The Unix operating system was conceived and implemented in 1969, at AT&T's Bell Laboratories in the United States by Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, Douglas McIlroy, and Joe Ossanna.
Unix was First released in 1971, Unix was written entirely in assembly language, as was common practice at the time.
In 1973 in a key, pioneering approach, Unix was rewritten in the C programming language by Dennis Ritchie (with the exception of some hardware and I/O routines). The availability of a high-level language implementation of Unix made its porting to different computer platforms easier.
The GNU Project started in 1983 by Richard Stallman, who had the goal of creating a "complete Unix-compatible software system" composed entirely of free software.
Due to an earlier antitrust case forbidding it from entering the computer business, AT&T was required to license the operating system's source code to anyone who asked. As a result, Unix grew quickly and became widely adopted by academic institutions and businesses. In 1984, AT&T divested itself of Bell Labs; freed of the legal obligation requiring free licensing, Bell Labs began selling Unix as a proprietary product, where users were not legally allowed to modify Unix.
In 1985, Stallman started the Free Software Foundation and wrote the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL) in 1989. By the early 1990s, many of the programs required in an operating system (such as libraries, compilers, text editors, a Unix shell, and a windowing system) were completed, although low-level elements such as device drivers, daemons, and the kernel, called GNU/Hurd, were stalled and incomplete.
MINIX was created by Andrew S. Tanenbaum, a computer science professor, and released in 1987 as a minimal Unix-like operating system targeted at students and others who wanted to learn the operating system principles. Although the complete source code of MINIX was freely available, the licensing terms prevented it from being free software until the licensing changed in April 2000.
In 1991, while attending the University of Helsinki, Torvalds became curious about operating systems. Frustrated by the licensing of MINIX, which at the time-limited it to educational use only, he began to work on his own operating system kernel, which eventually became the Linux kernel.
Linus Torvalds has stated that if the GNU kernel had been available at the time (1991), he would not have decided to write his own. Although not released until 1992, due to legal complications, development of 386BSD, from which NetBSD, OpenBSD, and FreeBSD descended, predated that of Linux. Torvalds has also stated that if 386BSD had been available at the time, he probably would not have created Linux.
In order to facilitate development, the files were uploaded to the FTP server (ftp.funet.fi) of FUNET in September 1991. Ari Lemke, Torvalds' coworker at the Helsinki University of Technology (HUT), who was one of the volunteer administrators for the FTP server at the time, did not think that "Freax" was a good name. So, he named the project "Linux" on the server without consulting Torvalds. Later, however, Torvalds consented to "Linux".
Adoption of Linux in production environments, rather than being used only by hobbyists, started to take off first in the mid-1990s in the supercomputing community, where organizations such as NASA started to replace their increasingly expensive machines with clusters of inexpensive commodity computers running Linux. Commercial use began when Dell and IBM, followed by Hewlett-Packard, started offering Linux support to escape Microsoft's monopoly in the desktop operating system market.
Linux's greatest success in the consumer market is perhaps the mobile device market, with Android being one of the most dominant operating systems on smartphones and very popular on tablets and, more recently, on wearables. Linux gaming is also on the rise with Valve showing its support for Linux and rolling out SteamOS, its own gaming-oriented Linux distribution. Linux distributions have also gained popularity with various local and national governments, such as the federal government of Brazil.