Brief History Of Linux (Part 1)

Feature written by James Baughn on Tuesday, January 11, 2000

from the not-just-another-new-year's-retrospective dept.

January 5th marked an important date in the history of Linux, and nobody noticed. Nine years ago Linus Torvalds acquired his first x86 computer and soon started hacking on what was to become Linux. Unfortunately, this milestone in the history of computing has been largely forgotten. We here at Humorix would like to rectify this situation by presenting a multi-part condensed history of Linux and computing -- from prehistoric times to the modern age.

Re-Inventing the Wheel

Our journey through the history of Linux begins ca. 28000 B.C. when a large all-powerful company called MoogaSoft monopolized the wheel-making industry. As founder of the company, Billga Googagates (rumored to be the distant ancestor of contemporary monopolist Bill Gates) was the wealthiest man in the known world, owning several large rock huts, an extravagant collection of artwork (cave paintings), and a whole army of servants and soldiers.

MoogaSoft's unfair business practices were irritating, but users were unable to do anything about them, lest they be clubbed to death by MoogaSoft's army. Nevertheless, one small group of hobbyists finally got fed up and starting hacking their own wheels out of solid rock. Their spirit of cooperation led to better and better wheels that eventually outperformed MoogaSoft offerings.

MoogaSoft tried desperately to stop the hobbyists -- as shown by the Ooga! Document -- but failed. Ironically, Billga Googagates was killed shortly afterwards when one his own 900-pound wheels crushed him.

Hammurabi's Open-Source Code

Nothing of any significance occured until ca. 1750 B.C., when Hammurabi became king of Babylonia. Under his reign, a sophisticated legal code developed; Version 1, containing 282 clauses, was carved into a large rock column open to the public. However, the code contained several errors (Hammurabi must have been drunk), which numerous citizens demanded be fixed.

One particularly brave Babylonian submitted to the king's court a stack of cloth patches that, when affixed to the column, would cover up and correct the errors. With the king's approval, these patches were applied to the legal code; within a month a new corrected rock column (Version 2.0) was officially announced. While future kings never embraced this idea (who wanted to admit they made a mistake?), the concept of submitting patches to fix problems is now taken for granted in modern times.

Lawyers Unite

Humanity faced a tremendous setback ca. 1100 A.D., when the first law school was established in Bologna. Ironically, the free exchange of ideas at the law school spurred the law students to invent new ways (patents, trademarks, copyrights) to stifle the free exchange of ideas in other industries.

If, at some point in the future, you happen upon a time machine, we here at Humorix (and, indeed, the whole world) implore you to travel back to 1100, track down a law teacher called Irnerius, and prevent him from founding his school using whatever means necessary. Your contribution to humanity will truly make the world (in an alternate timeline) a better place.

Walls & Windows

Most people don't realize that many of the technological innovations taken for granted in the 20th Century date back centuries ago. The concept of a network "firewall", for instance, is a product of the Great Wall of China, a crude attempt to keep raging forest fires out of Chinese territory. It was soon discovered that the Wall also kept Asian intruders ("steppe kiddies") out, just as modern-day firewalls keep network intruders ("script kiddies") out.

Meanwhile, modern terminology for graphical user interfaces originated from Pre-Columbian peoples in Central and South America. These natives would drag-and-drop icons (sculptures of the gods) into vast pits of certain gooey substances during a ritual in which "mice" (musical instruments that made a strange clicking sound) were played to an eerie beat.

English Flame War

The idea behind Slashdot-style discussions is not new either; it dates back to London in 1699. A newspaper that regularly printed Letters To The Editor sparked a heated debate over the question, "When would the 18th Century actually begin, 1700 or 1701?" The controversy quickly became a matter of pride; learned aristocrats argued for the correct date, 1701, while others maintained that it was really 1700. Another sizable third of participants asked, "Who cares?"

Ordinarily such a trivial matter would have died down, except that one 1700er, fed up with the snobbest 1701 rhetoric of the educated class, tracked down one letter-writer and hurled a flaming log into his manor house in spite. The resulting fire was quickly doused, but the practice known as the "flame war" had been born. More flames were exchanged between other 1700ers and 1701ers for several days, until the Monarch sent out royal troops to end the flamage.

California Goldrush

Now we skip ahead to California in 1849, when the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill set the stage for countless prospectors (Fortyniners) to travel West in the hopes to get-rich-quick by finding gold in them thar hills.

What's the connection with Linux, you ask? Well, the same thing happened exactly 150 years later, in 1999. The discovery of Venture Capital at Red Hat set the stage for countless investors (Ninetyniners) to travel West in the hopes to get-rich-quick by finding hot IPOs in them thar Linux companies.

The Rise of Geeks

The late 19th Century saw the rise and fall of "geeks", wild carnival performers who bit the heads off live chickens. This vocal minority, outcast from mainstream society, clamored for respect, but failed. Their de facto spokesman, Tom Splatz (distant relation to Humorix's Jon Splatz), tried to expose America to their plight in his 312-page book, "Geeks".

In the book Splatz documented the life of two Idahoan geeks with no social life as they made a meager living traveling the Pacific Northwest in circuses. While Splatz's masterpiece was a commercial failure, the book did set a world record for using the term "geek" a total of 6,143 times.

With that, we now come to the dawn of the 20th Century. Part 2 of this brief history will chronicle the development of computers and the invention of Unix -- two key components necessary for a certain Finnish student to create his own operating system and achieve world domination.

To be continued...

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