Why Linux succeeded where others failed

When Linux Torvalds put the first version of his operating system kernel on Usenet in 1991, he had no idea what it would become.

“I credit the fact that I didn’t know what the hell I was setting myself up for for a lot of the success of Linux,” Torvalds told IEEE Spectrum in a recent interview.

“If I had known what I know today when I started, I would never have had the chutzpah to start writing my own operating system – you need a certain amount of naïveté to think that you can do it.”

IEEE Spectrum highlighted four factors that led to Linux flourishing:

  1. Timing: Linux came at a time when the GNU project had everything except a kernel.
  2. Copyleft licence: The Linux licence forced developers to contribute any improvements they made back to the project.
  3. Free: Operating systems such as Minix, BSD, and GNU cost anything from $169 to $5,000. Torvalds insisted that Linux remain free.
  4. Frequent releases: The pace of innovation within the Linux community was faster than any other free software project at the time.

“The fact that I didn’t really know where it would end up meant that I was perhaps more open to outside suggestions and influence than I would have been if I had a very good idea of what I wanted to accomplish,” he said.

Torvalds said people didn’t have to sign on to somebody else’s vision, but could join with their own vision of where things should go.

“I think that helped motivate lots of people.”

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Why Linux succeeded where others failed