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4.0 out of 5 stars The greatest history of Linux that (n)ever was, 23 Feb. 2001
This review is from: Rebel Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution (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. In that aspect, Rebel Code doesn't bring much one would not already know from the writing of Larry McVoy and Eric Raymond. I may not be alone here. Anybody who has already been tracking the progess of Linux - and I believe the majority of readership ought to be sought in this audience - will probably find some 80% of the book already familiar. The rest present the interviews the author conducted with some principal contributors throughout the 2000, and contained many new and interesting facts to me. The whole is packaged in a fairly pleasant and readable form.
There is something about Moody that makes me uneasy, though. I cannot quite decide whether it is his intellectual criticism, or is he simply looking for some cheap drama. His best known writing on Linux before this book was his 1997 HotWired article titled "The Greatest OS That (N)ever Was" where he depicts his worrisome views about the future of Linux in dramatic tones ("...But Linux also sits at a critical juncture..."). In Rebel Code, he seems to be especially proud of his description of the schism that was threatening in Linux development in 1998, which "... nobody outside the Linux world noticed."
Finally, there is no apologize for the complete omission of references. Linux is a child of Internet, its development was carried out in the open, and so it is perhaps the best documented OS ever. This book had a wonderful chance to become the authoritative list of resources concerning the Linux history, and flunked it. On the positive side, Rebel Code does have a decent index.
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