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This page covers the history of Operating System Development (OSDev) as it applies to amateur, educational and smaller operating systems. Other pages cover different aspects of the history of computer operating systems. A general history of mainstream OSes can be found on Wikipedia. A more detailed timeline and hierarchy of UNIX and similar OSes can be found at the UNIX history page.



Informal operating system development has been a growing hobby over the last few years, and has become an enjoyable pass-time. Many of the developers that frequent osdev.org are studying college (university) level computer science, but there are many also that have no formal background in computer science, and are self taught.

Several factors have brought about the upswing in popularity of developing operating systems. The first is the availability of open documentation, and the access to this provided by the Internet. The second factor is the availibility of cheap hardware that can be used personally for testing the systems on (since a computer must be restarted to test an operating system, this makes it hard to test on a system with multiple users).

Another possible factor is the recent popularity of GNU/Linux systems, and the Linux kernel in particular. The Linux kernel was not the first kernel to open its sources to the world, but it is (and has been for the last decade at least) the most popular. Since many programmers are aware of Linux's open state, they may be more inclined to delve deeper into the kernel than they would be with a closed kernel. Today Linux has become a mainstream kernel, with many companies investing in its development. It has become a good example of how a hobbyist kernel can become something big, given enough man hours and the right chances.

About the word 'OSDev'

The use of OSDev as an abbreviation for Operating System Development seems to have started well before osdev-related newsgroup traffic started in 1996. Prior to it's use with hobbyist development, OSDev also stood for other things; mainly On Screen Device. OSDev is now a common enough term that the wikipedia article on osdev is about operating system development.

Timeline of the OSDev Community

This is a timeline includes historical information related to websites and other communities devoted to operating system development.

  • Early 1996: Informal operating system development that didn't directly connect to an academic project started to take off.
  • Sept/Oct 1996: Malte Kroeger created a mailing list(os-list@aros.net) that grew to 30+ people in size.
  • Sept/Oct 1996: The os-list mailing list discussions were moved over to the comp.os.misc newsgroup.
  • Sept 10 1996: Michael Hobbs posts a message on comp.os.misc that stated I'm beginning to believe that there exists at least 1 OS for each person who reads this group. This pattern holds true 10 years later.
  • Sept 12 1996: It is suggested on comp.os.misc that a dedicated os development newsgroup be created. Some of the suggested names include: comp.os.design, comp.os.homebrew.develop, comp.os.development, and alt.hobby.osdev. Two names are agreeded on; comp.os.development and comp.os.assembly. Eventually the names would change to use alt instead of comp. original discussion
  • 1997: A web based message board was created at www.effect.net.au/os-dev/wwwboard/wwwboard.htm to host osdev discussions.
  • 1997: One of the first OS project lists is created that contains OSes built by single developers. There were 20 projects and Linux was listed as it was still considered a small OS. Internet Archive mirror
  • Dec 3 1998: Stu George's OSFAQ is announced, hosted on a dialup account.
  • Nov 14 1999: Mega-tokyo.com is opened, with Stu George's OSFAQ hosted there.
  • 2000: Forums are added to Mega-tokyo.com. For the next few years, these forums would grow to become the biggest OSDev forums. They would remain the biggest until the merger (this issue is currently under some debate in the forum. Certainly, there were more posts per day at mega-tokyo.com).
  • Oct 18 2006: The two largest os development forums, Mega-Tokyo.com and OSDev.org, are merged in to one single forum creating the single largest community of operating system developers working on different OSes. The original OS development newsgroups are eclipsed by several orders of magnitude in traffic.

Famous Quotes / Usenet Posts

  • Aug 25 1991: Linus Torvalds announces the Linux kernel for the first time on comp.os.minix. [1]
  • Oct 6 1991: Linus Torvalds announces v0.02 of the Linux kernel. [2]
  • Jan 30 1992: The famous Microkernel vs. Monolithic kernel debate. [3]
  • Bill Gates: The best way to prepare [to be a programmer] is to write programs, and to study great programs that other people have written. In my case, I went to the garbage cans at the Computer Science Center and fished out listings of their operating system.
  • Brian Kernighan: First make it run, then make it run fast.
  • Dennis Ritchie: UNIX is basically a simple operating system, but you have to be a genius to understand the simplicity.
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