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Rebel Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution [Paperback]

Glyn Moody
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

25 Jan 2001
In 1991, Linus Torvalds, a Finnish student, sent an e-mail to an internet newsgroup, asking for advice on how to make a better operating system. His project, he said, was a hobby and would never be "big and professional". Yet in less than ten years he and a loose alliance of hackers have created an operating system - LINUX - that challenges Windows for the server software market and is now poised to dominate the next generation of handheld and desktop computers. In this age of new technology start-ups, LINUX is impressive, but it might seem like just another business success story. What makes this story strange - and deeply troubling for the business world - is that LINUX is free. Not only is it free, but anyone can adapt it in any way they wish, as long as they pass it on to new users on the same terms. And far from being an isolated case, it is one of dozens of software projects round the world that have ignored or postponed commercial concerns to concentrate on writing the perfect code and have dedicated themselves to the principles of free and open development. For years they have been dismissed as irrelevant idealists. Yet already, more than any government or corporation, these fluidly organized and highly efficient teams of "amateurs" have defended and entrenched the open standards on which the Internet depends. In this definitive account, Glyn Moody traces the history of open software from its origins in the UNIX community 30 years ago, through its embrace of internet technology, to its present status as Microsoft's only serious rival. Moody shows how pioneers like Richard Stallman struggled to define and defend the principle of free software development, and how companies like IBM, Netscape and Hewlett Packard first ignored and then raced to understand and attempt to control - its potential. He reveals for the first time the full story of the creation of LINUX, Apache, Sendmail and many of the other open source programmes. As he describes the personalities and principles of those involved, he shows how subtle and apparently trivial differences in method have spelt success or failure for individual projects. This is a book about the human urge to share and exchange, about the limits - and resilience - of the profit motive. Above all it is about what we can achieve together when we suspend, even for a moment, the pursuit of personal advantage.


Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (25 Jan 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713995203
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713995206
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,578,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

Everyone in computing has heard of Linux and hundreds of millions use it every day. Every Net user accesses Linux systems dozens of times during any Net session. Yet because people associate products with companies, Linux--with its thousands of largely anonymous volunteer developers and free availability--is a difficult fit with our world view.

The Rebel Code puts Linux into an historical and social context. Based largely on interviews with the main players and precise historical data (Linux kernel releases are dated to the second) it traces Free Software from its early eighties origin with Robert Stallman's founding of the Gnu Project and takes it as far as the end of 2000 with Gnu/Linux becoming a worldwide phenomenon running handheld PDAs, PCs and Macs, IBM mainframes and powering the world's biggest supercomputers.

Glyn Moody charts every milestone in the development of the Linux kernel from Linus Torvalds' first installation of Minix. As important, he follows the progress of major Free Software projects--essential to the success of Gnu/Linux--from Emacs and GCC to Sendmail and XFree86 finishing with KDE and Gnome.

The end result is a curiously exciting and compulsively readable tale which stands comparison with Tracy Kidder's book, The Soul of a New Machine. Endlessly fascinating, you'll be up reading it well past bedtime. --Steve Patient

About the Author

Glyn Moody is a London-based writer who has been covering Linux almost since its inception. He has published major features on it in Wired, New Scientist, and Salon, and has written for The Economist and the Financial Times. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a good journalistic account 26 Jun 2003
By achates
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed this book and learnt quite a few things from it, despite being fairly familiar with most of the story already. In the large part it's well written and easy to read. However I second the reviewer above who complains about the lack of references. Even though Moody does say in the preface that much of his material comes from interviews, there is plenty that clearly does not and should have been referenced. This omission stops it from being truly useful as a history.
Also, another minor criticism, which applies to most books of this genre (journalistic accounts of computer history), is the book's relentless focus on the individuals involved, with little or no assessment of technical or other factors. Thus each episode involves yet another student hacker performing heroic coding feats, one blends into the next and the thing gets a little tedious. Perhaps Moody felt himself or his readers unequipped to deal with the technical issues, but the inclusion of just a little more technical depth would have added texture, and made some chapters a lot more engaging.
Nevertheless I think this is a good book, one of the best of its type, and deserves four stars.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The greatest history of Linux that (n)ever was 23 Feb 2001
Format:Paperback
As someone who has been tracking the progress of Linux since 1992, and has been using it continuously since 1994, I have been looking for some years now - at least since 1998, when Linux hit the mainstream news - who is going be the first to come up with a history of Linux; something among similar lines as Gleick did for chaos theory. Now we have the winner: Glyn Moody, a British IT journalist.
Not always organized in a chronological order, Rebel Code follows the progress of Linux and several other open-source projects (XFree86, Sendmail, Perl, Apache, Samba...) from the grandfather of Linux, Unix, in late sixties; then we follow the stories of Andrew Tannenbaum's Minix system and Richard Stallman's project GNU through the eighties, until we finally arrive to the beginnings of Linux in 1991. From then on, we follow it rise and blossom, with its added functionalities, with the first contributors to the kernel starting to appear, and then the first Linux distributions.
If the first half of the book deals mostly with technical topics, the second half - following the decision of Netscape Corporation to open the source code of their Web browser - is mostly concerned with the socio-economical issues of the open source model, the differences between it and the idea of free software; the huge initial success of the IPOs of open-source companies (Moody is much less vocal about the fact that they lost most of their values a year later), possible alternative uses of Linux (handheld and internet appliances) and musings on the possible future of the free/open source movement.
Speaking of the latter, I miss a more thorough and independent analysis on whether the author sees the free/open source development model as a sustainable strategy or just a part of the dotcom craze.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting 9 Mar 2001
Format:Paperback
I picked this book up after I couldn't find an o'reilly python book at the bookshop. I'd heard it mentioned on /. (slashdot) and thought I'd give it a go. From the very first page I couldn't put it down. A well written history book of the underground movement and it's key people. I'm sure that sociologists would have just as much fun reading it as hackers. A fantastic read!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!!! 6 Jun 2001
Format:Paperback
Rebel Code is an excellent introduction to the world and history of open source software developent. Read in conjunction with Linus Torvalds new book "Just For Fun" and you will have an excellent couple of nights reading material.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening Open Source history 7 Feb 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Glyn Moody's book is an admirably complete history of Linux and the open source movement. It also manages to keep the pace going well, despite having to deal with a comparitively dry subject matter. The trouble is, because the movement is so disparate, the book has to jump from point to point and person to person rapidly. By trying to cover the people, the products and the philosophy behind open source, Rebel Code stretches itself a bit too thinly.
In addition, it doesn't explain itself thoroughly enough for a mainstream book. Someone with even a sketchy knowledge of computing will have no problems with the terminology, but those who don't even know that Windows is an operating system (or for that matter what an operating system is) may be left out in the cold. Then again, those who don't know what a web server is probably will not be drawn to the book (and are highly unlikely to read this critique on-line). There is also an underlying implication that Linux is some way server-sided. This could inadvertently undermine today's open source movement - the next move for Linux must be to break into the small office/home desktop as successfully as it has into the web server world, as soon as more people discover there is 'no-cost' life beyond the Windows desktop.
Finally, despite praising the Open Source movement, Rebel Code doesn't fall into the trap of simply becoming a 'Microsoft is evil' rant. Instead it remains balanced which means anyone interested in the state of the computer world (now and for the next few years, at least) could find something of interest here.
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