grayscale photography of penguin

Happy virtual birthdays, Linux and PGP

It was was (pretty near) 20 years ago today Linus Torvalds taught the band to play. The young student announced to a Usenet group that he had created a new operating system kernel.

From: torvalds@klaava.Helsinki.FI (Linus Benedict Torvalds)

Newsgroups: comp.os.minix

Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?

Summary: small poll for my new operating system

Message-ID:   Date: 25 Aug 91 20:57:08 GMT

Organization: University of Helsinki

Hello everybody out there using minix –  I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and  professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.  This has been brewing   since april, and is starting to get ready.  I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).  I’ve currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work.   This implies that I’ll get something practical within a few months, and   I’d like to know what features most people would want.  Any suggestions are welcome, but I won’t promise I’ll implement them :-)

Linus (

PS.  Yes – it’s free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs.   It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never   will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that’s all I have :-( .


Torvalds thought about calling it Linux, but decided it was too egotistical, so he called it Freax. Everyone else called it Linux, and the name stuck. Five years later, after he was bitten by a penguin at a zoo, Torvalds chose a little penguin as the symbol for the operating system. (The penguin’s name is Tux, in case you’re wondering.)

Today it’s highly unlikely that you can get through your day without touching or being touched by Linux in some way. Linux and its derivatives control smartphones and supercomputers, MP3 players and digital pianos, the servers that run the Internet information highway and the webOS that Hewlett-Packard just threw under the bus. Do you use a Macintosh computer? An iPad? A video game console? You’ll find Linux derivatives in the embedded controllers that control, well, lots and lots of automated processes. If you browse the Web or read email or watch Hollywood movies or invest in the stock market, Linux and its cousins are probably behind the curtain.

Torvalds from the start intended Linux to be free to anyone who wanted it. What a gift!

So, happy 20th birthday, Linux.


And while we’re at it, happy (pretty near) 20th birthday to Pretty Good Privacy, created by Phil Zimmermann in June 1991. PGP is a program that encrypts and decrypts digital files, providing privacy and authentication to people who exchange information. Zimmermann was/is an antinuclear activist and wanted a way for other activists to communicate freely and securely.

As with Linux, Zimmermann created PGP as a free resource for everyone. He uploaded it to the Internet. For his generosity, he was almost immediately made the target of a criminal investigation by the United States government, which considered military-grade encryption to be a “munition” in the same category with bombs and missiles. Zimmermann, the government said, had exported banned munitions to foreign countries by uploading PGP to the Internet.

Zimmermann refused to be intimidated. He printed the source code in book form and sent it through the mail, claiming First Amendment protection. Eventually the government dropped the investigation.

Happy 20th birthday, PGP, and thanks, Phil.