You wouldn’t realise it, but you’ve got software worth billions of pounds powering your computer. That’s what it would cost to redevelop the Linux kernel, according to estimates by the Linux Foundation. The foundation has dubbed the Linux kernel the world’s largest collaborative development project as it would take thousands of man years to rebuild from scratch.
The latest release of the kernel contains over 19 million lines of code written in about a dozen programming languages, and most of the work is paid for by hundreds of multinational corporations that have thousands of dedicated kernel developers pitching into its development.
Yet all of this work can be traced back to one solitary bespectacled developer hacking away on his home computer. Linus Torvalds’ attempt at creating a free alternative to the proprietary Minix operating system might have started out as a hobby project, but today it powers everything from the tiny little Raspberry Pi to the mighty New York Stock Exchange, submarines patrolling the oceans and even earth-orbiting satellites.
The secret sauce behind the world’s largest open source project is an effective system of collaboration, which is as much of a miracle as the software it has helped to foster. Unlike other open source communities, the kernel community has had to evolve its own distinct mechanism of operating in an environment where there are thousands of eyeballs and where thousands of lines of code are modified every day. To do this repeatedly without fail is an achievement in itself.
In this feature, we’ll examine the journey of a piece of code that originated from the keyboard of a student in Finland and in just 25 years has permeated every aspect of computing all over the world and even beyond.
“Today it powers everything
from the Raspberry Pi to the
New York Stock Exchange.”
We’ll look at its incredible growth, examine the important contributions made by other developers and how they have all grown together into the indispensable tool that powers the internet and empowers everyone using it. This is the story of Linux and how it has made a quantum leap in computing in less than a quarter of a century.
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