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a. In The Beginning
It was 1991, and the ruthless agonies of the cold war were gradually coming to an end. There was an air of peace and tranquility that prevailed in the horizon. In the field of computing, a great future seemed to be in the offing, as powerful hardware pushed the limits of the computers beyond what anyone expected.
But still, something was missing.
And it was the none other than the Operating Systems, where a great void seemed to have appeared.
For one thing, DOS was still reigning supreme in its vast empire of personal computers. Bought by Bill Gates from a Seattle hacker for $50,000, the bare bones operating system had sneaked into every corner of the world by virtue of a clever marketing strategy. PC users had no other choice. Apple Macs were better, but with astronomical prices that nobody could afford, they remained a horizon away from the eager millions.
The other dedicated camp of computing was the Unixworld. But Unix itself was far more expensive. In quest of big money, the Unix vendors priced it high enough to ensure small PC users stayed away from it. The source code of Unix, once taught in universities courtesy of Bell Labs, was now cautiously guarded and not published publicly. To add to the frustration of PC users worldwide, the big players in the software market failed to provide an efficient solution to this problem.
A solution seemed to appear in form of MINIX. It was written from scratch by Andrew S. Tanenbaum, a US-born Dutch professor who wanted to teach his students the inner workings of a real operating system. It was designed to run on the Intel 8086 microprocessors that had flooded the world market.
As an operating system, MINIX was not a superb one. But it had the advantage that the source code was available. Anyone who happened to get the book ‘Operating Systems: Design and Implementation’ by Tanenbaum could get hold of the 12,000 lines of code, written in C and assembly language. For the first time, an aspiring programmer or hacker could read the source codes of the operating system, which to that time the software vendors had guarded vigorously. A superb author, Tanenbaum captivated the brightest minds of computer science with the elaborate and immaculately lively discussion of the art of creating a working operating system. Students of Computer Science all over the world pored over the book, reading through the codes to understand the very system that runs their computer.
And one of them was Linus Torvalds.