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From IBM and the seven dwarfs to Linux

It’s the Linux kernel 0.01 birthday: 17 September 1991.

When mainframes ruled computing, IBM ruled the roost.* Six other firms tried, but were unsuccessful, to compete with Big Blue. That constellation was humorously dubbed ‘IBM and the seven dwarfs.’

On 17 September 1971, one of those dwarfs “withdrew from the computer market” after losing $490 million.

RCA’s Spectra 70/45 computer was launched as a competitor to the IBM 360 and RCA heavily lauded its reliance on monolithic ICs as opposed to the 360’s hybrid SLT modules.

RCA had been one of the seven dwarfs. The others: Burroughs, Control Data Corporation, General Electric, Honeywell, NCR and Univac.

David Sarnoff founded Radio Corporation of America (RCA) in 1919 at the request of the federal government. In 1926, RCA formed the National Broadcasting Corp. In 1947, RCA produced its first machine for the U.S. Navy.

Within 18 months, General Electric had also withdrawn from the market.

IBM was getting ready for year three in its antitrust lawsuit with the Department of Justice.

Fast-forward 20 years, to 17 September 1991. Linus Torvalds announced last year that it was one of the “30-year anniversary dates” for Linux.

This is just a random note to let people know that today is actually one of the core 30-year anniversary dates: 0.01 was uploaded Sept 17, 1991.

Now, that 0.01 release was never publicly announced, and I only emailed a handful of people in private about the upload (and I don’t have old emails from those days), so there’s no real record of that. The only record of the date is in the Linux-0.01 tar-file itself, I suspect.

Alas, the dates in that tar-file are for the last modification dates, not the actual creation of the tar-file, but it does seem to have happened around 7:30pm (Finnish time), so the exact anniversary was technically a couple of hours ago.

Just thought I’d mention it, since while unannounced, in many ways this is the true 30th anniversary date of the actual code.

The first public release (0.02) would follow on 05 October 1991.

Linux is one of the more well-known pieces of open source software. Apache web server is another.

Británnica has an excellent overview of the movement:

open source, social movement, begun by computer programmers, that rejects secrecy and centralized control of creative work in favour of decentralization, transparency, and unrestricted (“open”) sharing of information. Source refers to the human-readable source code of computer programs, as opposed to the compiled computer programming language instructions, or object code, that run on computers but cannot be easily understood or modified by people.

In 2000, IBM announced it would be integrating Linux into its “systems strategy.” The following March, IBM had “qualified some of its linear-tape backup products, servers and software to run on the Linux operating system.”

On 16 September 2020, Charles King examined the 20 year IBM-Linux relationship. He concluded:

Does the 20th anniversary of IBM and Linux have any great significance, or is it simply an excuse for self-congratulation? Considerably more the former than the latter, to my way of thinking. The company’s initial Linux strategy required IBM to move well beyond its traditional comfort zone and against the wishes of more than a few board members and senior executives. Frankly, it is hard to imagine any IBM CEO prior to Lou Gerstner making a similar decision; it is a testimony to his foresight that he enabled the plan to proceed.

But besides signaling a willingness to move well beyond conventional wisdom and traditional business practices, Linux and open source fundamentally altered IBM’s technological and cultural DNA. Under the leadership of the CEOs who followed Gerstner– Sam Palmisano, Ginni Rometty and, most recently, Arvind Krishna–the company executed a steady, radical shift from focusing on enterprise hardware sales to developing and delivering innovative new software, services and cloud solutions.


*When the Department of Justice filed its Sherman Antitrust Act suit on 17 January 1969IBM controlled almost 70 percent of the computer market.

#scitech, #computing, #society (240a/365)
📷 eweek
Daily posts, 2022-2023

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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