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Softpanorama: 4.1. Linus and Linux; Linus Torvalds Short Unauthorized Biography

Jul 03, 2000, 18:10 (12 Talkback[s])

"I believe that starting somewhere in 1989-1991 Linus became involved in the Minix community and that involvement proved to be one of the keys to his success with the Linux kernel. The author of Minix -- Andy Tannenbaum -- proved to be a very bad politician, as often happens with professors of computer science ;-). He misunderstood the value of GNU in the academic environment. His decision to grant all MINIX commercial distribution right to Prentice Hall (and PH charged $150 a license) was a political suicide. Tannenbaum probably could have occupied Linus' place in the free software world (and can probably get more money by selling books), just because Minix was developed earlier that Linux. But it is the fact that Minix code remained proprietary that doomed it; he failed to understand that if the OS is free, many more people will use/support/enhance it, especially if it can run GNU software."

"After cutting his teeth on Minix and having Usenet-based connections with a rather large pool of talented people in Minix community Linus decided to reengineer a full Unix kernel. I would like to stress the importance of the community -- it was approximately 40 thousand community that included a lot of very talented software developers (and many of them had known Unix internals much better than Linus). Moreover many members of this community wanted better system than Minix. Linus had chosen a simple and realistic path -- start from Minix kernel and gradually modify it using available documentation about "real" Unix. The idea was simple -- to modify it in such way that it would allow people to run GNU software today. That idea essentially permitted hijacking the advanced part of Minux community -- the same members who press Andy Tannenbaum to add advanced features and were frustrated by rejections. So this part of community was ripe for hijacking :-)."

"It looks like the reasons for the success of Linux were more subjective than objective. Linus Torvalds had an edge in speed of development and user friendliness that helped him survive the arrival of 386BSD one year after initial version of Linux kernel was released. Although 386bsd was much more solid kernel from the technical point of view, a two year pause between the release of v. 0.1 and v.1.0 killed the project. ...due to the central role of the kernel Linux very soon attained an independent status -- without competition from any other GNU-compatible kernel Linux automatically became the most attractive platform for other open source development projects. For example starting from version 0.12 Linux tremendously benefited from XFree86 effort. Orest Zborovski (who BTW was also one of early Minix users and experimented with Minix in 1990) decided to use Linux for his XFree86 development -- an extremely important project that tremendously helped Linux to attain its current status."

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