Development / Open Source / Technology

This Week in Programming: When Linux Was ‘Just a Hobby’

28 Aug 2021 6:00am, by

When I think back to 1991 and try to remember where I was at that time, it was likely somewhere involving an x286 and a bunch of five and a half-inch floppy disks, with the screech of a 1200 baud modem in the background while logging into Prodigy and hoping against hope that my parents wouldn’t pick up the phone line. Meanwhile, halfway across the planet, in both literal and seemingly figurative terms, Linus Torvalds was busy building the operating system that would come to run much of the internet we know today.

That’s right, this week, the open source Linux operating system turned 30, at least by one accepted standard of when it started.

The anniversary being celebrated is that of (one of) the first times Linus publicly mentioned the new operating system in a Usenet message, which at the time he referred to as “a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.”

In an article this week, Linux devotee and writer Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (a frequent contributor to The New Stack), chronicles the operating system’s origins with excerpts from conversations he’s had with Torvalds, cataloging Linux’s now dominant role in IT:

“Thirty years later, Linux rules IT. Almost all major websites — including Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia — run on Linux. It’s the same with the clouds. Even on Microsoft’s own Azure, the most popular operating system is Linux. As for supercomputers, all 500 of the world’s fastest 500 supercomputers run Linux. Thanks to Android, Linux is also the most popular end-user operating system. Not bad for a hobby operating system!”

He notes that Torvalds says you can argue that Linux has four birthdays, with the first dating back to July 3 of that same year, but my theory is that it’s simply the text of that message (just a hobby!) that makes it stand out as one for celebration. I know, at least, that the “just a hobby” operating system that a buddy and I were busy coding around that time, in BASIC of all things, certainly didn’t follow a similar fate.

This Week in Programming

  • GitHub Makes Its CLI Extensible: You’ve heard (and experienced) far too many times the downfalls of constant context switching, so it’s to little surprise that GitHub has announced that GitHub’s command-line interface (CLI) 2.0 includes extensions. With extensions, anyone can make custom commands that build on the core functionality of GitHub CLI and extend it however you see fit. Now, rather than having to switch over from the terminal to a web browser to perform some action in GitHub, you can instead create an extension to do it for you. Even better, if someone else has already created the extension you need, you can install that instead. Creating an extension is as simple as building a repository prefixed with gh-, and in the CLI you can simply run “gh extension create” to build a repository that’s prepopulated with pre-written Bash to get started. GitHub CLI 2.0 comes with a few example extensions, such as gh user-status, gh branch, gh contribute, gh screensaver and gh triage, and there’s plenty more information in the documentation on how to get started.
  • Kotlin 1.5.30 Adds Apple Silicon Support and More: The latest version of the Java-alternative Kotlin is out this week with the release of Kotlin 1.5.30 and, as “the last incremental release before Kotlin 1.6.0, it includes many experimental language and standard library features” that are slated for Kotlin 1.6.0. This means it’s time to try them out and share feedback before they’re locked in. Among the experimental features are “sealed when statements, changes to opt-in requirements, instantiation of annotation classes, improvements to the Duration and Regex stdlib APIs, and more.” Beyond experimentation, however, Kotlin 1.5.30 also adds native support for Apple Silicon, the promotion of the Kotlin/JS IR backend to Beta, the ability to use custom cinterop libraries in the shared native code of multiplatform applications, support for Java toolchains provided by the Kotlin Gradle plugin, and more.
  • GitLab Adds Beta Build Cloud for macOS: Soon enough, developers running macOS won’t need to host their own runners to execute CI/CD workflows when using GitLab. This week, the company introduced GitLab Build Cloud for macOS Beta, which will provide an on-demand platform for building Apple products and is integrated with GitLab SaaS CI/CD. The features are currently in a limited beta, which started earlier this month and is targeted for general availability with GitLab 14.5 in November 2021. Build Cloud for macOS will host the GitLab runner on a macOS VM, with just one type available during the beta period, offering 4 vCPUs, 10 GB RAM, and 14 GB of storage available for builds. To join the beta, which will be free and will not count toward a usage quota during the beta period, open an issue and request access.
  • GitLab 14.2 Adds Markdown Preview, Expands Gitpod Integration: While we’re talking about GitLab, the company also released GitLab 14.2, which not only adds the macOS Build Cloud Beta, but also offers the ability to preview Markdown while editing, new DevOps adoption metrics, and an expanded Gitpod integration. On this last point, the GitPod integration (which was previously introduced in GitLab 13.5) makes it easier than ever to review an existing merge request. Now, instead of need to build an environment against the main branch before switching to the target branch and building again, you can launch Gitpod directly from the merge request page. To get started, just enable the Gitpod integration.

  • GitHub Gets Transparent: It’s that time of year again, when GitHub discloses all the DMCA takedown requests, user information disclosures, subpoenas, court orders, search warrants and other such information, as it has been doing annually since 2014. Actually, it’s double that time of year, as the company now says it’s doing it twice a year, to further increase its transparency. So, if all the numbers about this sort of thing are of interest, head on over and check out GitHub’s 2021 Transparency Report, which includes statistics from January to June. The six-month period saw 172 requests to disclose user information, with “102 subpoenas (96 criminal and six civil), 47 court orders, 13 search warrants, and three requests based on exigent circumstances (related to kidnapping, child exploitation, and a bomb threat).”

Featured image by Phinehas Adams via Unsplash.

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