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
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
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
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,
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.
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