Thursday, September 06, 2012

How time flies: Linux turns 21

I read this on a dumb terminal '92. It is Linus's post on comp.os.minix inviting other users to suggest features for an OS he was writing. I found it as I was trying to figure out how to solve a problem on Linux. I was trying Linux out a 4MB (RAM) PC but it needed  (RAM) PC but it needed 8 or 16 MB to run X windows. I tried it because I needed to program on X windows in college but we were sharing 4 guys to a workstation (HP Apollo, I think). Even then, Linus's original scope was being expanded, I think beyond his control by others who wanted more functionality out of Unix but not with the price tag. The difference was that some of them were willing to put in time to code for the features that they wanted.
I ended up abandoning the effort because I simply could not squeeze in X windows in 4MB of RAM no matter how many things I threw out or not loading. Correction: I could not squeeze X windows and a window manager in 4MB of RAM. X windows came up ok but not having a window manager is such a pain when you have to resize windows. I went with cross-platforming the project by encapsulating the graphics primitives into simple procedures. That way I could program on Turbo-C in ANSI-C mode and test out the graphic subroutines at home. Later I would swap out the code in the simple procedures with their X windows equivalents.
But that taste of power with Linux was addictive. I had the same capabilities as the big Sun and HP boxes on my small (even by those day's standards) PC. I have been using them in one way or another ever since. And it has rewarded me by saving my skin on more than a few occasions.
Happy (belated) 21st birthday Linux!

Thanks to fitofinsanity for posting on the image of the message by at Flickr.

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