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MINIX Gets (X) Windows

Nearly 15 years ago, Linux creator Linus Torvalds posted his first public announcement about open source operating system Linux in a post to the MINIX newsgroup.

Since then, Linux has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. But what of MINIX, the "inspiration" for Linux?

MINIX is still quite alive and is on the cusp of releasing its first version with a windowing system as it continues its (long) march to becoming a serious operating system as the shadow of its Penguin disciple continues to grow.

What is MINIX?

MINIX is a UNIX  clone that began back in 1987 by Andrew Tanenbaum. It is perhaps best known because of its relationship to Linus Torvalds, who began experimenting with MINIX in March of 1991. In October of 1991, Linux was announced in the MINIX newsgroup, which Torvalds at the time described as "a free version of a minix-lookalike for AT-386 computers."

MINIX version 3 was released in October of 2005, heralding a new era for Tanenbaum's UNIX clone.

"MINIX 1 and 2 were intended only for teaching, not for serious use," Tanenbaum told internetnews.com in an e-mail interview. "MINIX 3 is intended for serious use as well and to be highly reliable and self-healing as well."

But in its nearly 20 years of existence, MINIX has not had a windowing system for graphics support. But in the 3.1.2 version, which officially hit public beta this week, MINIX will sport X Windows.

X Windows is the basis of all modern graphical user interfaces on Unix and Linux. It's currently overseen by the X.ORG foundation.

Tanenbaum noted that because MINIX 3 is for serious use, it is also adding more features to make it "seriously usable".

"With X Windows and over 400 UNIX programs, including emacs, vi, cc, gcc, perl, python, ssh, and many more, it is on the way to becoming a serious system," Tanenbaum said.

Tanenebaum also said other new features are expected in upcoming versions. Among them is the ability to withstand crashes of the disk driver with automatic recovery and not interfering with running programs. Virtual memory, threads, better support for printing and more reliability features are also expected.

"We are still early on the curve," Tanenbaum said. "But we have had over 300,000 visits to the site and over 50,000 downloads so far, so we are starting to make some progress."

Torvalds did not respond to request for comment via e-mail by press time.

Considering that Torvalds is 15 years removed from MINIX, it's likely that the one-time MINIX user isn't overly concerned of the march of MINIX.