The Untold History Of Linux Distros

26th June, 2019 by

As a favorite operating system for techies around the globe for more than 30 years, Linux has an exciting history that you may not have encountered. You may be familiar with Ubuntu, Debian, Red Hat, and other Linux distributions, but are you aware of how they came to be and why?

It’s worth noting that the sheer number of Linux distros is far more than we could possibly cover, so we will only be looking at a select few during our brief narrative. For a complete timeline of GNU/Linux distributions, see this incredible visual.

Once upon a time…

If this were a fairy tale, Linux would be the Robin Hood of OS models. Linux is a free-to-use, open-source program that rivals Microsoft Windows and iOS. It was created by  Linus Torvalds – the knight in shining armor of this story – at the University of Helsinki. The first Linux development was called Minix, and was a version of UNIX. However, Minix did not live up to expectations and was later discarded.

The very first release, in 1991, was just a kernel and still needed a compiler, library, and so on to create a working system. These elements were eventually added in 1992, when a historical technological marriage created a perfect family between GNU, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Linux kernel from Helsinki, Finland. Cambridge, of course, was the location of Richard Stallman, who had a GNU but lacked a functioning kernel. And just like that, the very first Linux distributions were created.  

From this monumental moment, Linux cloud server hosting solutions exploded into dozens of distributions, called distros or flavors, and continuously changed to suit different developers. See below for a few of the most common distro stories. These flavors would appeal to various users attempting to perform vastly different tasks for a wide variety of purposes. Fortunately, Linux can quite easily be custom-designed to offer flexibility and functionality to suit any user and any task.

Debian: The first Linux distro

In 1993, Debian was announced by Ian Murdock. However, the distro wouldn’t be considered ‘stable’ until 1996. The important aspect of this event is that Debian represented the effort to create a stable distro for anyone to use for free rather than forcing users to gather apps one by one on their own. As excited as users were to harness the power of Debian, there was soon a request for a light-weight, user-friendly version that featured all of the conveniences and usage, which is where Ubuntu began.

Ubuntu: Diet Debian

Ubuntu, like most open-sourced software, is focused on user communities, even down to its name Ubuntu, which has roots in the ancient African Zulu and Xhosa languages and means “humanity to others.” Created by Mark Shuttleworth in 2004, Ubuntu offered a path to connect PC users to the Linux operating system.

Red Hat: Linux with a briefcase

As one of the oldest Linux distros, Red Hat Linux was introduced in 1995 as a somewhat business version of Linux. Replaced by Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) in 2003, the paid distro has found mountains of success and was acquired by IBM in 2018 for $34 billion.    

The rest is history…

Once Ubuntu had brought Linux functionality to PC users, anyone and everyone were then free to tailor-fit Linux to suit their needs. The world would soon be introduced to Linux Mint, CentOS, FreeBSD, and hundreds of other options. With the exception of RHEL, you can access all of the distros with a simple online download. Additionally, with thousands of Linux users freely giving their best advice in forums, blogs, and videos, the world of Linux OS functionality is at your fingertips.