15 game-changing Linux moments of the decade
27th Dec 2009 | 08:00
Events that have defined the current Linux experience
A decade of Linux innovation
If you were sat at your Linux computer one dark evening in late 1999, things would have been considerably different.
Your machine would probably be running either Red Hat 6.1 or Mandrake 6.
Outside your window, the world was going crazy for all things dotcom. Microsoft was prepping both Windows 2000 and its ill-fated Millennium edition, while Apple had just released OS 9 and its Power Mac G4.
As a Linux user, you'd have been an uber-geek, someone with an obsessive interest in computing and far too much time on your hands.
But things have changed. Linux is now an operating system anyone can install and use, and it's growing stronger every year. Here's how it happened.
January 2001: Linux Kernel 2.4
The kernel is the only part of the operating system officially called 'Linux'. It all started with, and is still maintained by, Linus Torvalds.
Version 2.4 was a watershed, bringing Linux support to many essential interfaces, starting with USB, and eventually Bluetooth, RAID and the ext3 filesystem. Linux's amazing driver support started here, and the current 2.6 revision owes many of its advances to the 2.4 release.
May 2001: Nvidia releases binary drivers
Until May 2001, many desktop Linux users were isolated when it came to official hardware vendor support. But then Nvidia released a binary version of its graphics driver.
This gave us massive improvement in 3D performance. But it also opened a can of worms, as the debates on the legality of closed drivers linked to the kernel, and whether we should use them, still continue to this day.
DRIVING LINUX: Nvidia is one of the few companies who provides drivers that offer similar performance to their Windows and OS X counterparts
June 2002: Gnome 2.0
Gnome was trying to catch up with the wayward and revolutionary KDE 2.0 desktop, released 10 months earlier. Regardless of which desktop was best, both versions offered a revolutionary experience when compared to the staid, static and ascetic desktops of the previous generation.
The Gnome project has gone from strength to strength after the release of 2.0, and great things are promised for 3.0 in 2010.
May 2002: OpenOffice.org 1.0
Few would consider using Linux if there wasn't the semblance of Microsoft Office compatibility. Sun Microsystems bought, renamed and released its own broadly compatible office suite for free, in what it must have hoped would be a flanking attack on Microsoft's dominance. A tactic it revisited with the re-licence of Java in 2007.
March 2003: SCO's lawsuit against IBM
For a long time, this lawsuit cast a long shadow over Linux adoption. SCO alleged that IBM had allowed parts of its UNIX operating system to be re-licenced and subsequently used within Linux.
If IBM lost, Linux would need to be modified. At one point, even the GPL was under scrutiny when SCO claimed it was unconstitutional. But as yet, litigation has come to nothing and SCO is currently fighting against bankruptcy.
April 2004: X.org 1.0
With free software, if you don't like what other people are doing you can take their work and build your own version. This is what happened with XFree86, the technology at the heart of display, mouse and keyboard interaction. When its licence changed, many Linux distributions were forced to find an alternative, and this became X.org.
October 2004: Ubuntu Warty Warthog
It's the only Linux distribution in our list, but whether you love or hate Ubuntu, there's no denying that its appearance on the scene has changed Linux dramatically.
For mainstream media, it's now often a byword for Linux, and thanks to its charismatic astronaut leader, Linux has a free software advocate to compete with Steve Jobs and Steve Ballmer.
BIG UP UBUNTU: Ubuntu releases are named after the year and month of their release. Warty's official title was Ubuntu 4.10
November 2004: Firefox 1.0
Firefox works on many operating systems other than Linux, but it was the first free software application to be understood and adopted by the general public on this scale. It was faster, more secure, and had more features than its proprietary competitors, changing the popular perception of open source.
ON FIRE: A two-page ad in the New York Times accompanied the release of Firefox 1.0, featuring the names of thousands of contributors to the fund-raising campaign
Linux highlights: 2005 to the end of the decade
April 2005: Mandrake becomes Mandriva
Mandrake Linux was the Ubuntu of its day. It was the distribution that made Linux feasible to use for many of us. But its continued decline can be traced to this point, where Mandrake lost its community focus, eventually sacked its founder and became marginalised and overtaken by smaller, more dynamic distributions.
January 2006: First release of Compiz
Desktop cubes, wobbly windows and drop shadows all started when David Reveman came back from weeks in isolation and announced both Xgl and Compiz, the technologies that have gone on to transform eye-candy on the Linux desktop.
It's thanks to Compiz that Linux has been able to keep abreast of developments on both Windows and OS X.
EYE CANDY: Desktop cubes may be a little old-hat now, but in 2006 it was a jaw-dropping effect
June 2007: GPLv3
The third release of the one licence to rule them all hasn't been as smooth as many people had hoped. Linus, a critic in the drafting stage, has so far declined to port the Linux kernel to the new version, but there is growing momentum.
Version 3 takes a much harder stand against closed online use of open source software, and embedded systems that don't give the user full access to the systems. But it is finally gaining acceptance.
January 2008: KDE 4.0
The jump from KDE 2 to 3 was never this troubled. Even today, version 4 feels only half finished to many people, almost two years after the initial release. But it's also a release crammed full of innovation, including pervasive widgets, the removal of the desktop metaphor and the semantic desktop that will blur local and online content.
WIDGET IT: KDE 4 bravely attempts to turn everything on your desktop into a widget
February 2008: The Asus EeePC
It may have started with an initiative to provide one laptop per child, but netbooks have become one of the most important technologies of today for the future.
The Asus EeePC has been surpassed by other devices, but Linux is keeping abreast of development, thanks to Intel's Moblin project, and more recently, Google's Chrome OS announcement.
September 2008: Android 1.0 SDK released
Google would be a different company if it had to buy a licence for every machine running in its Linux server farms. And in 2008, it took a similar strategy when it announced it was entering the mobile phone market.
Android has gone on to become a stable platform, and a great example of what Linux is capable of in the hands of a company like Google.
April 2009: Oracle buys Sun (MySQL)
The decade ends with the sun setting on one of the most influential Unix and open source companies to survive the 90s. Custodian of Java, VirtualBox, MySQL and OpenOffice.org, along with major contributions to Gnome, Mozilla and the Linux kernel itself, the effects of Sun's acquisition are yet to be realised. But whatever happens to Sun, these projects are safeguarded, thanks to the open source licences they use.
SAFE SUN: Linux can freely take from any of Sun's open source projects, including its OpenSolaris operating system
Liked this? Then check out Get a Linux desktop to make Windows and OS X users weep with envy
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