’s not subject to the greed or mismanagement or ignorance or incompetence of any one person or company. The only way that major Linux distros work is if the majority are on board. And as for the people who aren’t on board, the best part is that they can further customize Linux to their own liking without harming or jeopardizing the majority. 

This apparent perfect harmony is why so many people swear by Linux and despise software from monopolistic corporations like Microsoft. So, I guess it’s a good thing that while Linux doesn’t get the mainstream attention or credit that it deserves, it’s still the background OS that runs the world.


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