Open Source: Linux Operating System Introduced in 1991

Linus Torvalds, creator of Linux open-source software, in 2000 Photograph by Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

1991 Finnish engineer Linus Torvalds introduces the Linux operating system. Price: $0.

In the beginning, software was free, something you needed to make the hardware run. Then Microsoft and others demonstrated that people would pay for proprietary code, and for a long while software wasn’t free. But proprietary code was often clunky, and what worked on one kind of computer had to be re-created on others. Soon people realized there was a better way, and software became free again, sort of. Open-source software is essentially software that’s open to the public for tinkering, and over time that tinkering makes the code stronger. Linux, the classic example, is an operating system that’s been so extensively customized and built upon, versions of it now run everything from data centers, PCs, TVs, and cars to your Android smartphone. Companies still charge for apps and services, but much of the technology we use today is based on building blocks that are free and open to the imagination.

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