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Paul Ferris -- A Date With Fearless Leader Linus Torvalds

Nov 16, 1999, 17:44 (4 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Paul Ferris)

By Paul Ferris
Editor, Linux Today

I use the term Fearless Leader with my tongue in cheek, but he is just that.

Comdex Fall, 1999. The room was pretty much packed. Dwight Johnson and I walked several blocks in downtown Las Vegas trying to find a cab line that wasn't over 2 miles long. The walk was rougher on Dwight, who was being victimized by a new pair of shoes.

The keynote by the world's most idolized geek, Linus Torvalds, was already underway by the time we rushed into the massive auditorium.

Several huge monitors hung from the ceiling, and I was then alone in a room with fearless leader. Alone, if I could just ignore everyone else, which from the looks of things was somewhere in the tens of thousands.

Linus was a lot of things. Diplomatic: He allowed a question and answer session at the end. Confident: His poise throughout the keynote wasn't shaken by anything. Entertaining: To geeks and non-geeks alike, he was funny, witty and came off as quick on his feet.

Of course, I'm telling you the story from my point of view. I've run this man's kernel as the heart of my information machine for over 5 years now. I owe him, as far as I can tell. But Linus seems unshaken by awe.

In his question and answer session, the most memorable event was the guy who told him with a question that Linux needed more professional structure to succeed. Gee, where has this guy been, I thought, hasn't it already succeeded?

And Linus answered him by explaining that Linux already had the best management style: none. He explained that he himself didn't like to be managed, but was doing just fine thank you. He explained that the Internet development model that he was a part of was just as much about giving up control, as it was giving up rights to make money on software. Linus mentioned Sun, specifically, and their open-source license that gives up no control. I'm sure the media will focus more on the reference to Sun than upon the content of this delivery.

Someone asked him about database structures in the kernel. The answer: Keep it simple. Those things will be user space.

His diplomacy was stellar: Which distribution do you use? He was using Suse on his display computer, Redhat at work, and Caldera at home. He explained that on these things he needed to be non-partisan (that effect anyway).

When the next question was "Which editor do you use?", he was equally non-partisan (neither vi or gnu/emacs - it's micro-emacs, thank you).

The Mindcraft benchmarks came into question, and Linus explained that he'd been kind of upset at first, but that it had turned into a good thing, because everyone had done kernel optimizations and other tweaks (likely in the samba area) that will likely make further benchmarking when the 2.4 kernel series ships a moot point. I'll make a prediction here -- Microsoft will likely not be publishing results from further file system benchmarking.

Instead, they'll quote the NT 4.x/SP5 mess that happened recently for the next 10 years. I know, I'm a cynic, but I've already said this, so I'll move on here.

And then it was all over. The seething crowds began a stampede that would make a Rawhide episode proud.

We decided to eat at the Venetian, instead of trying to find another cab line. A nice little bar/resturant, and sitting at the bar, I ran into an IS recruiter with a web site based upon Solaris/Oracle. I like Oracle, but couldn't help but point out how nicely Mysql works. We had a pleasant chat, and Dwight and I left for our table.

Dwight explained to me that this was the first talk he had seen by Linus where Linus hadn't delved into the kernel. I don't have that kind of experience to draw upon, so I don't know. All I do know is that thousands of people are coming to Linus' keynotes and they are hearing the open source message. They had to be braving some serious cab lines and traffic to do it, too.