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Just For Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary Paperback – 9 Nov 2002
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In 1991, at the age of 21, Linus Torvalds, then a student at Helsinki University, sat down in his mother's apartment and wrote the powerful Linux operating system. Perhaps even more astounding than his programming prowess is what Torvalds did with it: he gave it away - free! The Linux operating system became available to anyone who wanted to download it. Instead of money, Torvalds asked people for suggestions to improve the system. Thus emerged the free software movement (known today as "Open Source") and an operating system that is more powerful and stable than anything that Microsoft can offer. As well as becoming a computer genius, Torvalds became Bill Gates' number one enemy. Today, LINUX is exploding on to the market, and its creator is a household name. Linus Torvalds is already a folk hero within the technolgy world, often mobbed at trade shows and forever asked to give interviews by the media. But Torvalds is a most unlikely celebrity: a family man, he lives in a cramped house in Santa Clara with his wife, Tove, a Finnish karate champion, and their two daughters. He claims to this day that he invented LINUX "just for fun".
About the Author
Linus Torvalds was born in Finland and graduated from the University of Helsinki. He is the creator of the LINUX operating system and head of the Open Source movement. He presently works as a programmer at Transmeta Corp, a secretive company that designs cutting-edge microchips. He lives with his wife - the six-times karate champion of Finland - and children in Santa Clara, California. David Diamond has written regularly for publications such as The New York Times, Business Week and Wired. He is executive editor of Red Herring magazine and lives in Kentfield, California with his wife and daughter.
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Who would have thought that one day it would run all the worlds super computers, most of the giant Internet servers, most of the cloud computing and storage systems, many major networks (London Stock Exchange for one!), car and aircraft systems, the base kernel for the Android OS and much, much more.
Highly recommended. If you have a child/ teenage prodigy around you, it will make a great gift too!
I read just about all of it at a single sitting (or rather a single laying) yesterday in one ten hour stint and it's a cracker - the only things I started to skip-over were the Torvalds-family-descriptions by Diamond, otherwise the Torvalds bits are compelling e.g.
He started as a teenager with a Sinclair QL (because it had the (32 bit) Motorola 68080) this he described from the hardware aspect and wrote low-level stuff for it in assembler, for years then he did a massive bit of saving and bought, on three-year-credit, the biggest 386 (4MBytes of RAM) (33Mhz CPU) PC he could find when he was 20 (or maybe 21) and then installed Minix (a minimal, crippled, stripped-down Unix-like teaching-aid designed by a Dr. Tanenbaum in, I think Denmark) and decided that it was too limiting so then he wrote a console for it that contained two processes, and out-to-modem and an in-to-screen so that he could communicate with college machines (he has just started as a student with Helsinki university) - all compiled from Minix.
Next he wrote a driver to access the filing system so that he could access the harddrive.
Then, at some point, he realised that he was starting to develop... an operating system... and decided to go for it and requested the POSIX standard ("please, anybody, send me anything about POSIX?!" - via newsgroups - via the Minix news group) and this singular request caused a certain Mr ??? of some ??? university to email Linus back and offer him some space on their server so that Linus could eventually post the "operating system" there that he was obviously working on - together with login and password (Good init!)
Next Linus accidentally did one of his transmissions to /dev/hda instead of the modem at /dev/tty1 and wrote all over the partition containing Minix (that he was using to compile his stuff with) and so... he though... the hell with it, let's try and compile in Linux too! (this is all in C of course).
All this time he is sleeping, rolling out of bed to his machine that is two feet away, and rolling back into bed. Sometimes he eats, sometimes not. There is no light because he has blacked out the windows (I guess Finish summers are too long) so he does not know day from night.
He gets well-bored doing the system calls, one after the other, from the POSIX descriptions and so instead, he just installs BASH and fires it up and then, for every missing call that pops up, he goes and writes it (Good eh! Do it organically - that is exactly how I do all my code too) and finally BINGO! Bash starts working!
It has taken maybe four or five months, he calls it version 0.01 and (maybe, I seem to remember) a month or two later, at maybe 0.02, he puts in up on the server for others to see and writes that famous email...
<some time later>
He thinks, now we just need to add networking, that can't be too difficult, lets jump to version 0.95
<two years later>
They (there are lots of folks working on Linux now) get the bastard networking working at version 0.95 <lots of extra versioning here> and call it 1.00 - (NB MS Windows is still at 3.1 and has no networking at all)
(I am playing with iptables and it says that originally iptables was just mean't to be a stop-gap, but became the actual thing - I can now see why)
Later on, in America, Steve Jobs calls him over for "talks". This is described in a couple of paragraphs - perhaps half a page and is very interesting - Jobs *assumes* that everyone will immediately want to work with Apple and also that he has done no research at all on Torvalds (otherwise he would have known that Torvalds will *never* work with Mach (the OS adopted by Apple) because Torvalds thinks that micro kernels are crap (the original flame-ware between Tanebaum (the Minix man - Minix is micro kernel) and Torvalds - Linux is monolithic kernel) - so Jobs is just-not-with-it in that respect - he has no clue about people at all.
Someone in London offers Torvalds $10,000,000 to allow them to post Torvalds' name on their board (of directors). Torvalds turns them down and is amused by their shock at this and goes on to speak for them: "what part of $10,000,000 don't you understand?"
In that original flamewar, it is a little touching - I see it as the older man, ever so slightly losing it, being put down by the young upstart (well written in Torvalds' second language of English - when I was twenty two or three, I had trouble writing a letter to my bank manager) - Torvalds later on tried in vain to get the Dr Tanenbaum to autograph his copy of the Dr's book on operating systems - this is the book that changed Torvalds life).
Things start looking up, he is given stock options by several Linux companies and they turn him overnight into a millionaire circa 1998/9.
Torvalds gets irritated by folks who presume that he is some hermit monk "I like money, I like to spend it! Look, I just bought a BMW Z3"
He accidentally snubs Bill Joy (walking out on Sun's presentation when he finds that he has been duped into attending "open source" that is actually "closed source" (jini)).
He never uses jargon - I can understand everything he writes! E.g. the micro-kernel: he explains it perfectly (the Linux kernel I get perfectly because he using every damn nook and cranny of the 386 for maximum performance, hence the "monolithic" side, but that is because this is hardware - I see Linus as a hardware man (and Dr Tanenbaum as a software man - and RMS too) (he also explains BASH - Bourne again shell - this I knew already. He also explains GNU:- GNU is Not Unix - a geek's recursive in-joke - this I did not know).
E.g. the micro-kernel is just a minimal piece possible... all the other kernel pieces are minimal too... and... therefore ya got the horrendous communication problem between them all (despite each piece being "simplest") - ya trade simple pieces for complex communication...
...also Torvalds mentions that a certain Australian, Bruce<somebody> added some patches to Minix to un-cripple it (the licence did not allow complete-compile, hence only patches allowed, ya gotta compile yourself) and said that there were some race-problems in the inter-communication in Minix.
He make the case for Open-Source in devastating fashion - but who would expect anything less! He makes cases against and *for* IP patents (because they shoot themselves in the foot - innovation is driven to circumvent the patent).
As I said, its a terrific read, and informative too.
It takes off at page 54 and it does not land again until the last chapter "Fame and Fortune" (Diamond had entitled it "Has Fame Spoilt Me?" but Linus grabbed his Mac and retyped it himself - Linus speaks and Diamond records it, and then types it up later - I am assuming).
When I first started on Linux, I needed pages 54~56 because my first experience of Linux (in 2004) was is "Where's my screen? What the hell is XFree86? Do I need that? Where does it come from?
What I needed, was a which-planet-am-I-on of pages 54~56 because after reading hundreds of webpages, Eric Raymond and about half of the massive Advanced Programming in the Unix Environment (in about two months), I *still* had no idea where the front door was!
Diamond asks him to predict the future and Torvalds says that this is only for nutters therefore he (Torvalds) qualifies and goes on to say that in the next fifteen years operating systems "won't exist" any more because the drive is for Entertainment (his own definition of the final Meaning of Life) and therefore the user will just have an entertainment system and be completely unaware of the underlying operating system - not bad for ten years ago - but to him this is just plain-obvious because, as he says, "just look at the success of the new Play Station Two this year!" He also goes on to say that if Sony just stay with it, they should be the Leader - Sony! You idiots! All ya had to do was invent the iPad!!!
Review: Mr. Tolvalds says that he wanted to create "a fun book . . . and have fun making it . . . ." He mostly succeeded. You will enjoy learning about his views through verbatim accounts describing he and his wife taking care of their children at the same time. "I was an ugly child." He also reports that he had "atrocious taste in clothes." In sum, "I was a nerd."
From the time he got his first computer, that's the companion with which he spent most of his life. In the winters in Finland, that's one of the best ways to have fun. "If you're good enough, you can be God. On a small scale." Programming is "an exercise in creativity" and "it's the greatest feeling in the world." It was also a lot more interesting that his schoolwork.
Linux started out with his desire to write a disk driver. He posted a message about it to get feedback and the open source movement was underway. But there was no intention to create Linux at that time. It just sort of evolved into a revolution.
His personal philosophies are simple and powerful. "Greed is never good." "Well, I want to explain the meaning of life" which he summarizes as being "survival . . . social order . . . entertainment." Each activity moves through those stages. As a result, "civilization is a cult."
Those who program will love his descriptions of the machines he owned, the problems he ran into programming them, and how the problems were solved.
Although the book is a little bit technical, only those who are technophobes will find it too heavy in this area. He tells you where to skip to if you don't want to read the more technical sections.
His explanations of Linux and open source are powerful and simple. "People trust me." But "people can choose to ignore me because they can just do the stuff themselves."
He admonishes everyone. "People take me too seriously."
After you read this interesting memoir, think about how you could establish more trust with more people. What would you like to accomplish for others, if you could?
Be prepared to be an accidental revolutionary. The world needs more of them!
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