In Pictures: A visual history of Linux

The 10 biggest leaps forward in the look and feel of the Linux desktops

  • Linux started out life as a Minix clone built as a hobby by some guy over in Europe. (OK, it wasn't exactly a Minix clone. But it was built by a guy. And he was in Europe.) Since then, Linux has had a lot of different looks. Let's take a look over a few of the most interesting.

  • The first release of Linux In October 1991, Linus Torvalds releases the first version of Linux. It doesn't do much, but it runs BASH and GCC and, as Torvalds puts it, "it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks."

  • XFree86 In 1992, the XFree86 project springs into existence to build an open and portable X11 display server, bringing with it twm (Tom's Window Manager), which will be a staple for years to come.

  • K Desktop Environment 1 A long time passes. Then, in July 1998, the first release of the KDE occurs. A Linux Desktop powerhouse is born.

  • GNOME 1 A couple of guys, unhappy with the licensing of the Qt libraries on which KDE is built, set out to build a desktop environment with only Free dependencies. We see the result in March 1999, in the form of GNOME 1.

  • K Desktop Environment 2 Not to be outdone, the KDE crew releases KDE 2 in October of the next year (2000). And it's pretty stinking gorgeous. At least ... it was at the time.

  • K Desktop Environment 3 Those at KDE look at each other and think, "Let's come out with another huge release just a year and a half later and set the standard for customizable Linux Desktops." So, in April 2002, that's what they do.

  • GNOME 2 With KDE ruling the Linux Desktop world, GNOME needs to act quickly. So in June 2002 (just two short months after the release of KDE 3), a sequel to GNOME hits the streets. It goes on to be the base desktop environment for some of the most popular Linux distributions of all time.

  • K Desktop Environment 4 Six years pass. Bit by bit, GNOME and KDE have both improved steadily, but neither have had a big, new, groundbreaking release. KDE 4 breaks that trend in 2008, in a big way, by bringing a completely rebuilt and highly tweakable desktop experience.

  • Unity In the summer of 2010, Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu Linux, begins showing people its new user experience "Unity," which will replace GNOME as its mega-popular distribution. Folks on the GNOME team are not thrilled.

  • GNOME 3/Shell Not content to let the KDE and Unity folks have all the fun, the GNOME team rolls out GNOME 3 along with its new user experience, the GNOME Shell -- a highly customizable and script-able desktop environment, and a gorgeous one at that. And that brings us to today. Now, click back a few times and compare these latest releases to the first releases of GNOME, KDE and the early XFree86. Then sit down. You'll be dizzy.

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