If it weren’t for a certain resignation* at Cupertino, CA, every geek and his dog would be quoting this Usenet post from twenty years ago today:
“From: torvalds@klaava.Helsinki.FI (Linus Benedict Torvalds)
Subject: What would you like to see most in minix?
Summary: small poll for my new operating system
Date: 25 Aug 91 20:57:08 GMT
Organization: University of Helsinki
Hello everybody out there using minix – I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback onthings people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).
I’ve currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work.
This implies that I’ll get something practical within a few months, and I’d like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won’t promise I’ll implement them
PS. Yes – it’s free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs.
It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that’s all I have
Two decades on, and there are six seven running copies** of that kernel in this very room: two desktops, a netbook, a cellphone, an eBook reader, and a Freeview STB and a little ARM-based file server. Not bad for a hobby without The Steve’s marketing savvy.
And a spectacular example of individual effort and voluntary co-operation. Much is sometimes made by opponents of free and open source software of the fact that Torvalds’s parents were (whisper it) socialists. Well, I don’t know Linus’s politics (he’s careful not to say too much these days), but he’s certainly talked in the past of how projects like this thrive on enlightened self interest – if you don’t get paid directly (although most kernel hackers these days are employed as such by various firms) you fix bugs and add features because you want them yourself – and yes, he did use Smith’s expression.
I recently read the second volume of Steven Fry’s autobiography, which covers his discovery of computers. Alas, by the end of this one he’s a commited Acolyte of St. Steve, along with his good chum the late Douglas Adams. I’d have posted this passage on its own, I expect, if this anniversary hadn’t come along:
For some people, computers, digital devices and machines of that nature will be functional objects whose purpose is to serve by performing specifically needed tasks. If there is a little tweaking required to ensure that such functions can be better fulfilled, then so be it: let there be a little tweaking. For other people, people like Douglas and me, tweaking is the function. Using a computer to write a book, fill in tax returns or print out an invoice is something you could do, but how much less fun than messing around.
Today’s post-1997 Apple is unequivocally for the former type of person (although, as Fry can attest, it wasn’t always thus). Linux was, and is, made by the latter. Here’s to the next two decades of messing around.
*Surely he didn’t time his announcement to spoil Linux’s birthday? I have a suspicious turn of mind…
**And several hundred copies on various CDs, DVDs and USB sticks.
Edit: Forgot about my server. Seven Linux kernels.