Linux, Unix and Open Source History in Romania

The history of Unix and open source systems in Romania can be divided in the following phases:

1980--1990 Samizdat phase During the last decade of the Ceausescu's rule computers could only be found in computing centers of large enterprises and institutes.

State-owned enterprises were manufacturing clones of PDP-11 machines, mostly running RSX, clones of IBM-360 running OS/360 (yes! in 1980!) and microcomputers with Z80 processors running CP/M-80 from a floppy. Some of the later (for example CUB-Z) were actually desktop sized.

Personal computers were traded on a limited gray market and were mostly ZX Spectrum clones, some of them fitted with various floppy disk solutions, with some locally developed operating system. A very limited batch of diskette-based IBM-PC clones were manufactured starting around 1988.

Some PDP-like machines running Unix V7 or similar are rumored to have been used in communications companies.

The C programming language made a bit of a splash on CP/M and Spectrum clones in the late eighties and it came with rumours about what Unix is about.

Eventually, around 1986, a source distribution of Unix V7 became available in a samizdat form. Z80 computers, of course could not be fitted with it. All efforts to develop anything had to be private as attempts to establish any comercial enterprise, even on a small scale, were against la laws of the communist state.

One attempt to build a private Unix machine using a MC-68000 processor was tried with some success by L.G. Ionescu.

Books on any technical subject were incredibly difficult to find and they were in the form of samizdat copies.

In contrast to this situation, most high schools had very heavy math curricula, which included 'applied math' that is boolean algebra, formal logic, numerical algorithms and FORTRAN programming although most pupils were not supposed to ever see a computer.

Students in universities did have limited access to computers of the kind mentioned above, and were supposed to deepen their FORTRAN abilities and learn a bit of Pascal in the later years, the vast majority of the universities being technical.

1992--1996 Academic phase.

After 1990 DOS-based PCs became easier to find. And then, it happened!

An organisation named Free Unix for Romania was formed by mr. Marius Hâncu, a Romanian born engineer from Canada, which was later led by Teodor Lungu.. It led to the first generation of Linux users in Romania. Basically, it arranged donations from romanians abroad and from the Soros foundation for linux copies and books which reached numerous first users.

In the mean time, the first metropolitan and national networks for internet access were established at the Bucharest Polytechnic ( under the leadership of Nini Popovici) and RNC (led by Eugenie Stăicuţ) and they resulted in a sepparate influx of free software.

The 'Romanian Open Systems Events' were organised, from 1993 to 1996 by the GURU (Group of Romanian Unix Users) and others. These were important events, with hundreds of young participants who had the opportunity to listen to speakers such as Richard Stallman, Phil Zimmermann and Linux Torvalds (who was still a student at the time).

Some documents from that time can be found below:

This first wave of Unix (actually, mostly Linux) adoption actually only reached universities, research institutes and hobbists connected to them in some way or another. Computers were still scarce, there were no established distribution mechanisms and no Internet access outside universities. Also, of course, Linux was not just for any user at the time.

However, as a result, a number of system administrators, programmers and Linux users appeared who will provide the human resources for the expansion of the Internet in Romania.

1997--2002. Comercial phase.

The market for computers, software and IT services appeared gradually, before 1997. Initially, there were few potential buyers outside state companies and institutions. However, IP networks and Internet access have been growing and so was the occasional Linux server.

Dialup access became comercially available in the late 1990s and most romanians who ever bought a PC actually bought an Internet-connected PC.

Initially, these systems were windows machines, but in early 2000 few stores, including the newly built supermarkets (Metro, Carrefour), would sell you a non-Linux machine except for the most expensive brands.

Computer magazines such as Chip started to regularly sell Linux distributions, mainly redhat and fedora. Towards 2005 you can get a Linux distribution at any street corner, at the newsstand for something like 3 USD, as cheap (gratis) expertise in Linux installation and administration is very easy to find.

Also, it finally downed to the romanian government that if you are under 25 and can't afford a computer you are actually denied a basic right, so now the state grants a 200 euro voucher for a new computer to any young fellow who is too poor to buy one himself.

Grassroots organisations like the Romanian Linux Users Group, mainly consisting of students and young sysadmins appeared.

Meetings organised by the academic establishment, like ROSE, stopped (or stopped being concerned with OS products, including open source products) and most meetings were more informal meetings of the quickly multiplying sysadmin professionals, like those at Ilieni, Baile Felix and Sf. Gheorghe.

2002--near future. Internet phase.

Around 2002 cable TV companies, which are very widespread in Romania, even in villages, started to compete on offering broadband Internet access. 4Gb/month can be had for as small as 9 USD/month, cable modem included, but access to, say, debian ftp mirrors on the network of the same provider is free.

This is rapidly turning Linux distribution over the net as the easiest way to access the software.

Convenient as it may seem, it will probably be a short phase because some companies are now diligently installing optic fiber access in most quarters of the larger cities.

Linux dedicated periodicals, such as 'Linux Magazine' have appeared with large sections on Linux issues in the more general computer-related press.

Meetings are scarcer and more informal as most of the discussion happens on online groups. Few people who are interested in Linux are offline these days.


The spread of Linux in Romania repeated, in about 10 years, the spread of the Unix and Linux in academia and then in communications and then in general use in the western world over 30 years. The difference from the US is that in Romania there is no comercial Unix and virtually no mainframe world, no VMS, not much Novell, no AS/400, not even BSD. It is now an internet-connected place with only two kinds of systems: all sorts of gnu/linux and the more recent versions of windows.

Romanian authors of open source software

Non-profit groups related to open source




Localization efforts


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8in CP/M diskette with Unix V7 source code, about 1987. (click for detail)

inadequately maintained by A.D. Corlan