Linus Torvalds and His Little Project

In 1991 Linus Torvalds was a student at the University of Helsinki, Finland, when he purchased an Intel 80386-based IBM PC, which he intended to use as a terminal emulator for remotely connecting to the University’s lab.

The main choices at that time for a PC operating system were MS-DOS and MINIX. He was rapidly disappointed with MS-DOS, and given his respect for UNIX and his willingness to learn, his choice was the latter. But his dissatisfaction with some technical aspects of MINIX encouraged him to create his terminal emulator from scratch, although based on MINIX. He also wanted his version to be noncommercial, which MINIX, although inexpensive, was not. The terminal emulator soon evolved into a full OS kernel he first called “Freax” (a combination of “free,” “freak,” and the “X” that identified it as a UNIX-like system), but in the end “Linux” (yes, standing for “Linus”) became popular because that’s how a friend named the folder in which the files were stored and shared.

Torvalds then decided he wanted his OS to do more things, but he needed outside collaboration so he didn’t have to do all the hard work. It was due to a bit of laziness that he posted a message to the MINIX user group which started with the less-than-visionary statement: “I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.”