Spark

Linux marks 25 years as every nerd's favourite operating system

The system quietly runs computer systems from CERN to the Burlington Coat Factory.

Most of us are familiar with Windows and Macintosh computer operating systems. They were developed by teams of software engineers and, once they're released to the public, they're locked down: you can't change the coding of the system to suit your individual needs. Today, Windows or iOS are on the overwhelming majority of personal computers.

But 25 years ago a 21-year-old computer studies student in Finland named Linux Torvalds developed something revolutionary: his own computer operating system, which he called Linux. As opposed to the other operating systems, Linux was a system initially developed by one person released publicly to a community, for free. That community was urged to modify and improve it for their own needs.

The fact that Linux, and the coding behind it, is publicly available (or "open-source"), means that it is by far the most-used operating system in the world. While Mac and Windows are on the vast majority of personal computers, when it comes to the machines that tackle the big jobs in computing, like in science, engineering, artificial intelligence and large industrial applications, Linux reigns supreme.

Most of us use Linux every day and don't even realize it. Because it is free and almost infinitely customizable, Linux is used by banks, postal services, cities, and even some national governments to run their servers and applications. NASA uses Linux. Even CERN uses it while trying to figure out how the universe began.

Then there are the really big players. Amazon. The New York Stock Exchange. The US Department of Defense. The Burlington Coat Factory. (Okay, maybe they're not such a really big player. But they do use Linux.)

Remember Watson, the IBM supercomputer that cleaned up on Jeopardy? He runs Linux (along with 97 per cent of the world's other supercomputers).

And lastly, there's this little computer company called Google. What powers the largest repository of information in the world? Linux (and that includes all Android phones, too).

So the next time you see someone typing on a laptop covered with stickers of penguins, don't just write him off as some geek. He may just be working on how to get humans to Mars, or helping your next flight arrive on time.

Happy anniversary, Linux. We salute you!

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