The History Of Linux – And How It’s Emerging As A New Leader In Gaming

  • Linux was initially popular with large organisations in the early 1990s, when Microsoft had the monopoly in the gaming market
  • The success of Android devices – which are Linux compatible – has given developers the incentive to make games for Linux
  • The rise of mobile gaming suggests Linux has a key role to play in the future of gaming

For an operating system to survive in a climate where just a few forms can exist, it has to be technologically perfect. It can also help to appeal to certain niches. Linux has often been a popular option for those seeking academic software but in the modern day, it has plenty of fans from other sectors.

The ability to play games using the Linux system has only recently been made possible on a wider basis and finally, this open-source software is making big inroads into the gaming market. Huge inroads, in fact. A total of 1.3 billion Android devices running a Linux operating system were shipping in 2015. That’s around five times the number that carried Windows systems.

There are many reasons as to why Linux became the perfect fit for gamers – but its journey was far from straightforward.

The origins and development of Linux

The Linux operating system officially began life in 1991 although there were a number of predecessors. The first of these – Unix – was devised and put into place by four computer scientists at the AT&T Laboratory HQ in the US way back in 1969.

From there, various improvements and name changes were made before the platform became MINIX which was released in 1987. The software, in those pre-internet days, was widely used, but like all operating systems, it had its limitations and it needed to evolve in order to keep pace with the rest of the industry, which was starting to gain momentum.

It was, therefore, in 1991 that the 22-year-old Finn Linus Torvalds was attending Helsinki University and using systems for a number of key areas of his studies. Like several of his fellow students and many others in industry, Torvalds was frustrated by the limitations of the old MINIX system but unlike his contemporaries, he decided to do something about it.

Using the existing MINIX platform, he developed an original system known as Linux kernel which eventually morphed into Linux. It hit the market and by the mid-1990s, there were a number of interested parties.

The open-source nature of Linux was a massive plus point for certain companies – particularly as Microsoft’s dominance of the computer market. Between 1991 and 1995, Microsoft grew its revenue from $1.8bn to $6bn as it built a seemingly insurmountably dominant as the chosen software provider among SMEs, which relied upon them for their computing needs.

Who were the early adopters of Linux?

Among those who took an early interest in the new Linux operating system were NASA. The mid-1990s saw a climate where many big companies and organisations in the US were about to embrace the new digital age by ditching outdated, unwieldy and expensive machines in favour of slimmer, quicker and cheaper alternatives.

As part of their overhaul, NASA took on machines that were powered by Linux and, with the benefit of such a huge name behind them, Torvalds and his company enjoyed sustained growth from this period onwards.

The platform suited certain sectors more than others – and the inability to dovetail with the burgeoning gaming industry in particular saw Linux miss out on a very lucrative area.

However, large companies kept using Linux – and their commitment to the platform continues to this day. In fact, between 2008 and 2010, 75% of new Linux code was written by developers working for corporations.

In those early days, Linux simply wasn’t user friendly enough to attract the casual gamer. The Windows alternative featured an element of hand holding and easy to access support, while Linux demanded a certain amount of tech-savviness that was simply out of reach of a generation that was logging on to the fledgling internet for the very first time.

As such, 98% of PCs and consoles ran Windows – and therefore, developers were focused on creating games that would work effectively on that system alone. With many games incompatible on Linux software, there wasn’t a lot they could do to break into the gaming market, which even in 1993 was worth a staggering $25 billion a year.

Breakthrough with the Android revolution – for gaming and security

Many Android devices are compatible with Linux software – meaning the number of global Linux users has grown hugely since 2008, when Android began to dominate the mobile market. During the same period, the global games market has grown to be worth $75 billion – and with half of the total revenue being generated by mobile games, developers finally have the a huge financial incentive they need to start working with Linux.

Along with the success of Android, another key driver behind Linux’s resurgence has been the 2012 launch of Steam’s Linux platform. It opened up more Linux games that previously were off the radar for gaming enthusiasts – including Minecraft, Warhammer and Dota 2.

As Linux continues to evolve, tech-savvy users and relative newbies alike are discovering the ease in which they can run programming for business, for fun, and even for the home.

For those serious about keeping their homes safe, that don’t want to rely on another standard OS, security companies offer surveillance software that can be run on Linux. And what’s more, you don’t need to sit at your monitor all day, keeping a beady eye on proceedings – you can easily receive alerts by SMS or on a specialist app.

One industry that relies on Linux-powered security cameras is gambling. That’s because every square inch of increasingly vast casinos must be made secure and free of the risk of theft. After all, at any given moment a casino in the US holds between $5 million and $20 million in its vault. And under UK gaming laws, gambling venues must legally have enough cash on hand to back every single chip that’s in play – including online casinos.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that casinos have developed some of the world’s best security technology – and from armed security to crisis plans for robberies, to monitoring employees, you can read how they have every base covered in this insightful report into casino security.

Adopt, adapt and improve

To succeed in any industry requires a number of qualities, but in an ever-changing landscape, most companies have to adapt in order to survive and thrive. Over the course of history, there are many examples of this but in recent years, Western Union illustrates this quality more than most.

Initially set up to deliver telegrams, the birth of the internet and the growth in email users quickly made this service redundant. Without changing its name, Western Union responded by completely reinventing itself as a money transfer facility and by 2012 it was handling some $79 billion in payments across the calendar year.

The reinvention of IBM is another fascinating transformation that is now being studied in business schools. Once a global leader in the world of personal computers, the brand was about to be swamped by Microsoft and the digital revolution that followed.

Facing an uncertain future, IBM has now thrived thanks to investment in its server business while it has acquired more than 200 IT service solutions providers.

Linux’s progress has been more of an evolution as opposed to a reinvention but by becoming more accessible to the gaming sector, it has opened more opportunities and the future looks far more certain for a company that has finally made inroads into this vital area.

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