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Nikolai Bezroukov. Portraits of Open Source Pioneers

For readers with high sensitivity to grammar errors access to this page is not recommended :-)

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Webliography to the Chapter 4

See also Softpanorama open_source webliography


Linus old mails


 Recollections from friends and co-workers Leading Unix Developers about Linux

Open Source Webliography

Open Source Chronicle

Critique of Vulgar Raymondism

Cult of Personality Etc.

"Power. Money. Intrigue. Art. Violence. Innovation. Philosophy. Emulation. Influence. Change. Sound interesting? Read on. "

Wired 11.11 Leader of the Free World

 But his favorite toy is a sunburst-yellow Mercedes SLK32 sitting in the garage. Still, it's the rear end of the black Acura SUV next to it that draws my attention. The faithful can be seen up and down Highway 101 in Northern California, driving their 7-year-old Hondas and used Volvos outfitted with bumper stickers that proclaim them Linux rebels. But the gleaming silver license plate frame affixed to Tove's car reads: coffee, chocolate, men: some things are better rich.

... ... ...

We head out to his car, and any lingering bad feelings seem to fly away as he gets behind the wheel of the Mercedes. The top is down, and the hot Silicon Valley sun glints off his forehead. Dressed all in white, with his paunch pressing against his shirt, he looks like a contented pasha seated on his throne. He is an unusual king, but then, he and his loyal subjects are an equally unusual and amazing lot.


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Linus Torvalds - Wikiquote

[Sept 8 2000] Article DB The Renaissance of Open Source - 1-1 by Jessica Sheffield

Power. Money. Intrigue. Art. Violence. Innovation. Philosophy. Emulation. Influence. Change. Sound interesting? Read on.

It may surprise you to learn that I apply these words to the past year's events in the open source world, and I anticipate even more events in the year to come. I could easily have chosen other words that might be more descriptive from a strictly technological point of view. But I chose these words because of their significance to another time in history (specifically Western history), when for the first time humanity broke out of the "old" ways of thinking in favor of a new, more simplistic approach: examine the world in which you live, and do what works.

It's no accident that history classes are divided into pre- and post-Renaissance. Likewise, computer geeks of the future will look on these years as the time when everything changed for the industry. We looked at the system and disliked it, so we changed it. UNIX too behemoth-like for your tastes? Create your own operating system. Don't like the way a particular program behaves? Rewrite it, or write your own. The attitude of our community is, "If it's broken, fix it... and then make the fix available, so everyone doesn't have to do the same thing." In many ways, this credo is a new way of thinking in a world where art has gone the way of corporatism and no one just does anything for fun anymore.

So what? We've been doing this for years. What has set 1999 apart from all the years that preceded it, and shaped this community into a force to be reckoned with in the world outside our walls? The answer is the same thing that brought about the Italian Renaissance and ultimately led to the development of Western civilization as we know it. As my history professor Dr. Gerberding would say, carefully enunciating both syllables for extra emphasis:


There are a variety of theories on the effects of money on the open source world and the industry that spawned it. Some say that it is the influx of money into open source development via IPOs, venture capitalists, and investors that has caused the world to sit up and take notice at this little thing called Linux. Others contest that the time was right, the industry primed, and the cash is simply a reward for a job well done. I rather think it's a combination of the two, a cycle of interest -> money -> hype -> investments. The fact is that the money is here has changed the face of the open source community and will continue to do so. As in the Renaissance, these changes will occur for good and bad, and we must learn to take them in stride.

For merchants of northern Italy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the burgeoning wool trade and the wealth that came along with it meant an unprecedented chance to rise to power. Suddenly, the region was controlled, not by the legitimate heirs of nobility, but by the most successful merchants. For the first time since ancient days, power was in the hands of the truly talented. Today in the computing world, the money and power belong to the people who have helped build that world from the ground up. Twenty years ago, no one would have believed that a university drop-out computer geek would one day be a multibillionaire and control a sizeable portion of the operating system market. Now many geeks enjoy the life that used to be reserved for 'nobility' only. In this at least, the open source renaissance has been truly positive, as finally people are being paid to do what they love.

But with power and money comes competition. Webster wrote, "Certainly, the way to power was strewn with corpses." Myself, I've not seen any geek corpses littering the trade show floor, but it is true that competition has arisen in the open source world. Of course, that's one of the ways we've gotten here -- by refusing to buy into the monopolies -- but it has its negative aspects, too. Think of the last time a "distro war" got ugly and degenerated into personal attacks. Of course, I rather doubt that any conflicts will result in one party's being chopped up and paraded through the streets as a warning (the Renaissance had more violence and gore than a John Carpenter film), but one only has to read some of the comments on Slashdot to realize that this is a community in which emotions run high and loyalty deep. 'Righteous' anger is a powerful tool, no matter how it is wielded.

A subtler side of the competition lies in what a friend of mine once called "geek flexing." Of course, this is nothing new: every age has had its "I have the best/fastest/largest [fill in the blank], therefore I am the best" mentality. To competing Florentine families, it was art and artists, scholars and thinkers. Now, of course, it is who has the fastest processors, the thinnest monitors, the smallest notebooks. But above all else, success is measured by who you have working for you. Would the Linux community have waited in so much anticipation for Wednesday's Transmeta announcement if Linus Torvalds' name hadn't been attached to the project? Would Andover.Net be a (geek) household name if they hadn't acquired Slashdot? The ultimate sign of prestige and credibility is to have a 'name' in your company, to be able to say. "OpenSourceCelebrityX believes in us, obviously, because he works for us." In this way geeks are becoming valued as artisans in their own right, and the true vindication of their art is the vindication of their peers.

Their peers, however, aren't the only ones watching anymore. Linux is Hot Stuff. Corel realised the potential of having their own distribution, computer manufacturers like IBM and Dell have jumped on the bandwagon, and even Be, the oft-forgotten "other OS", turned heads earlier this week with their announcement that version 5.0 of their operating system will be available free (as in beer) on the Web. All of a sudden, the 'different' way of doing things is garnering a great deal of positive attention. Everyone wants to be on the inside of this phenomenon.

And therein lies the challenge, for to keep the interest -- and dollars -- of the world we must not rest in our efforts to keep open source development ahead of the game. To Renaissance scholars, the revolution was not in the artifacts of society, but in the new ways of thinking that produced them. Change first occurs at the level of the human mind, and works its way outward from there. Open source may be new to the 'outside' world, but we must constantly review and reinvent the system in order to make it better, else those 'outsiders' will quickly return to safer territory. If we learn nothing else from history, let it teach us that the complacent always lose. If we let down our guard for an instant, there will be an army at the gates.

We stand at a turning point, a time in which our words and actions will affect the future of the world we have helped to build. If that sounds a bit too heady, consider this: One year ago, could anyone have predicted that the open source community should be where it is today? The Renaissance of computing is here, and open source is the new way of thinking that will change the way we live. The lessons of the past can guide us in the way of the future, but we must be ever vigilant lest we lose sight of our goals.

Linus old mails

Linux History @ Linux International

-- slightly sentimental collection of early posts

Note: The following text was written by Linus on July 31 1992. It is a collection of various artifacts from the period in which Linux first began to take shape.

This is just a sentimental journey into some of the first posts concerning linux, so you can happily press Control-D now if you actually thought you'd get anything technical.

Linus vs. Tanenbaum

Linus vs. Tanenbaum

-- a very interesting Usenet discussion. Topics include "Minix vs Linux" and "microkernel OS vs traditional monolithic kernel". Kind of revealing as for Linus personality (please remember that he is still a student). See also Linux is obsolete (main index) for more full collection.

Andy Tanenbaum

From: [email protected] (Andy Tanenbaum)
Newsgroups: comp.os.minix
Subject: LINUX is obsolete
Date: 29 Jan 92 12:12:50 GMT
Organization: Fac. Wiskunde &h; Informatica, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam

I was in the U.S. for a couple of weeks, so I haven't commented much on LINUX (not that I would have said much had I been around), but for what it is worth, I have a couple of comments now.

As most of you know, for me MINIX is a hobby, something that I do in the evening when I get bored writing books and there are no major wars, revolutions, or senate hearings being televised live on CNN. My real job is a professor and researcher in the area of operating systems.

As a result of my occupation, I think I know a bit about where operating are going in the next decade or so. Two aspects stand out:

Microkernel vs Monolithic System

Most older operating systems are monolithic, that is, the whole operating system is a single a.out file that runs in 'kernel mode.' This binary contains the process management, memory management, file system and the rest. Examples of such systems are UNIX, MS-DOS, VMS, MVS, OS/360, MULTICS, and many more.

The alternative is a microkernel-based system, in which most of the OS runs as separate processes, mostly outside the kernel. They communicate by message passing. The kernel's job is to handle the message passing, interrupt handling, low-level process management, and possibly the I/O. Examples of this design are the RC4000, Amoeba, Chorus, Mach, and the not-yet-released Windows/NT.

While I could go into a long story here about the relative merits of the two designs, suffice it to say that among the people who actually design operating systems, the debate is essentially over. Microkernels have won. The only real argument for monolithic systems was performance, and there is now enough evidence showing that microkernel systems can be just as fast as monolithic systems (e.g., Rick Rashid has published papers comparing Mach 3.0 to monolithic systems) that it is now all over but the shoutin`.

MINIX is a microkernel-based system. The file system and memory management are separate processes, running outside the kernel. The I/O drivers are also separate processes (in the kernel, but only because the brain-dead nature of the Intel CPUs makes that difficult to do otherwise). LINUX is a monolithic style system. This is a giant step back into the 1970s. That is like taking an existing, working C program and rewriting it in BASIC. To me, writing a monolithic system in 1991 is a truly poor idea.


Once upon a time there was the 4004 CPU. When it grew up it became an 8008. Then it underwent plastic surgery and became the 8080. It begat the 8086, which begat the 8088, which begat the 80286, which begat the 80386, which begat the 80486, and so on unto the N-th generation. In the meantime, RISC chips happened, and some of them are running at over 100 MIPS. Speeds of 200 MIPS and more are likely in the coming years. These things are not going to suddenly vanish. What is going to happen is that they will gradually take over from the 80x86 line. They will run old MS-DOS programs by interpreting the 80386 in software. (I even wrote my own IBM PC simulator in C, which you can get by FTP from = in dir minix/simulator.) I think it is a gross error to design an OS for any specific architecture, since that is not going to be around all that long.

MINIX was designed to be reasonably portable, and has been ported from the Intel line to the 680x0 (Atari, Amiga, Macintosh), SPARC, and NS32016. LINUX is tied fairly closely to the 80x86. Not the way to go.

Don`t get me wrong, I am not unhappy with LINUX. It will get all the people who want to turn MINIX in BSD UNIX off my back. But in all honesty, I would suggest that people who want a **MODERN** "free" OS look around for a microkernel-based, portable OS, like maybe GNU or something like that.

Andy Tanenbaum ([email protected])

P.S. Just as a random aside, Amoeba has a UNIX emulator (running in user space), but it is far from complete. If there are any people who would like to work on that, please let me know. To run Amoeba you need a few 386s, one of which needs 16M, and all of which need the WD Ethernet card.

Linus Benedict Torvalds

From: [email protected] (Linus Benedict Torvalds)
Newsgroups: comp.os.minix
Subject: Re: LINUX is obsolete
Date: 29 Jan 92 23:14:26 GMT
Organization: University of Helsinki

Well, with a subject like this, I'm afraid I'll have to reply. Apologies to minix-users who have heard enough about linux anyway. I'd like to be able to just "ignore the bait", but ... Time for some serious flamefesting!

In article <[email protected]> [email protected] (Andy Tanenbaum) writes:

I was in the U.S. for a couple of weeks, so I haven't commented much on LINUX (not that I would have said much had I been around), but for what it is worth, I have a couple of comments now.

As most of you know, for me MINIX is a hobby, something that I do in the evening when I get bored writing books and there are no major wars, revolutions, or senate hearings being televised live on CNN. My real job is a professor and researcher in the area of operating systems.

You use this as an excuse for the limitations of minix? Sorry, but you loose: I've got more excuses than you have, and linux still beats the pants of minix in almost all areas. Not to mention the fact that most of the good code for PC minix seems to have been written by Bruce Evans.

Re 1: you doing minix as a hobby - look at who makes money off minix, and who gives linux out for free. Then talk about hobbies. Make minix freely available, and one of my biggest gripes with it will disappear. Linux has very much been a hobby (but a serious one: the best type) for me: I get no money for it, and it's not even part of any of my studies in the university. I've done it all on my own time, and on my own machine.

Re 2: your job is being a professor and researcher: That's one hell of a good excuse for some of the brain-damages of minix. I can only hope (and assume) that Amoeba doesn't suck like minix does.


True, linux is monolithic, and I agree that microkernels are nicer. With a less argumentative subject, I'd probably have agreed with most of what you said. From a theoretical (and aesthetical) standpoint linux looses. If the GNU kernel had been ready last spring, I'd not have bothered to even start my project: the fact is that it wasn't and still isn't. Linux wins heavily on points of being available now.

MINIX is a microkernel-based system. [deleted, but not so that you miss the point ] LINUX is a monolithic style system.

If this was the only criterion for the "goodness" of a kernel, you'd be right. What you don't mention is that minix doesn't do the micro-kernel thing very well, and has problems with real multitasking (in the kernel). If I had made an OS that had problems with a multithreading filesystem, I wouldn't be so fast to condemn others: in fact, I'd do my damndest to make others forget about the fiasco.

[ yes, I know there are multithreading hacks for minix, but they are hacks, and bruce evans tells me there are lots of race conditions ]


"Portability is for people who cannot write new programs"
		-me, right now (with tongue in cheek)

The fact is that linux is more portable than minix. What? I hear you say. It's true - but not in the sense that ast means: I made linux as conformant to standards as I knew how (without having any POSIX standard in front of me). Porting things to linux is generally /much/ easier than porting them to minix.

I agree that portability is a good thing: but only where it actually has some meaning. There is no idea in trying to make an operating system overly portable: adhering to a portable API is good enough. The very /idea/ of an operating system is to use the hardware features, and hide them behind a layer of high-level calls. That is exactly what linux does: it just uses a bigger subset of the 386 features than other kernels seem to do. Of course this makes the kernel proper unportable, but it also makes for a /much/ simpler design. An acceptable trade-off, and one that made linux possible in the first place.

I also agree that linux takes the non-portability to an extreme: I got my 386 last January, and linux was partly a project to teach me about it. Many things should have been done more portably if it would have been a real project. I'm not making overly many excuses about it though: it was a design decision, and last april when I started the thing, I didn't think anybody would actually want to use it. I'm happy to report I was wrong, and as my source is freely available, anybody is free to try to port it, even though it won't be easy.


PS. I apologize for sometimes sounding too harsh: minix is nice enough if you have nothing else. Amoeba might be nice if you have 5-10 spare 386's lying around, but I certainly don't. I don't usually get into flames, but I'm touchy when it comes to linux :)

Recollections from Friends and co-workers

Interviews with Alan Cox

-- if you think that Linux kernel is written by Linus Torvalds

you are far from truth ;-). Here is the interview is with one of the main contributors to the development of the Linux Kernel -- a man who spends countless hours hacking away at the Kernel making it as near perfect as he can. It is for sure that Alan is one of those people who is a 'true developer'; in it for the experience and not the money...a trait that so many Linux developers are part of...

Leading Unix Developers about Linux

Thompson on Linux

Computer: In a sense, Linux is following in this tradition. Any thoughts on this phenomenon?

Thompson: I view Linux as something that's not Microsoft-a backlash against Microsoft, no more and no less. I don't think it will be very successful in the long run. I've looked at the source and there are pieces that are good and pieces that are not. A whole bunch of random people have contributed to this source, and the quality varies drastically.

My experience and some of my friends' experience is that Linux is quite unreliable. Microsoft is really unreliable but Linux is worse. In a non-PC environment, it just won't hold up. If you're using it on a single box, that's one thing. But if you want to use Linux in firewalls, gateways, embedded systems, and so on, it has a long way to go. KernelView David Hinds

How does having PCMCIA in the kernel affect your role as maintainer of the code?

Well, it means that I don't have final editorial control over what goes into the kernel PCMCIA subsystem. Linus generally takes my patches as-is, but we have not always agreed on where PCMCIA development should be headed, and when we don't agree, you can guess who gets the last word. It also makes my life more complicated because there are two PCMCIA source trees to think about: the standalone one that I control and most people use, and the one in the 2.3 tree, which is (so far) relatively lightly tested.

...Has Linux's rise in "mainstream" popularity affected the ease of getting information necessary for Linux support of miscellaneous PCMCIA hardware?

I can't say that I've really seen much change so far. A few vendors have started distributing their own Linux drivers for their PCMCIA devices. For the most part, though, vendors that would not give out technical details before, still don't.

...One of the common threads on linux-kernel is "the tarball is too big; let's split it up". Do you feel that splitting the tarball up so that more drivers were distributed outside of the main kernel sources would be a good or a bad thing?

I don't know. I mostly agree with the arguments that the absolute size of the tarball is not really relevant. I'm more concerned with the scalability of the development process; as the number of components in the tree goes up, the odds of everything in a particular snapshot of the tree actually working go down. So I think the usability of any particular stock kernel release may suffer. Also, some hardware vendors really want to be able to ship drivers with their products. For both of these reasons, I think it is increasingly important that there be an easy way to distribute a separate driver, at least in source code form. Right now, it is excruciatingly hard to distribute a separate driver so that, given a target kernel and a set of matching kernel headers, someone can compile a module that will work with that kernel. There are no good reasons why this should be so hard.

Do you see any sort of impending need to split the kernel to support different classes of use; eg workstations, servers, clustering, embedded, etc.

Not so much. I think this sort of split would probably be a bad idea. What might be more useful would be to reorganize and simplify the kernel configuration process along these lines, so that a whole constellation of options could be selected based on an intended use. Kernel configuration is getting awfully complicated.

Do you face pressure from outside sources about what should be worked on for the kernel?

Not really, at least not so far. Since joining VA Linux Systems last fall, I'm obviously now spending some of my time working on things that VA has an interest in, beyond the work I do on PCMCIA. However, VA has also been great about letting me spend time working on PCMCIA when I need to, and that is a central part of my job. The integration of PCMCIA into the 2.3 kernel does add some pressure, since it means I have to keep better track of what is going on in the very latest development kernels.

Do you face any external pressures to speed up your work with the rise in Linux popularity?

Again, not really. Maybe the pressure has increased so slowly that I haven't noticed, but it doesn't seem like the volume of email I get has increased all that much over the past few years. Part of it may be that increases in the stability of PCMCIA offset the rise in Linux popularity, so the raw number of new problems doesn't change that much. I think most of the pressure on me is internal; my long term goal is to make PCMCIA sufficiently solid that new problems dry up and I can step back a bit from daily troubleshooting, and usually just point people to the PCMCIA-HOWTO.

What editor and window manager do your regularly use?

I generally use emacs, though I probably only know on the order of twenty commands. I've sometimes wondered if I'd be more productive if I spent the time to really learn an editor... but with emacs, I don't think I have enough neurons to spare for that, even if I wanted to. For window managers, I use E, though I was perfectly happy with fvwm before that. I tend to just open up a bunch of shell windows and a browser, and virtually never use any fancy window manager features, so choice of window manager is almost irrelevant to me. I'm very picky about my terminal programs, though; so far, I've yet to find anything as good as rxvt.

Cult of Personality

Wired 11.11 Leader of the Free World

Leader of the Free World

How Linus Torvalds became benevolent dictator of Planet Linux, the biggest collaborative project in history.

By Gary Rivlin

Linus Torvalds wants me to believe he's too boring for this story. The creator of the Linux operating system portrays himself as a mild-mannered soul leading a humdrum life, just another guy lucky enough to own a McMansion in the hills above San Jose courtesy of the money-mad late '90s. Before agreeing to meet me, Torvalds sent an email imagining that I'd be overwhelmed by the tedium of hanging around with the likes of him.

"Six shots of coffee and I was expecting Linus to really spring into action," he wrote, pretending to be me. "Where would he go next? Fighting evil software hoarders? But no. He got into his car (dammit, if I had a car like that I wouldn't act so sluglike) and drove sedately back home I closed my eyes and dreamt of more exciting assignments."

On one level, Torvalds' life really is filled with quotidian routine. He works from home as a fellow for the Open Source Development Lab, a corporate-funded consortium created to foster improvements to Linux. His commute is a walk down a flight of stairs to an office he shares with Tove, his wife of nine years. It's jammed with Linux-related books, few of which he's read, and looks out onto the narrow walkway between his home and the neighbor's. The early July day he invites me to visit is his first official one as an OSDL employee, but it isn't long after my arrival that he excuses himself to take out the garbage because Tove nags him about the smell. Later, he takes a break to feed a lunch of milk splashed over Cheerios to his three daughters, all younger than 8, while Tove runs errands.

Torvalds, 33, looks like a supply clerk. His wispy brown hair frames preternaturally blue eyes and a soft, open face with an ample nose and heavy jaw. He's almost never without a benign grin, a smile so pearly-white perfect that he could get work in a teeth-bleaching ad. And he's dressed as though ready for a casual morning of tennis: white socks, white shorts, and a slight variation of the same shirt he more or less always wears - a white polo obtained for free at some Linux event.

Yet Torvalds' humble office is the de facto world headquarters for an operating system now used by more than 18 million people around the globe, and this self-described ordinary Joe is admired by legions of fans who cast him as a modern-day warrior courageous enough to challenge the most powerful technology companies in the universe and smart enough to win. It's easy to see why that hyperbolic depiction has taken hold. At 21, wearing a ratty robe in a darkened room in his mother's Helsinki apartment, Torvalds wrote the kernel of an operating system that can now be found inside a boggling array of machines and devices. He posted it on the Internet and invited other programmers to improve it. Since then, tens of thousands of them have, making Linux perhaps the single largest collaborative project in the planet's history. Twelve years on, the operating system is robust enough to run the world's most powerful supercomputers yet sleek and versatile enough to run inside consumer toys like TiVo, as well as television set-top boxes and portable devices such as cell phones and handhelds. But even more impressive than Linux's increasing prevalence in living rooms and pockets is its growth in the market for servers, the centralized computers that power the Internet and corporate networks. It's only a matter of time, concluded Goldman Sachs in a study released earlier this year titled "Fear the Penguin," before Linux displaces Unix as the dominant operating system running the world's largest corporate data centers. It's impossible to measure precisely the spread of software that anyone - from a resident of a third world country to the CTO of a multinational giant - can download for free over the Internet, but Linux has surely proved itself the most revolutionary software undertaking of the past decade.

Linux's mainstream arrival is testament not only to the worth of the code contributed by programmers working out of love rather than pursuit of a paycheck, but to the power of its progenitor, who still gives a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to any changes. Torvalds acknowledges being "benevolent dictator of Planet Linux," as he calls it, yet the secret to his success is not, apparently, his technological prowess but his disarming personality. Check in with the loyal subjects who have watched Torvalds' rule - a process best accomplished via email - and they'll agree. As Cliff Miller, an early Linux contributor, writes: "He is a great leader, which he may not even realize."

Over the past decade, other free software products have been hailed as critical building blocks of our networked world. About two-thirds of the servers that collectively make up the Internet deliver Web pages and other data through a program called Apache, developed by a band of programmers who receive no direct financial compensation for their work. The programming language Perl, another freebie, has become so indispensable to Web developers that it's been referred to as the duct tape of the Internet. And most of the world's email is routed through Sendmail, yet another exercise in mob authorship. Like Linux, each of these was created by coders abiding by the open source credo: Do what you wish to improve a product, charge for it if you like, but share the underlying source code you added.

These efforts, impressive as they are, haven't matched Linux in terms of reach and acclaim. That's partly because, as an operating system, Linux plays the glamour position in the software world, akin to the quarterback or lead guitar. But hackers have backed other free operating systems, and none have attained the following that Linux enjoys. "This is not due to the variation in technical merit, development style, or licensing scheme," Miller writes to me. "The difference is spelled L-I-N-U-S." People have tried to make Torvalds into what he's not - anti-money, anti-capitalist, anti-Microsoft - so they tend to miss his true strengths. Those who work closely with Torvalds describe him as a steadying force atop an ever burgeoning community populated by more than its share of prickly programmers and zealots. Under his guidance, they manage to crank out software that matches, if not exceeds, the work produced by the salaried armies of Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and other well-financed behemoths.

Those giants have certainly taken notice. Microsoft's top executives acknowledge Linux as a top adversary, and it's no wonder. Time has shown a strong correlation between a company's stock price and the vigor with which that company has embraced Linux. Oracle, IBM, and Intel - three of the system's earliest corporate proponents - have mostly held their value on Wall Street over the past couple years. Sun, which was late and halfhearted in adopting Linux, has watched its stock plummet.

Still, for all its recent triumphs, Linux now faces its single greatest threat: a lawsuit that seeks to prove that Linux represents a widespread case of intellectual property theft and to charge its users steep fees as compensation. In March, the SCO Group, a Utah-based company that owns the rights to the Unix operating system, accused IBM of dropping thousands of lines of Unix into Linux. Since then, SCO executives have charged that the presence of its code in Linux raises ownership issues that call into question not only Linux's legality but the very process that makes open source such a vital part of the tech world. Linux is based on donated code: Torvalds and his peers who oversee popular open source projects accept contributions from any and all sources based on the merits of the code alone. They don't have the institutional resources to ensure that a programmer isn't guilty of plagiarism.

"We need to step back and take a look at the open source business model, which doesn't provide [private enterprises like ours] with inherent protections," SCO chief executive Darl McBride charged in August. To pursue its claim against IBM, whose programmers have been some of the most prolific contributors to Linux, SCO has hired David Boies, who represented the government against Microsoft and Gore against Bush before the US Supreme Court.

Legal papers filed by SCO cast Torvalds as a ringleader encouraging his followers to brazenly flout the law, and though the suit wouldn't have a significant financial impact on him (he collects no royalties from his operating system), Linux has come to define his identity. Torvalds never set out to champion an alternative method for creating software, but inadvertently he has, and now he's both proud of that accomplishment and angry that his life's work is under attack. For better or for worse, he has emerged as the poster boy for the open source movement, and SCO has thrown a big fat dirtball at the cause. "I spend a lot more time than any person should have to talking with lawyers and thinking about intellectual property issues," Torvalds says with a sigh.

Torvalds is a work-at-home dad with no formal management training. He confesses to being terribly disorganized. His approach to voicemail is to let messages stack up and then delete them without listening to any. His memory is so lousy that he can't recall whether he was 6 or 8 or 10 when his parents divorced. And he's awfully absentminded: We are heading out the door for lunch when Torvalds suddenly remembers that his wife is out and that if we leave, his kids will be home alone. Then there's his ambivalence about his role as Linux's leader. "I don't have a five-year agricultural plan," he says. "I don't want to dictate: This is how we're all going to march in lockstep." Yet the 12 years he's presided over an unruly group of volunteer programmers is worthy of study by those who teach leadership inside the world's finest MBA programs.

His hold over Linux is based more on loyalty than legalities. He owns the rights to the name and nothing else. Theoretically, someone could appropriate every last line of his OS and rename it Sally. "I can't afford to make too many stupid mistakes," Torvalds says, "because then people watching will say, hey, maybe we can find someone better. I don't have any authority over Linux other than this notion that I know what I'm doing." He jokingly refers to himself as "Linux's hood ornament," and he's anything but an autocrat. His power is based on nothing more than the collective respect of his cohorts.

Almost from the beginning, Torvalds has surrounded himself with a circle of deputies he calls "maintainers." These are programmers whose contributions have impressed him in a particular category - networking, say, or file system management - so that now they contribute code as well as screen the contributions of others that fall into their area of expertise. "Nobody gets declared into any of these positions," explains Alan Cox, who until this summer was responsible for those layers of the operating system that communicate with disk drives. Instead, Torvalds will simply start relying on that person to help him weigh the merits of others' work; suddenly the programmer finds himself occupying an exalted role. Today, Torvalds has a dozen maintainers who help him manage upcoming versions of Linux. According to Cox, Torvalds tends to have a different relationship with each one. Some he's collaborated with for many years and trusts implicitly. Others he reviews more closely because "perhaps he doesn't trust their design decisions or some of their coding," writes Cox in an email. "We all have our weaknesses." That's one of the great advantages of the open source model, Cox adds: constant feedback and peer review.

This geographically dispersed group meets at least once a year to talk about its goals for the operating system. "Linus sets a philosophical direction about how he likes the code to be," says Andrew Morton, who has been working on core components of Linux since 2000. "The rest of us pretty much follow his lead." Torvalds has final say over their decisions, but it's extremely rare for him to overrule any of them.

Earlier this year, Torvalds asked Morton to take over informally as number two. Morton, who for several years ran software development teams inside Nortel Networks, is now overseeing the release of Linux version 2.6, expected by the end of this year. But that arrangement is represented more clearly on an organizational chart than in reality. Some people, it seems, still send potential 2.6 fixes directly to Torvalds - and he'll respond rather than defer to his lieutenant. "Somehow things move ahead fairly well," says Morton.

By all accounts, Torvalds has a good feel for when he should hold forth and when he should keep his opinion to himself. He'll debate an issue passionately - favoring terms like pinhead and brain-damaged when arguing technical points - and sometimes make the wrong call, but if so, he's proved willing to publicly admit his mistakes. More than anything he seeks to avoid taking sides in a way that might splinter his followers. "I'd much rather have 15 people arguing about something than 15 people splitting into two camps, each side convinced it's right and not talking to the other," he says. Often, when things are on the verge of getting messy, he'll consciously avoid making a decision, allowing time for feelings to dissipate. "Eventually, some obvious solution will come to the fore or the issue will just fade away," says Morton.

In a way, Torvalds is less a ruler (or a hood ornament, for that matter) than an ambassador, roaming his virtual world and exerting his influence to prevent technical fights from devolving into sectarian battles. Take the factions that want him to make toppling Microsoft a priority: Create a version of Linux as simple for novices to use as Windows, they reason, and you loosen Redmond's grip on the PC. "That's the kind of politics you see inside Oracle and Sun," Torvalds says. "Once you start thinking more about where you want to be than about making the best product, you're screwed."

Mike Olson is the CEO of a Massachusetts-based database startup called Sleepycat Software and contributed critical components to Linux as a UC Berkeley grad student. He describes Torvalds as "very, very good - much better than engineers in general - at smoothing out difficulties, building consensus, and building community. He really has only a technical agenda."

Perhaps there's no plainer example of Torvalds' equanimity than his unflappable attitude toward Richard Stallman, the intellectual forefather of the free software movement. A former computer scientist at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Lab, Stallman has been arguing as far back as 1984 that proprietary software is practically a crime against humanity. That's the year he launched a project called GNU with the aim of creating a free operating system that would displace Unix. (GNU is a recursive name that stands for GNU's Not Unix.) He obstinately rejects the term open source despite its now near universal use, preferring free software, the name he coined. And although Torvalds released the kernel of his operating system well before GNU produced a reliable one of its own, Stallman insists Torvalds' work should properly be called GNU/Linux, because early contributors adapted GNU components for Linux - never mind that the Linux core is non-GNU and now approaches 6 million lines of code. (Stallman declined to be interviewed unless this article used his nomenclature throughout.) Torvalds diplomatically declines to say anything about GNU and Stallman: "That's not a debate I want to get involved in."

That's typical Torvalds, according to John "maddog" Hall, who heads a nonprofit advocacy group called Linux International and has been friends with Torvalds since they met at a computer conference in 1994. Hall claims he's seen an angry outburst only once, when a stranger was pestering Torvalds about a technical point while he was drinking a beer with friends. "This is different from some of the other free and open source advocates and project leaders whose anger is legendary," Hall writes in an email.

Torvalds has a good human touch. Hall, who has no children, says he will be forever grateful to his friend for choosing him as godfather to two of Torvalds' daughters.Yet when it comes to weighing the merits of a technology, Torvalds is adept at separating the idea from the person suggesting it. His is a world that works only if the best idea wins; he has no giant marketing budget to compensate for poor technical decisions, no clout in the marketplace to compensate for mediocrity. It's invariably painful when Torvalds rejects someone's contribution. The friends of one programmer told Torvalds their pal had threatened suicide after a feature he had obviously spent a lot of time developing was not included.

"Torvalds makes decisions based on whether he feels a design is clean, of high quality, whether it's going to be easy to service and, very important, whether it's needed by a broad set of users," says Dan Frye, who as director of IBM's Linux technology center oversees a team of more than 300 developers. "He's very good at staying away from anything just to satisfy a single corporate user or any entity's agenda."

"If you're too commercial," Torvalds says, "you end up being too shortsighted. You have a 'this is what we need' mentality, and you blow everything else off. But you want the commercial side, because commercial forces end up listening to different customers and meeting different needs compared to those doing it just for fun."

"I was an ugly child." That's how Torvalds chose to open his 2001 autobiography, Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary, written with journalist David Diamond. He describes himself as "a beaverish runt" of a kid and goes out of his way to stress his flaws, as if unaware that the standard practice of the genre is to make oneself sound more grand and important.

Perhaps he inherited his penchant for self-deprecation from his mother. Mikke Torvalds, a journalist with the Finnish News Agency, chose "Linus, schminus" as her subject line in the first email she sent to me. "As Sara [his sister] and I used to say, just give Linus a spare closet with a good computer in it and feed him some dry pasta, and he'll be perfectly happy," Mikke wrote.

In a way, Linus was born to be a revolutionary. His parents were campus radicals at the University of Helsinki in the 1960s. Torvalds' father was a card-carrying Communist who spent a year studying in Moscow when his son was about 5. He served a stint as a minor elected official (he's now a prominent television and radio exec). Other kids teased Linus about his father's politics. "Growing up, I was terribly embarrassed by him," Torvalds says.

Reading through his autobiography, anyone might think that his first true love was not a girl but the British-produced Sinclair QL, a then state-of-the-art machine he bought while a computer science student at the University of Helsinki. The QL, one of the world's first 32-bit boxes, provided Torvalds with his motivation for writing Linux: He wanted an OS for his home computer that would be as stable and strong as Unix, which he used on campus. At first he turned to a knockoff called Minix, but in time found it frustratingly inadequate as well. Since higher education is free in Finland and there isn't the pressure to finish a degree in four years, Torvalds decided to take a break and turn his attention full-time to creating his own operating system.

Through the spring and summer of 1991, Torvalds worked on the kernel of the system. He lived in near-isolation, rarely bothering to open the thick black curtains he had hung over his windows to reduce glare. He would have been a total recluse, he recalls, if not for Wednesday-night gatherings at a local pub, where he'd drink beer and talk shop with fellow members of the university's computer club. Finally, on September 17, 1991, he posted a message in a Minix users newsgroup, announcing that a rough cut of his creation could be downloaded for free from a university Internet site. Use Linux if you'd like, he instructed people, but any changes, new features, or improvements you devise must be shared with everyone else at no cost. It's an idea he borrowed from Richard Stallman, who had devised the General Public License, an agreement by which entrepreneurs could charge as much as they liked for a program but had to provide access to its source code. Torvalds opted for a version of the GPL that forbade anyone from making money selling modified versions of Linux.

He bristles when I suggest it can't be coincidence that a man born to socialist firebrands created something many people regard as revolutionary because it's shared gratis with the masses. "It never was, Take this and let us together build a better world," he says. His choices were to either keep this unfinished core of an OS for himself or share it with anyone who wanted it.

"My reasons for putting Linux out there were pretty selfish," he says. "I didn't want the headache of trying to deal with parts of the operating system that I saw as the crap work. I wanted help." Besides, he couldn't fathom collecting money for something he viewed as unfinished work that required the contribution of others.

A few months after he unveiled Linux, Torvalds received an email asking if he would add a compression feature so that Linux would work on systems with limited memory. It was nothing Torvalds would ever use - his system had ample RAM - but he worked on the feature throughout Christmas eve and into Christmas day.

The feature proved to be the add-on that gave his creation a leg up on Minix and other Unix knockoffs. Almost immediately after Torvalds posted the improvement, Linux gained hundreds of users, and he began receiving messages from people offering bug fixes and new features that made the OS increasingly valuable. This early sign of success gave him the confidence to change the licensing agreement so that people could make money selling Linux-based products as long as they continued to share the source code on any features they devised. The move led to the creation of companies such as Red Hat, founded in 1993, adding the energy and drive of entrepreneurs to the mix of those contributing to Linux.

These kinds of strategic decisions proved as key to Linux's success as the technical choices Torvalds made. One complaint about Linux at the time was that it worked only on PCs, so in 1994 Torvalds began seeking new outlets for his operating system, starting with a workstation computer called the Alpha, made by Digital Equipment Corp. Serendipity also played a role in the spread of Linux. Torvalds had nothing to do with the creation of the server software package Apache, but its developers wrote it first for the Linux platform, which gave the operating system entrйe into corporations in the mid-1990s. By 1997, tech analysts were conservatively estimating that at least 3 million computers worldwide were running Linux.

With renown came unexpected demands. Torvalds' private life became fodder for discussion and debate. He met Tove, a six-time Finnish karate champ, while teaching an introductory computer course at the University of Helsinki. (She responded to his first homework assignment - each student was to send him an email - by asking him out on a date.) When word spread that the couple was going to have a child, the open source community greeted the news with fear rather than joy. Could Torvalds balance Linux and family, members of newsgroups wondered in emails, especially given the demands of grad school?

The reaction was even more intense when, in 1997, he announced that he was taking a job with Transmeta, a chipmaker in Santa Clara, California. Linux fans feared he'd never be able to remain true to his open source roots in a commercial atmosphere. Worse, the venture was funded in part by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, which fueled sarcastic references to the "evil corporate environment" he was entering. For Torvalds, though, the decision was fairly straightforward. He'd always hated the cold, dark winters in Finland, and this was an opportunity to live in sunny Silicon Valley, the center of the universe to anyone in the computer field. He had been offered jobs at Linux-based businesses like Red Hat, but he was loath to favor one vendor over another. His arrangement with Transmeta, where he wrote software that allowed operating systems to communicate with the company's chips, permitted him to also spend time on Linux. In return, Transmeta would receive the services of a talented engineer who brought with him invaluable media attention - employment as a publicity stunt.

Torvalds arrived in Silicon Valley at a time when the computer world was looking for a new David to go up against Goliath. Microsoft seemed to have its hand in every aspect of computing, and once Netscape lost the browser wars with Microsoft, those committed to the cause glommed on to Linux as the next big threat to the Redmond beast. Like Windows, Linux ran on Intel-based PCs, but Windows was crash-prone even on a single machine, whereas Linux could reliably lash together dozens of computers. That gave it an advantage with corporate customers.

Journalists had a field day contrasting Torvalds - seemingly so indifferent to wealth that he didn't charge a penny for his product - with Gates, filthy rich with all that monopoly money. Fan sites popped up in dozens of languages. "The easy story line was that I was an idealist, even though that isn't the motivation for Linux," Torvalds says. He didn't exactly help put the kibosh on that narrative when he turned down the $10 million in options that a Linux-related company offered him to sit on its board of directors. He thought he'd compromise his objectivity if he lent his authority to any single company. His reasoning was sound, but was it any wonder the press depicted Torvalds as an otherworldly creature walking the Valley, where lucrative board appointments and IPO shares were treated as an entitlement?

Torvalds' home is spacious - a split-level, five-bedroom spread with a three-car garage and a backyard Jacuzzi housed in a wooden gazebo. The master bedroom affords enviable views of the hills and is so large that it contains both an exercise bike and a treadmill (neither of which, Torvalds confesses, he ever uses). Another room upstairs, outfitted with a pool table, wet bar, and temperature-controlled mini wine cellar, serves as his playpen. The home teems with the Linux mascot, from porcelain penguins in various sizes to partying penguins on a blue hand towel in the guest bathroom. But his favorite toy is a sunburst-yellow Mercedes SLK32 sitting in the garage. Still, it's the rear end of the black Acura SUV next to it that draws my attention. The faithful can be seen up and down Highway 101 in Northern California, driving their 7-year-old Hondas and used Volvos outfitted with bumper stickers that proclaim them Linux rebels. But the gleaming silver license plate frame affixed to Tove's car reads: coffee, chocolate, men: some things are better rich.

Torvalds was hardly wealthy his first few years in the Valley. Dotcom kids were getting rich on inventions barely worth mentioning in the same breath as Linux, yet he was living modestly on his Transmeta salary, his growing family cramped in a duplex. People would send him emails pleading for a handout, assuming he was as flush as he was famous. A man he never met even asked him to deliver the eulogy at his father's funeral. Steve Jobs and Bill Joy were among the tech bigwigs who contacted him out of the blue. He was idolized by fans and at the same time burdened by the practical worries of any Valley-based programmer struggling to make ends meet. His mother recalls him fretting about the eventual cost of college tuition for his children.

His fortunes changed in 1999. Red Hat and VA Linux, both leading purveyors of Linux-based software packages tailored for large enterprises, had granted him stock options with no strings attached, thank-yous from entrepreneurs who hoped to grow rich off his creation. When Red Hat went public that year, Torvalds was suddenly worth $1 million. On the day VA Linux (now VA Software) went public, Torvalds was worth roughly $20 million, though by the time he could sell his shares, they were valued at only a fraction of that.

Torvalds hesitated before buying himself his first expensive bauble, a two-seater BMW convertible. "I was a bit nervous about people's reaction," he confesses. "Are they going to think I've gone over to the dark side?" In the end he decided that the shape and price of the hunk of metal he drove to and from work each day was his own business. Despite counsel to the contrary, Torvalds wisely sold all of his stock and spent almost all of the windfall on his home and his cars, trusting that he'd always be able to earn a good salary as an engineer.

For the moment, Torvalds has the security of his post at the Open Source Development Lab, an organization whose scope and ranks have expanded along with Linux. Created in 2000 by a small consortium of major technology companies, including Intel and Hewlett-Packard, the OSDL aimed to accelerate Linux's adoption by financing well-equipped labs where programmers could test software features built specifically for the corporate world. Today, the organization has more than two dozen employees working in labs in Beaverton, Oregon, and in Yokohama, Japan, and 23 sponsoring companies - some of which contribute as much as $1 million a year.

"We seek to be the center of gravity for Linux development," says Stuart Cohen, who took over as CEO of the lab in April. Working groups staffed by employees of member corporations meet regularly to devise wish lists meant to tailor Linux for use in new areas, such as global telecom networks and high-end servers running the most demanding software applications.

For Torvalds, a well-paying gig as the lab's first full-time research fellow seemed like a dream come true. He'd be able to do what he's always done, but without the Transmeta-related obligations that were vying for his time. Instead, he started the job just as SCO's McBride declared that pretty much anyone using Linux is violating copyright laws and ripping off SCO. "With the US legal system, it's always hard to tell what the hell is going to happen," Torvalds says. "So I can't just dismiss the lawsuit as the complete crapola I think it is."

Near the end of our day together, Torvalds and I head out in his Mercedes to eat at a nearby sushi place, followed by a visit to Starbucks. Behind the wheel, Torvalds is manic and possessed, driving with such a lead foot that even a brief ride leaves me woozy. "The man with the flashy car," says the Starbucks barista who greets Torvalds, "the man with the secret wild alter ego." Shet scheduled to start until well into 2005.

In the meantime, SCO is raising the stakes. In June, the company amended its suit to include an August 2001 email in which Torvalds admits he abides by a "don't ask, don't tell" policy when it comes to patent issues: "I do not look up any patents on principle because (a) it's a horrible waste of time and (b) I don't want to know," he wrote to fellow Linux hackers. Though McBride has insisted he seeks "to work through issues in such a way that we get justice without putting a hole in the head of the penguin," SCO now appears intent on doing just that. In August, McBride announced a pricing plan that his company seems to have plucked straight from city traffic ticket enforcement: Any for-profit entity using Linux must pay SCO a onetime fee of $699 per processor. Failure to do so by October 15 means the price doubles to $1,399. McBride drew an analogy to the music industry's recent decision to target individual users illegally downloading copyrighted songs. "If we have to sue end users to give us relief for our damages," McBride says, "we will." The same month, IBM filed a countersuit, accusing SCO of infringing on several IBM patents and breaching the Linux GPL.

Torvalds is unapologetic about his "don't want to know" email. "As any patent lawyer will tell you, no engineer should ever go looking for a patent." For one thing, he argues, that's a job best left to lawyers; for another, if a competitor can prove a person checked and went ahead anyway, then that engineer would be liable for triple damages. As Torvalds sees it, SCO quoted his email only to score points in the media and cast this as a broader fight over intellectual property. He does, however, regret a crack he made at the end of his email that a hit man would be the easiest solution. "The fact is," he says of the SCO suit, "I don't think in the end this is going to mean a whole lot."

Perhaps, but that assessment is offered by a man who sees every moment spent thinking about legal matters as time away from his fellow citizens of Planet Linux. Torvalds had long ago drained his latte by the time he was fed up talking about SCO. We head out to his car, and any lingering bad feelings seem to fly away as he gets behind the wheel of the Mercedes. The top is down, and the hot Silicon Valley sun glints off his forehead. Dressed all in white, with his paunch pressing against his shirt, he looks like a contented pasha seated on his throne. He is an unusual king, but then, he and his loyal subjects are an equally unusual and amazing lot.

Dan Gillmor is a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.

Contributing editor Gary Rivlin ([email protected]) wrote about Sun Microsystems in Wired 11.07.

Copyright © 1993-2004 The Condé Nast Publications Inc. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1994-2003 Wired Digital, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Salt Lake Tribune -- Linux author makes no fuss about his fame at age 34, he already has earned his place as a technology demigod.

Linux author makes no fuss about his fame By Bob Mims The Salt Lake Tribune

Corporate jets fly him to a rock-star welcome from thousands of laptop-toting admirers, and, at age 34, he already has earned his place as a technology demigod.

For Linus Torvalds it has been a long, strange road since 1991, when, as a computer-science student and erstwhile hacker at the University of Helsinki, everything changed -- though he didn't have a clue at the time it had.

That was the year the then-21-year-old Finn finished eight months of work on an innocuous little computer operating system he dubbed Linux. What he did next, though, led to the program today being a serious challenger to Microsoft Corp.'s Windows empire.

With little thought about the consequences, Torvalds released Linux, at no cost, onto the Internet and into the then-fledgling "open-source community" -- a loose network of programmers dedicated to tweaking and redistributing improved versions of freely distributed software.

"It wasn't that conscious of a decision," said Torvalds, whose surprise appearance launched Novell Inc.'s BrainShare 2004 in Salt Lake City earlier in the week. "It wasn't even driven by any 'moral' reasons or anything really deep."

Indeed, the impetus -- Torvalds calls it "the original itch" -- for Linux was his inability to find an affordable version of Unix, then primarily a mainframe operating system -- to run on his home PC.

"I wanted to make it available freely just because I was personally so totally uninterested in doing anything else than the actual programming," he said. "I just didn't want to be bothered with things you need to do to actually make a commercial product."

No problem. If Torvalds didn't care to tackle the business end, the past few years have seen a growing number of companies embrace Linux as their best hope to loosen Microsoft's grip -- first on network servers, and eventually PC desktops.

IBM has invested a reported $1 billion-plus in distribution of Linux-based products. And late last year, Novell quickly became the world's No. 2 Linux distributor -- behind RedHat -- with its acquisition of Germany's SuSE Linux. Hewlett-Packard, already a leader in Linux-server applications, now looks to partner with Novell to put Linux on its desktop computers.

It all still amazes Torvalds. Linux "was purely a project for my own machine early on. Even when I made it available on the Internet, I did so mostly because I wanted feedback . . . not because I expected anybody to seriously use it."

The feedback came in floods following each new release. Torvalds would incorporate the beneficial suggestions into new Linux editions, and then release them again, under a public license that allowed free distribution while protecting his own rights.

Does the commercialization of Linux concern him? Not much, Torvalds said, stressing he does not share the extreme "free software" views of some in the open-source movement.

"I've always seen corporate interest as a good thing. They end up balancing out the original pure technical interests, and I think that balance is important," he said.

But "you can't be too commercial, since then you end up not doing the right thing for the customer, but the [public] license and the [open source] community have been something that keeps people honest."

He allows that Linux's future could be bumpy, due to disputes in the intellectual-property arena, especially in software patents related to numerous companion applications.

Copyright challenges -- like those poised by Utah's SCO Group in its $50 billion lawsuit against IBM over alleged inclusion of SCO's Unix code in Linux -- concern Torvalds less.

"I don't think [the suit] has had a chilling effect [on Linux adoption], but it has wasted a lot of people's time," he said.

Some random quotes.

True, linux is monolithic, and I agree that microkernels are nicer. With a less argumentative subject, I'd probably have agreed with most of what you said. From a theoretical (and aesthetical) standpoint linux looses. If the GNU kernel had been ready last spring, I'd not have bothered to even start my project: the fact is that it wasn't and still isn't. Linux wins heavily on points of being available now.

Interview Linus Torvalds -- February 24, 2000 -- Microsoft style introduction. As close to the marketing slogan "We invented windows" as one can get ;-). In a very nice PR move he also declared that Russia and China should be considered as a third world countries.

Linux began in 1991 when Finnish computer-science student Linus Torvalds developed a computer-operating system for fun. He wrote about his project on the Internet, and other programmers jumped on board. Linux has made Torvalds, who still oversees Linux development, a hero to many software programmers. Torvalds spoke to the Far Eastern Economic Review's G. Pierre Goad from his home in Santa Clara, California, where he works for Silicon Valley chip-maker Transmeta...

ZDNet News The Linux gospel according to Torvalds -- In best tradition of Stalin's CPSU Congresses the change of detection to suit personal (i.e. Transmeta) goals was revealed to the unsuspected unwashed masses. The Linux God decided that commercialism is good and fragmentation OK.

NEW YORK -- Looking more comfortable onstage than ever, Linus Torvalds kicked off the LinuxWorld trade show here Wednesday with some surprising proclamations:

Fragmentation of Linux is OK. Commercialism has been good for Linux. The 2.4 Linux kernel is running just a bit behind schedule.

Torvalds opened his keynote speech, informal as always, by asking how many attendees were Linux users. More than two-thirds raised their hands, prompting the creator of Linux to quip, "Good; it's still a friendly crowd."

Common questions
Torvalds then took most of an hour to answer the two questions he gets most often: What about fragmentation of the Linux kernel, and what about commercial interests pressing on the open-source nature of Linux? For both questions Torvalds provided insightful answers that probably surprised some attendees.

"Fragmentation is the sort of bogeyman of Unix, but fragmentation is often good," he declared. "Most of the things about fragmentation I like. You want to have a market where everybody gets to do their own thing and where one entity doesn't control it."

Torvalds also distinguished between good and bad fragmentation, bemoaning heavily the fact that bad software fragmentation -- fueled by politics and needless feature differentiation -- still exists in the market. "It's the same infighting, but it's over Java instead of Unix," Torvalds said. "They used to say Unix is dying. Now they say Java is dying, and we want to avoid that with Linux.

Slashdot: Open Source as an Ant Farm

Open Source as an Ant Farm

by Jack William Bell

Where Open Source is concerned, hyperbole from the digerteratti hype meisters proliferates nearly as quickly as the hyperlinks

they hype. Let's face it -- Clapton has been deposed; Linus Torvalds is now God. And those pundits shouting his divinity the loudest can^Тt even tell a stack register from a walrus. I wonder if Jesus had the same problem?

This constant lionizing of Linus is getting on my nerves. I mean, he is probably a great guy and all (if you know what I mean), but a great man? Usually you wait until people are safely dead (and unable to further embarrass themselves) before heaping those kinds of laurels on their heads. If I was he I would start worrying about that strange human proclivity for taking our living idols down a notch once in a while. Or even nailing them to a tree. Not to mention burning at the stake, drawing and quartering and satirizin g on TV.

But I knew things were getting ridiculous this last week when I saw three different weblogs pointing to the same dumb article using variations on the same dumb caption: 'Open Source as an Art Form'. I mean come on, just because a bunch of nutzoid art types gives Torvalds an award for Linux doesn't mean that an operating system or a development model is art! Yeesh!

Viva Las Linux! -- Linux Journal

"The excitement really started on Monday the 15th, with Linus Torvalds' keynote speech at the Venetian Ballroom of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Hundreds upon hundreds of us filled up a vacated parking garage, waiting in line on the cement for hours in hopes of seeing and hearing our leader.

...Finally, Linus walked on stage, and for a while he could say very little over the applause and flash photography. Linus is what Willy Loman wanted to be; not just liked, but well-liked, even adored, idolized, and worshiped daily at personal shrines (for example, by the Empeg development team) which no doubt can make a person uncomfortable. He lives in a politically difficult situation, a figurehead for our whole community, who must choose his words carefully so as not to offend. We count on him to keep us unified; we can rely on him not to behave strangely or take sides in vicious feuds; and we respect his plans about the future of the Linux kernel (thus avoiding the forking death of previous UNIX communities). He navigates carefully, not siding against vi or GNU Emacs, one distribution or another, commercial people or the free idealists. Above all, he remains giving and cooperative and most notably "humble": not as in "never be humble, you're not that good", but as one human being who treats other people as human beings (which isn't necessarily "humble" per se, more just reasonable). And then there's Linux, for which he is best known."

PC Week In Linus we (have no choice but to) trust -- Torvalds as a benevolent dictator

At any time, Linus Torvalds could take his kernel and go home. Join a vendor and throw his weight behind a particular Linux version. Either of those scenarios would be devastating to Linux as an open-source operating system. Very simply, Linus controls Linux.

That he doesn't exert his control in corporate-minded ways is of critical importance to the Linux community.

What many in that community don't want to hear, however, is that Linux's continued growth and success depends on a few individuals. Despite the belief that a huge community of developers forms and reforms Linux's open source code base, it's this relatively small group *led by Torvalds* that controls the platform.

Red Hat Software Inc. proved the point in its SEC S-1 filing for an initial public offering earlier this month:

"If this group of developers fails to further develop the Linux kernel, ... there is no guarantee that the kernel would be available from a reliable alternative source. In addition, any failure on the part of the kernel developers to further develop the kernel could also stifle the development. ... Moreover, if Mr. Torvalds or other prominent Linux developers were to join one of our competitors, or if they were to decide to no longer support us ... our business ... could be materially adversely affected."

Torvalds acknowledged as much. "There's a fairly ad hoc round table of people I trust," said Torvalds in a recent interview with PC Week this month. "But in the end, the decision as to what goes in [to the Linux kernel] is basically mine."

Core confidants

Torvalds insists any attempt to list his core confidants will be incomplete and will likely offend someone. That list, however, would have to include:

Torvalds said members of his round table of confidants in turn have collections of developers they trust. Anyone can propose or try to enhance the kernel, but real material change usually comes through this chain.

Managing this chain of influence, Torvalds acknowledged, can spark politics and tension. "The hardest decisions to make are when you can see that something really is needed, but you're not convinced about how to do it," he said. "Maybe one person is giving you a set of patches, and you have to decide, 'Do I use these or wait for something else?' It's hard to tell someone theirs is not the way to go, and some people get upset, especially when other alternatives aren't even there yet."

In essence, the only difference between Linux's ad hoc roundtable development process and the process used by top developers and executives creating traditional commercial products such as the Windows platform at Microsoft Corp. is trust. Specifically, Torvalds and the others have built within the Linux community the trust that they won't form a private interest to take advantage of Linux's success.

That trust hasn't stopped some from questioning Torvalds' motives, however. "I don't care whether people think I'm a rabid communist or Bill Gates in disguise," Torvalds said. "My own personal objective has always been to have fun doing something that is technically challenging and interesting. And I want people to trust me that I'm doing it for purely technical reasons. I'm not political about this. I've set things up so I should be trustworthy. But if someone can't trust me, I don't care."

For Torvalds, money is not so important.

"In Finland, the worth of a person isn't measured in dollars," he says. Instead, he's content with his salary as a software engineer with a highly secretive Silicon Valley firm called Transmeta. (The company will only say that it is doing "cool stuff.")

Making Linux work better is nearly a full-time hobby for Torvalds, taking up at least a couple of hours a day. "It's the best kind of hobby. It's a passion. Other people build the Eiffel Tower out of matchsticks."

Torvalds' intellectual acumen became apparent when he was 8 years old, says his father, Nils. "On Christmas, I gave him a fairly complicated model ship and thought that we in a father-and-son-together-way should build it. The following morning, he had already made it all by himself," the elder Torvalds says.

But it was his grandfather Leo Toerngvist, a statistics professor at the University of Helsinki, who had the biggest influence on Torvalds. In the mid-1970s, Toerngvist bought one of the first personal computers, a Commodore Vic 20. Torvalds learned to write computer games at age 12.

"I started programming because you had to make it work," he says. Soon, he was buying books on computer languages and learning more about his grandfather's "fascinating machine."

Before long, the computer and math became Torvalds' passion. He rejected his father's efforts to get him interested in basketball or other activities. "I was never very good," Torvalds says.

His father says Torvalds always has been very focused. "In school, some of the girls showed up to 'get some extra lessons in math,' but Linus was very cold," he says. And if anyone tried telling him what to do, he'd rebel.

"He once said that he won't eat sweets. I promised him 100 Finnish marks if he kept that for a year," Nils Torvalds says. "He did, but the following day (after the bet), he took the money and bought sweets for the whole sum."

That same attitude helps explain why Torvalds is so eager to counterbalance Microsoft's dominance. He wants computer users to have a choice among several operating systems, not just one from Microsoft. "I'm not rabid anti-Microsoft," he says. "But they make it so hard to compete."

His father seems proud as he compares his son's creation of a free computer operating system to political philosopher Thomas Paine in the 18th century. Says Nils Torvalds: "Writing Linux in the 20th century could be as big a contribution to this civil society."

1. Linus Torvalds, 28, Finnish creator of Linux operating system (7.5 million estimated users); gives away source code; subject of Aug. 10 FORBES cover story:

Father Linus

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Fifty glorious years (1950-2000): the triumph of the US computer engineering : Donald Knuth : TAoCP and its Influence of Computer Science : Richard Stallman : Linus Torvalds  : Larry Wall  : John K. Ousterhout : CTSS : Multix OS Unix History : Unix shell history : VI editor : History of pipes concept : Solaris : MS DOSProgramming Languages History : PL/1 : Simula 67 : C : History of GCC developmentScripting Languages : Perl history   : OS History : Mail : DNS : SSH : CPU Instruction Sets : SPARC systems 1987-2006 : Norton Commander : Norton Utilities : Norton Ghost : Frontpage history : Malware Defense History : GNU Screen : OSS early history

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