The Rebel Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution Hardcover – 24 Jan 2001
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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 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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 the Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
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.
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.
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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As a historical record it sorta works. You would need to be a real anorak to actually enjoy it.Read more
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