Who are the authors of the pure Linux kernel from scratch, which was integrated with GNU tools and formed the full GNU/Linux Operating system in the 1990s? I have read some wiki articles but I haven't got any clear cut idea on the history.


3 Answers 3


The wikipedia page has a fairly clear history. Linus Torvalds, then a student, wrote his own kernel in the summer of 1991 because he was unhappy with the available Unix kernels: Unix itself (with the Bell Labs code) was extremely expensive (even PC unices such as Xenix), there was Andrew Tanenbaum's MINIX but it was only available to purchasers of Tanenbaum's book, and Torvalds was unaware of the effort led by Berkeley University to produce a free Unix (BSD), and BSD didn't run on PCs yet at the time.

Since then, thousands of people have contributed to the kernel, most of them in the form of drivers.


Richard Stallman, father of the GNU Project
Linus Benedict Torvalds, the author of Linux OS(Linux version 0.01 was released by mid September 1991).

The real story is :

Year 1991 :

DOS brought by Bill Gates was reigning the world of personal computers. The other player in the personal computer world was UNIX by Bell Labs, but it was extremely expensive and the source was not publicly available.

Then there was the MINIX by Andrew Tanenbaum, which was not a superb OS but made the source code was publicly available. Tanenbaum captured the souls of computer science with the elaborate and lively discussion of the art of creating a working OS. Students of Computer Science all over the world went through the book, reading through the codes to understand the very system that runs their computer, and one of them was Linus Torvalds.

The GNU project created a lot of the tools line GCC, etc. but still there was no OS.

For rest of the story and how Linux was written please read through the following link.

Linux History Time line :

alt text

  • 6
    The kernel itself doesn't derive from the GNU project, but the GNU project is relevant because it made gcc, which as far as I know Linux used from the start. The MINIX source code was then not open source, you had to have purchased Tanenbaum's book. Jan 10, 2011 at 8:25
  • 1
    @Gilles: You are right.. Jan 10, 2011 at 8:31
  • 1
    @Renjith: When you down vote an answer could you please put the reason also, so that i can improve my future answers on the forum. Jan 10, 2011 at 9:26
  • 1
    Thank you very much for your answer , It is nothing like that as per your words.
    – Renjith G
    Jan 10, 2011 at 11:03

I have had the privilege to hear RMS (Richard M. Stallman) and Linus Torvalds. In RMS's own words, Linus made the kernel and from the e-mail that is now well-known on the comp.unix.os newsgroup http://www.linux.com/news/software/linux-kernel/734956-linuss-famous-email was to make it a toy project. The similarities between the kernel project and the GNU utilities project is that both use a derivative of the GPL license, the monolithic kernel being mostly a GPL2 with some parts in GPLv3 while most GNU projects are strictly GPL2.

Off-topic to the question but still relevant - the GNU project has its own 'Hurd' kernel project where the user is never supposed to touch the core kernel and would just be touching the various sub-systems to do whatever he/she desires.This is supposed to increase security and is bit more modular and can be experienced nowadays via a VM. Once we see it in actual devices (maybe forever) we will really know what the real-world performance is like.

I am also not sure what Linus made (kernel 0.1) should be termed as an OS. Typically an OS would having a kernel, having one or more compilers, bunch of utilities and a user-facing interface which essentially is what a GNU/Linux distribution is.

Just my 2 paise.

  • 1
    "Typically an OS would having a kernel, having one or more compilers…" nope. The OS is the kernel and nothing more.
    – msw
    Oct 26, 2014 at 2:15
  • @msw You shouldn't confuse OS and kernel, especially when talking about Unix and Linux OSes. An OS is something able to boot, run processes, applications, services which a kernel alone can't. As far as Unix is concerned, an OS is at least a kernel, a standard C library and standard CLI utilities (sh, ls, cat and the likes), the basic libraries and utilities are usually provided by GNU on Linux. You are however correct saying a compiler is not a mandatory component of a Unix (like) OS.
    – jlliagre
    Oct 26, 2014 at 9:41
  • @jlliagre Nope: "An operating system (OS) is software that manages computer hardware and software resources and provides common services for computer programs. The operating system is an essential component of the system software in a computer system. Application programs usually require an operating system to function."
    – msw
    Oct 26, 2014 at 14:20
  • @msw Nothing in your excerpt or the wikipedia article contradict the well known fact the kernel is just one of the components, even the most critical one, of an Operating System. Other components include a boot loader, a standard library to interface the kernel and the userland, some kind of init daemon to launch initial programs and reach some expected state, and basic utilities to allow scripts and CLI to work.
    – jlliagre
    Oct 26, 2014 at 16:45

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .