Linux: 30 Years Old

Today, Linux is 30 years old, unless it is 51, 44, 38, 35, 34 or 29 years old. Some might even say 25, just to be difficult.

Sometimes, it can be difficult to determine start dates. Take the average person. The exact time of conception may be difficult to know. Thus, it may be easier to use some other event as a proxy for the start of life, such as a person’s birth. Even if a child has no recollection of her/ his own birth, this is an event most mothers will remember.

Something similar has happened with Linux. There have been a lot of different start dates proposed. In part, this is because an operating system is complex, consisting of many different but integrated parts. Linux has a tendency to borrow these components from other projects, including/ especially Unix. Thus, the very first start could have been a day in 1970 when Ken Thompson (1943 – ) and Dennis Ritchie (1941 – 2011) started their Unix project. It could have been a day in 1977, when the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) was developed by the Computer Systems Research Group (CSRG) at the University of California, at Berkeley.

If you prefer the 1980s, there are several more dates to choose from. In 1983, Richard Stallman (1953 – ) started the GNU project to make a free Unix-like operating system. He wants Linux to be called GNU, but is willing to compromise on GNU-Linux. Others might prefer 1986, when Maurice J. Bach (1952 – ) published The Design of the UNIX Operating System, a basic source of Unix information. Many computer science students at the time would recognize 1987, and MINIX, a Unix-like system released by Andrew S. Tanenbaum (1944 – ) based on principles found in, Operating Systems: Design and Implementation (1987) by Tanenbaum and Albert Woodhull.

Appropriately, people have concentrated on 1991-08-25, and an announcement by Linus Torvalds (1969 – ), about an operating system kernel, based on Minix principles, but free of Minix code. The launch date of Linux was 1991-09-17. However, even Torvalds refers to 1992 when the X Window System (not to be confused with the Microsoft Windows operating system) was ported to Linux by Orest Zborowski, which allowed Linux to support a graphical user interface (GUI) for the first time. By 1996, Linux came of age, having its own brand identity in the form of the penguin, Tux. The term mascot is discouraged because, while there were three competitions to find a mascot, Tux won none of them!

Linux is not an entire operating system. Rather, it is just the kernel, as developed by Torvalds. Some corporations and communities build their own operating systems directly on top of the kernel. This applies to Red Hat, Debian, Suse, Arch and other distributions who have each independently chosen the software that is to make up their operating system, above the kernel. Other companies/ groups build distributions, such as Fedora, Ubuntu, openSuse Tumbleweed and EndevourOS, on top of these, respectively. Several iterations of building can take place. Linus Mint is built on top of Ubuntu, which is built on top of Debian, for example. In the Linux world it is easier to modify something that exists, rather than to start from scratch. This is allowed, because of the Linux licencing conditions, that permit development forks, that is development branches. This also means that most Linux operating system distributions resemble one another, but in many different ways. Most of these distributions comes bundled with a variety of open-source applications, although the number and specific applications included vary.

BSD is organized differently. BSD is both a kernel and a complete operating system. Both are maintained as a single project. That said, much of the software on top of the Linux kernel by the many distributions, is the same software as used on BSD. It is often more correct to refer to Linux and BSD operating systems as Unix-like operating systems. Linux and BSD have different lineages, resulting in the use of somewhat different components.

The first Linux distribution I used was Mandrake, developed by Gaël Duval (1973 – ), and released in 1998. It was based on Red Hat Linux and the K Desktop Environment (KDE). Its current reincarnation as Mageia is fondly, but possibly irrationally, regarded by this writer. More recently, I have supported Gaël Duval in his development of /e/, a privacy-oriented fork of the Android-based LineageOS, with some online services, part of the E Foundation since 2018, Android, itself, could be considered a Linux variant, as it was based on a modified Linux kernel.

Linux Mint 20.2 Uma, is my current daily drive. Since 2014, Mint has been a community-driven Linux distribution. Almost all distributions used on tablets, laptops and desktops have a GUI desktop environment. The standard one with Mint is Cinnamon. It works appropriately, and without issues. Similarly, there are other applications that are used more than others in a wide variety of distributions. For example, the office package used here at Cliff Cottage is LibreOffice. Firefox is used as a web browser.

Looking no further than across the kitchen table, there are many different types of people who want distinctly different things from their operating systems. One person is content with her 2016 model Asus Zenbook laptop that for the past couple of years runs Linux Mint, and the other programs mentioned. She has no desire to replace the machine, for that would mean adapting to something new. As long as there are no hardware issues with the machine, then it is probably good enough to last until at least 2026. Another, older user, who does almost nothing more than read The Guardian newspaper with a Firefox browser, and writes a few weblog posts, using WordPress, still finds excuses to own several machines, most currently running Linux Mint, at least, most of the time. Another, younger user regularly uses four computers. These are a work-supplied Acer Swift running Windows 10, a personal Asus TUF gaming laptop, and two (2) scratch built gaming rigs, each filling their rather large tower with an assortment of fans. Each of these last three run Linux Mint.

However, there may be changes ahead at Cliff Cottage. While Mint is user friendly, it updates on a two year-cycle. For many people, especially the gamer and de facto support person, this is not fast enough. Enter Arch Linus, first released in 2002. While not trying to be all things to all people, it does aim to be simple, modern, pragmatic, user centric and versatile. It succeeds at some of these, but is probably more complicated and less user centric, than its adherents want to admit. However, it uses a rolling (rather than fixed) update cycle, which means that it is considerably more up to date than Mint. It also provides excellent documentation.

EndeavourOS is a rolling release Linux distribution, based on Arch Linux. Setup is much easier than that of the Arch base. It is currently installed on Eerie, our experimental Ryzen 7 desktop machine. After further testing, it will probably be deployed as a replacement for Linux Mint. Because so much of operating system activities is related to the specific desktop environment being used, it is probably advantageous to retain Cinnamon. During testing several other desktop environments were tried, but offered no apparent advantage. The main challenge with Cinnamon is a lack of appropriate documentation. LibreOffice, Firefox, and many other programs used regularly, will also be retained. Any transition to EndeavourOS has to be close to invisible, for at least one (and potentially two) of the Linux Mint users, as the ageing process makes accepting changes more difficult.

On 2021-06-24, Microsoft announced Windows 11, which will probably be released late in 2021, although preview versions are available now. The main disadvantage of Windows 11, is that it only runs on devices with a Trusted Platform Module 2.0 security coprocessor, which offers protection against firmware and hardware attacks. In addition, virtualization-based security (VBS), hypervisor-protected code integrity (HVCI), and Secure Boot must be built-in and enabled by default. This means that devices as recent as 2019, may not be able to run Windows 11. In the short-term this will not be a problem, because they will be able to run Windows 10. However, most versions of Windows 10 will loose support on 2025-10-14. After this date, they should not be used online, for security reasons.

One way to future proof an older system is to install a Linux distribution along with Windows 10, in a dual-boot configuration. This allows the machine to use both operating systems. It will also give users about four years to become accustomed to a Linux operating system, should they choose to go that route. Currently, people are encouraged to use EndeavourOS (or Linux Mint) with a Cinnamon desktop environment, if they want any meaningful help from this user.

While Microsoft Windows is demanding in terms of processor speeds, random access memory (RAM) size and other features, Linux is more accepting. It is possible to thrive with Linux installed on ten year old, limited capacity equipment. Many distributions flourish with 4 GB of RAM, some even less.

At Cliff Cottage we use a variety of special purpose operating systems. The large screen some people might mistake for a television, runs the Kodi media player on LibreELEC = Libre Embedded Linux Entertainment Center on an Asus PN40. Yet, not all of our open-source operating systems are Linux systems. Server equipment is often BSD based. The reason for this is that we want our network attached storage (NAS) server to use ZFS = Zettabyte File System, (its name in a previous life). Some Linux distributions handle this adequately, but BSD is designed to use it. Another advantage of BSD is its ports system. which provides a way of installing software packages by compiling them from their original software source. Packages can also be installed from pre-compiled binaries, if that is preferred.

There are situations where Linux is not the answer. Real-time operating systems (RTOS) are used in environments where a large number of events must be processed quickly. An example would be the control of your neighbourhood nuclear power plant. When a hazardous situation occurs, you want the operating system to respond immediately and appropriately. Linux, typically, does not respond fast and consistently enough to be used in demanding control situations. Part of the problem here, is that the Linux kernel is bloated. An upcoming weblog post will discuss RTOS in more detail.

More generally, there are legitimate criticisms of desktop Linux, including: an excessively large number of choices of distributions; poor open source support for some hardware, in particular drivers for 3D graphics chips; and, the failure of software providers such as Adobe and Microsoft to provide Linux versions of widely used commercial applications. Sometimes this can be solved by running the Windows versions of these programs through a virtual machine, a software version of a physical computer, or by using Wine, an open-source compatibility layer that allows application programs, including computer games, developed for Microsoft Windows to run on Linux.

Returning to the kitchen table, the Acer Zenbook user would probably be happy with Windows XP, and content with Windows 7. Problems arose with Windows 10, when Microsoft demanded more control than the lady (or was it the lady’s husband?) was willing to give. In addition, her support team had already migrated to Linux, and were not particularly helpful solving her Windows 10 related challenges. In the end, she had no choice but to reluctantly go over to Linux, herself.

Today, is the day many have chosen to acknowledge 30 years with Linux. For some it will be a celebration. For many others it will only be a statement of fact. While few use it on their personal computers (estimates are 2% or lower), Linux based distributions are at the heart of servers: All of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers run on Linux; Of the most popular 25 websites in the world, only 2 aren’t using Linux; about 95% of the world’s server activity is run on Linux; while; 90% of all cloud infrastructure operates on Linux; 85% of smartphones are based on Linux.

There are many sources of information about Linux: Wikipedia can be a good place to begin, with links to other sources. Distro Watch allows people to discover new and exciting, as well as old and boring, distributions.

Bunsenlabs Linux and other adventures not taken

A former pupil, Lars, suggested that I use Bunsenlabs Linux, I took his suggestion seriously, and investigated it. It is an impressive distro, especially for people with older and slower equipment. Its windows manager, Openbox, was developed in Canada. Even the release names, Hydrogen followed by Deuterium, appeal. Yet, I have not used Bunsenlabs, or even installed a test version. This post explains why I will probably never use Bunsenlabs, but also why new Linux users should still consider using it, and other distributions.

VivoMini & Tinker Board
Asus Tinker Board (left) and Asus VivoMini (behind ruler) both with their own versions of Linux.


Relationships between people influence many (if not most) of our decisions. This is particularly so regarding computers. The relationship one has with his or her employer, can have a significant impact on one’s choice of equipment, as can the relationship of students with their schools. For a retired person, like myself, impact is personified in just one individual, code name Fluffy, who counts on me to solve most of her serious computing challenges. I could say to her, “Fluffy, this is your computer – fix it yourself!” If I did so, she might feel less enthusiastic about about feeding me, washing my laundry, etc. So, I lovingly look after her computer problems, and change her winter tires.

Relationships are often symbiotic, although not according to the biological definition of the term. Most often they involve mutualism, a relationship where both parties benefit. If you are involved in a commensal or parasitic relationship that benefits only the other person, please seek competent help!

In my web of relationships, I have one person I consult with on computer problems, code name Uncle Al. Sometimes, he will even ask me questions, so it is not fully a one-way street.  In addition, there are two other denizens of this web who are dedicated Apple users, who have each other and an Apple infrastructure to help them. Because of our relationship, I can ask them questions about Apple products, of which I still have one, and they more or less feel obliged to help.

Because computing problems often require consultation to produce meaningful answers, one needs someone to talk about these problems. If Uncle Al went over to using another distribution, I would definitely have to consider using it.

In addition, I have at least five and a half other people in my web who use me when computing emergencies strike. These are listed as “external” in the table below. Often, they have no one else around who can offer them advice, who does not have a vested interest in having them spend money. I can use up to several hours a year working on their computing problems. I have code named these users: Ann, Axel, Ella, Eve, Henry and Kate. The person needing the most help, code named John, is no longer among the living. However, he was the most fun to help, if only because his insights into computing were so limited that one learned how such people think.

Typically these people have a cell phone, a laptop or desktop computer and possibly some other device. They are connected in some way to the internet, and may have a printer. I do not normally work with phone problems, except for those involving Fluffy or myself.

There is a third category, casuals, who may ask me questions, but who are not in any way dependent on me to solve their computing challenges. Sometimes, I may have even worked on a computing problem requiring several hours of work, but it is normally a one-off situation without ongoing commitments. Sometimes, I take on their challenges just to learn something. Casuals are not discussed further, except to say that I enjoy the

One way in which I try to simplify my work is to standardize the products I work with, but this does not apply to externals. John, if I remember correctly, managed to buy a Swedish language, Windows Vista machine produced from some obscure manufacturer, possibly Dell. At the time of this purchase, everyone else was using Windows XP.

Asus is my primary computer supplier because I can count on each machine behaving in much the same way. I have bought a large number of Western Digital hard drives. There are exceptions. I am still wondering why I purchased two Seagate 4 TB external drives.


During the past six months, I have installed Linux on six different computers, four of them with Linux Mint (two desktops and two laptops), and two Tinker Boards with Tinker Linux. Before each Mint installation, I  seriously considered using Bunsenlabs Linux. Why didn’t I try Bunsenlabs? The main reason has to do with the complex variety of equipment that I have to relate to. I just could not bring myself to work on yet another OS distro.

Here is an overview of what I have to relate to in terms of equipment, with projections for 2018.

Fjellheim  Fjellheim  Fjellheim Externals  Externals  Externals
OS 2016 2017 2018 2016 2017 2018
ADM 1 1 1 0 0 0
Mint 1 3 + 1 ret. 4 0 1 2
Tinker 0 1 1 0 0 0
Windows 7 1 0 0 1 0 0
Windows 8 2 0 0 2 1 0
Windows 10 1 1 0 2 3 3 or 0
MacOS 1 0 0 0 0 0
iOS 1 1 0 0 0 0
Android 1 1 2 0 0 0
Kobo 2 2 2 1 1 1
Arduino 1 1 1 0 0 0
Total machines 12 11 11 6 6 6 or 3
Total OS types 10 8 6 4 4 3 or 2

The number of systems was reduced between 2016 and 2017 by returning two Windows 8 laptops to Nord-Trøndelag county (our previous employer), and by replacing Windows 7 with Mint on an Acer Aspire and then giving it away. Similarly, we gave away a Mac laptop (along with a spare iPhone). In addition, there has been migration to Windows 10 by external users, eliminated Windows 7 machines and reducing the number of Windows 8 machines in use.

One of the Asus laptops running Mint has reached its end of life, late in May 2017. Its replacement is the second Asus laptop. Soon the iPhone will be replaced by an Android phone. Fluffy is even considering “upgrading” her Windows 10 OS to Linux Mint. This will require a migration of our Windows based BookCAT library system to Koha, and a solution to our BankID identification system that doesn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about Linux. In addition, Fluffy is looking philosophically at the NOK 100 she spent buying Microsoft Office 2016, with updates guaranteed for the next 10 years. In the midterm there may be a need for a dual boot (Linux Mint + Windows 10) system.

Without having Windows systems in the house it will be a lot easier for me to offer “externals” a solution to their problems. They can either choose to install Linux Mint, and get some help, or they can keep Windows installed and find someone else to help them, a Windows expert

Ideal systems

There is no ideal systems because the uses made of systems are changing all the time. The needs of users vary, and there is absolutely no reason why anybody should imitate the choices of an old man!

A NAS (Network attached server) is a very different machine from a laptop or desktop machine. It performs a limited number of processes, but these have to be done well. A NAS needs an OS that responds to its server functions. ADM, is regarded as a good COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) OS, but possibly not as good as QNAP and Synology. People without ties to Asus would probably be better off buying a QNAP NAS – TS-451, for example, housing 4 Western Digital 8TB Red hard disks, or even their smaller TS-251 that houses 2 hard disks.

An Asustor 1004T NAS (Network Attached Server) with 4 x 6 TB Western Digital Red hard disks, running the latest version of ADM.

Lars may be quite correct that Bunsenlabs is a better system for laptops and desktops than Mint. However, I will probably be staying with Mint. Andrew Williams at Tech Radar has looked at seven distros in an article titled “The best Linux distros 2017: 7 versions of Linux we recommend” (despite the link’s name) dated 23 May 2017:  These seven are: Elementary OS (Loki), Linux Mint (18), Arch Linux and its alterego Antergo, Ubuntu (17.04 LTS), Tails – claiming to be the best Linux distro for privacy, CentOS (7), and Ubuntu Studio – for home music recording or video production.

One of the main reasons I bought an Asus Tinker Board, was to work on home automation projects. I will be restricting myself to Tinker OS, at least for the moment. Since the Tinker Board is a superclone of a Raspberry Pi, people have the option of using 11 different systems that have originated on the Pi:

That more or less wraps up the comments I have about Linux operating systems. Readers will be spared reading my prejudicial comments about Android on smart phones, Kobo on e-readers, and Arduino on Arduino boards.