that old GNU/Linux argument

Les Mikesell lesmikesell at
Wed Jul 23 02:00:40 UTC 2008

Alexandre Oliva wrote:
>> I credit (blame?) RedHat for the bulk of the early work on Linux,
> The timing doesn't look right.  Back then I was running GNU stuff
> still mostly on SunOS 4.3 and Solaris 2, but I remember some
> colleagues at the uni who got into the GNU/Linux bandwagon earlier
> than myself and who carried around huge stacks of floppies, and I'm
> pretty sure Red Hat wasn't even in the map back then.  It was probably
> Slackware or Yggdrasil. 

Yes, Slackware had something that a dedicated hacker with nothing else 
to do for weeks could manage to install. But that's not what made 
anything happen. It took sheer numbers.

> That was probably Summer 1993/94 (Southern
> hemisphere, so that's 1993 EOY).  Red Hat started around that
> time-frame, and Red Hat [GNU/]Linux 1.0 came up only in late 1994.

And RH versions up to about 4.0 were in about the same shape.  Not an 
improvement over the *bsd's of their time.  Not even close to a match to 
commercial unix versions.

> You're probably right that Red Hat gave GNU/Linux some polish that
> even enthusiasts needed, but it started 3 years into Linux's history
> and 11 years into GNU's history, so I don't think we're talking about
> the same kind of early.

Age isn't the point - that old stuff was unusable.  Nothing much came 
out of those 11 GNU years but an editor, a fairly buggy compiler, and 
some lukewarm copies of simple Unix utilities that might have ended up 
with a user base in the hundreds (there wasn't much networking in those 
days if you weren't a university with a defense contract).  Say 1% of 
the users can improve it and you'd have had a few people actually 
changing things.  By RH 4.0, you didn't have to spend a week stuffing 
floppies, you could just boot a CD and drop it in. And it was getting 
close to looking/working like commercial unix versions.  That ease of 
install dropped more horribly broken code in front of many orders of 
magnitude more users than anything ever had before (with access to 
source anyway), and even with the same tiny percentage able to fix it, 
at that point it was enough, and even the long-standing bugs in things 
like BIND and sendmail began to be found and fixed.

   Les Mikesell
    lesmikesell at

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