Linus On Linux - Two Videos
Written by Alex Armstrong   
Sunday, 08 May 2016

The Linux phenomenon is, well what can you say other than phenomenal, and the man behind it is either a hero or an anti-hero to every programmer. One day you might grow up and become a Linus. So a recent Ted talk and a strange promo video for Linux are worth watching. 

If you were programming at around the time Linus Torvalds started to work on Linux you would inhabit a world where there were no notable open source operating systems. There was, of course, Unix but big business was moving in on it and claiming large and important chunks as copyright. There were plenty of proprietary operating systems but the locking down of Unix made academics like Richard Stallman very worried and so the the Free Software Foundation was started and the quest for a completely free version of Unix instigated.

The FSF implemented much of the infrastructure needed for an OS, but it failed miserably at implementing a kernel - a project that is still underway today. Why did was the GNU kernel such a problem? Probably because it was an over-ambitious micro kernel design. The Linux kernel, on the other hand, is far from an academic exercise. Even today, its approach to drivers, shared libraries and subsystems in general can only be described as amazingly baroque. 

Linus Torvalds decided to write an operating system kernel and so Linux, or GNU Linux as the FSF would have us call it, was born. Linux owes a debt to Minix, an operating system used for education, but without a full open source licence Minix could only be used for education. If Minix had been open source it probably would have killed the Linux project. In fact if any of the Unix spin-offs like BSD had been available at the time Linux wouldn't have been started. 

Now watch the video and hear Linus tell you what it was like and why he did it:


One of the things that is so interesting is how did such an obvious loner become the head of a project like Linux:

"I was 21 at the time, so I was young, but I had already programmed for half my life, basically. And every project before that had been completely personal and it was a revelation when people just started commenting, started giving feedback on your code. And even before they started giving code back, that was, I think, one of the big moments where I said, "I love other people!" Don't get me wrong --I'm actually not a people person. I don't really love other people -- But I love computers, I love interacting with other people on email, because it kind of gives you that buffer. But I do love other people who comment and get involved in my project. And it made it so much more."

And in the Tesla v Edison spat who do you think Linus would back?

"Well, so this is kind of cliché in technology, the whole Tesla versus Edison, where Tesla is seen as the visionary scientist and crazy idea man. And people love Tesla. I mean, there are people who name their companies after him.

The other person there is Edison, who is actually often vilified for being kind of pedestrian and is -- I mean, his most famous quote is,"Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." And I'm in the Edison camp, even if people don't always like him.Because if you actually compare the two, Tesla has kind of this mind grab these days, but who actually changed the world? Edison may not have been a nice person, he did a lot of things -- he was maybe not so intellectual, not so visionary. But I think I'm more of an Edison than a Tesla."

Finally to finish on a much more pedestrian note. Linus features in a promo video for the Linux Foundation on the topic, "Why choose a career in Linux and open source?":



Who is this aimed at?



More Information

The mind behind Linux - TED 2016

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Linus Torvalds is now a US Citizen       


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Last Updated ( Sunday, 08 May 2016 )