Just For Fun:  the story of an accidental revolutionary Just For Fun: the story of an accidental revolutionary by Linus Torvalds and David Diamond
Publisher: Collins Business
Year: 2002
Pages: 288

Having toyed with Linux (I am, in fact, compiling a Gnome-based Gentoo distribution on my primary machine as I write this) and having become an avid reader of NewsForge and Slashdot, a book about Linus and the history of Linux are of great interest to me. When this book came out (2001), I really wasn’t interested in any of that. I had heard of Linux, of course, but by that point hadn’t even considered building my own machine, much less tinkering with different operating systems, etc.

When one typically thinks of übergeeks, they don’t imagine good writers. In fact, if Slashdot and some of the technology forums I frequent are any indication, computer/programmer skills are a clear impediment to grammar and coherent speech. So needless to say that I was very surprised when this book (most of which was written or dictated by Linus) was very well written and entertaining. He’s no Tristan Egolf (*sob*), but he has a wry sense of humour that pervades.

The book isn’t entirely a biography, isn’t entirely a newsgroup posting, and isn’t entirely a manifesto, but manages to combine all three. Linus talks about his childhood (his first computer was a VIC-20), the development of Linux (initially called Freax), and how it blossomed into the biggest collaborative project in history. He provides a fair amount of technical stuff (he advises computer less-than-literates to skip to page 120, and by the end, he is talking about open-source ideology vis-á-vis Richard Stallman and Eric Raymond (the former the founder of the Free Software Foundation and the driving force behind GNU, and the latter the author of “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” and explanation of open-source methodologies).

What surprised me was that Linus takes great care to explain that he is not the sort of person who believes all software should be GPL’d. Those of you who remember the Bitkeeper controversy of several weeks ago may recall that he came out in favor of Larry McVoy’s right to proprietary software. He also, however, was somewhat damning of Sun Microsystems in claiming to promote open source without really promoting open source (read: Java).

If you’re a geek, this is a great read. Even if you’re not, it’s a good (mostly) non-technical primer on the history and ideology of Linux, and a peek into the mind of its creator and maintainer.

§615 · May 17, 2005 · Tags: , , , ·

Leave a Reply