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Unix Dweeb

Linux turns 30

Aug 24, 20214 mins

It's doubtful that even Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, imagined it would play such a major role in everything from supercomputers to tiny embedded devices.

tux birthday cake Linux
Credit: Sandra Henry-Stocker

Something happened back in 1991 that dramatically changed the future of computing. Linus Torvalds, a Finnish-American software engineer, released the Linux kernel and the second version of the GNU General Public License (GPLv2). Had this not happened, a good portion of the technology we use today would not be what it is .

It all started on August 25th of that year when Torvalds announced in a usenet post that he was working on a free OS and that it would be ready within a few months. He also said it “won’t be big and professional like gnu,” but that wasn’t exactly how things turned out!


The beauty of the Gnu GPL was that, instead of restricting what users can do with the Linux kernel, it maximized their rights. Richard Stallman, GNU founder, referred to these rights as the four freedoms of free software: the freedom to run, copy, study/improve, and distribute. This was akin to turning the function of a license inside out.

As Joe Brockmeier of Red Hat explains: “In short, this means that if you are given a GPL’ed program, you can run it without restriction. You can copy it for a friend, you can tinker with it and improve it, and you can distribute those changes.”

The GPL does have one important rule, however. As Brockmeier puts it, “the GPL insists that the same rights that you received under the GPL be passed on to those you distribute the work to.” This restriction ensures the continued openness through all generations of Linux.

Torvald’s enlightened idea has led in these last 30 years to levels of innovation and improvement that had not previously been possible. Linux can be trimmed or stretched to fill just about any role that someone imagines for it. The GPL has led not only to more than 500 distributions of Linux, but also to a wide range of Android devices and powerful supercomputers and to a rover named Perseverance that made it to Mars in February—powered by Linux.

How to celebrate

Birthdays always seem to come with more punch when they’re divisible by 10. So, with Linux turning three decades old, how can you celebrate? Let’s see …

You can download a “Happy 30th, Linux” graphic from the Linux Foundation.

You can sit back, appreciate and maybe even write a little memoir about how Linux has changed your life and your career.

You can count your shell’s aliases with a command like this:

$ alias | wc -l

Alternately, you can grab any of these 30 aliases that appeal to you:

alias ?=’apropos’
alias ByCPU=’ps aux —sort -%cpu’
alias ByCPUusage=’ps aux | sort -nk 3’
alias ByMem=’ps aux —sort -%mem’
alias ByMEMusage=’ps aux | sort -nk 4’
alias ByPID=’ps aux | sort -nk 2’
alias ByUser=’ps aux | sort -k 1’
alias c=’clear’
alias ck_iptables=’sudo iptables -S’
alias cmds=’history | awk ‘’’{print $4}’’’ | sort | uniq -c | sort -nr’
alias count_args=’f(){ echo You entered “$#” arguments; unset -f f; }; f’
alias countm=’tree -iLf 1’
alias cp2all=’find /home -maxdepth 1 -type d | grep -v lost+found | tail -n +2 | sudo xargs -n 1 cp -pv’
alias cp2dirs=’echo /home/nemo /home/lola /home/shs | sudo xargs -n 1 cp -pv’
alias dec2oct=’f(){ echo “obase=8; ibase=10; $1” | bc; unset -f f; }; f’
alias df-k=’df -k | grep -v snap’
alias df-Th=’df -Th | grep -v snap’
alias dirsBySize=’du -kx | egrep -v “./.+/“ | sort -n’
alias egrep=’egrep —color=auto’
alias extip=’curl’
alias fgrep=’fgrep —color=auto’
alias genIDs=’rig -c 1000 > IDs’
alias grep=’grep —color=auto’
alias h=’history’
alias h10=’history | tail -10’
alias SSn=’ss -ltupn’
alias SS=’ss -ltup’
alias SxS=’pr -mt ‘
alias TopCPU=’ps aux —sort -%cpu | head -11’
alias TopMem=’ps aux —sort -%mem | head -11’

You can also just relax and try a Linux Cocktail using crystalmixer’s recipe.

30 years!

Wow. I started with Linux when it was still just a toddler and have never once resented my choice. Linux is not just a solid operating system. It’s not just a free operating system. It’s not just a kernel and a pile of powerful commands. It’s a unique and very powerful force that has enabled amazing levels of innovation and has inspired collaboration like nothing before or since.

Unix Dweeb

Sandra Henry-Stocker has been administering Unix systems for more than 30 years. She describes herself as "USL" (Unix as a second language) but remembers enough English to write books and buy groceries. She lives in the mountains in Virginia where, when not working with or writing about Unix, she's chasing the bears away from her bird feeders.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Sandra Henry-Stocker and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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