decoration decoration

When you want to know more...
For layout only
Site Map
About Groklaw
Legal Research
ApplevSamsung p.2
Cast: Lawyers
Comes v. MS
Gordon v MS
IV v. Google
Legal Docs
MS Litigations
News Picks
Novell v. MS
Novell-MS Deal
OOXML Appeals
Quote Database
Red Hat v SCO
Salus Book
SCEA v Hotz
SCO Appeals
SCO Bankruptcy
SCO Financials
SCO Overview
SCO v Novell
Sean Daly
Software Patents
Switch to Linux
Unix Books
Your contributions keep Groklaw going.
To donate to Groklaw 2.0:

Groklaw Gear

Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

Contact PJ

Click here to email PJ. You won't find me on Facebook Donate Paypal

User Functions



Don't have an account yet? Sign up as a New User

No Legal Advice

The information on Groklaw is not intended to constitute legal advice. While Mark is a lawyer and he has asked other lawyers and law students to contribute articles, all of these articles are offered to help educate, not to provide specific legal advice. They are not your lawyers.

Here's Groklaw's comments policy.

What's New

No new stories

COMMENTS last 48 hrs
No new comments


hosted by ibiblio

On servers donated to ibiblio by AMD.

The Daemon, the GNU & the Penguin - Ch. 18 ~ By Dr. Peter Salus
Thursday, September 22 2005 @ 04:35 PM EDT

Here is the next installment, Chapter 18 - "Just for Fun", in our ongoing book by Dr. Peter Salus, The Daemon, the GNU and the Penguin.

Dr. Salus references two books, and if you'd like to read them, "Operating Systems Design and Implementation" by Andrew Tanenbaum and Albert S. Woodhull can be obtained from Prentice-Hall. Tanenbaum describes the book like this: "MINIX has been designed as a teaching system. It is easy to learn and maintain. A book describing operating systems in general and how MINIX works in particular is available. It can be used as a textbook or for independent study."

Linus Torvalds'biography, "Just for Fun," can be obtained from ThinkGeek or Amazon, which also has an abridged version on CD, among other places.

Here are the earlier installments of The Daemon, the GNU and the Penguin:


The Daemon, the GNU and the Penguin

~ by Dr. Peter H. Salus

Chapter 18. "Just for Fun"

I frequently point to August 1969 as the "birthmonth" of UNIX. A few days later, the ARPANET (soon to become the Internet) was born. And, on 28 December 1969, Linus Torvalds was born.

  • Murray Hill, NJ
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Helsinki, FI
I believe each step grew from the earlier one(s).

Where Free Software is concerned, the geographical spread is equally interesting:

  • Richard Stallman, New York and Cambridge, MA
  • Tim Berners-Lee, Oxford, UK, and Geneva, CH
  • Linus Torvalds, Helsinki, FI
Linus was born into the Swedish minority of Finland (about 5% of the 5,000,000 Finns). Linus was a "math guy" throughout his schooling. Early on, he "inherited" a Commodore VIC-20 (released in June 1980) from his grandfather; in 1987 he spent his savings on a Sinclair QL (released in January 1984, the "Quantum Leap," with a Motorola 68008 running at 7.5MHz and 128kB of RAM, was intended for the small business and the serious hobbyist). It ran Q-DOS. And it was what got Linus involved:
One of the things I hated about the QL was that it had a read-only operating system. You couldn't change things...

[Linus] bought a new assembler ... and an editor ... Both ... worked fine, but they were on the microdrives and couldn't be put on the EEPROM. So I wrote my own editor and assembler and used them for all my programming. Both were written in assembly language, which is incredibly stupid by today's standards...
[Just for Fun (2001), p. 45]

That was the beginning. A high school student, interested in bettering his system, wrote the tools he wanted.

During his first year at the University, Linus tells us that he did little programming, and at the end of that year, he enlisted in the Finnish army to fulfill his obligation. He was 19. He "got out" on 7 May 1990.

In the fall of 1990, the University of Helsinki installed its first Unix machine, a MicroVAX running Ultrix. But Linus was "eager to work with Unix by experimenting with what I was learning in Andrew Tanenbaum's book" (p. 53). Linus read all 700-odd pages of Operating Systems. The book "lived on my bed."

One of the things that struck Linus about Unix was its openness. Another was its simplicity. And then came a bolt from the blue: in early 1991, Lars Wirzenius dragged Linus to the Polytechnic University of Helsinki to hear Richard Stallman. "I don't remember much about the talk," Linus says. "But I guess something from his speech must have sunk in. After all, I later ended up using the GPL for Linux."

But on 5 January 1991, Linus got his father to drive to a "mom and pop" computer store, where he had ordered a no-name 4-meg, 33MHz, 386 box, so he could get it home. He was 21. The box came with DOS, but Linus wanted Minix, and ordered it. It took a month to find its way to Finland. But it arrived. And Linus fed the 16 diskettes to the machine. And then he began "playing" with it. The first thing he wrote was a terminal emulator: "That's how Linux got started. With my test programs turning into a terminal emulator."

Because Linus was truly dependent upon the Internet and (specifically) the comp.os.minix newsgroup, we can date events far more accurately than in earlier decades.

We know that Linus' first posting to comp.os.minix, asking about the POSIX standard, was 3 July 1991. And we can see his posting about "doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu) ... This has been brewing since April ...," of 25 August 1991.

There was a reasonable expression of interest. We thus know that Linus put what we would now call Linux 0.01 up on the University of Helsinki ftp site on 17 September 1991. "No more than one or two people ever checked it out," he said.

The following January there was discernible growth in the Linux community, leading (I think) to the attack on Linux by Andy Tanenbaum on 29 January 1992 [see next chapter]. Perhaps more important, in the spring Orest Zborowsky ported X-windows to Linux.

The number of Linux users continued to grow, as did the versions of the software. .01 was 63KB compressed. Only a few weeks later, Linus posted .02 on 5 October. On 19 December, v.11 was posted; and on 5 January 1992, v.12 -- 108KB compressed -- appeared. On 7 March, there was v.95 and on 25 May 1992, v.96, with support for X, and taking up 174KB compressed.

It was barely a year since Linus' first posting, but in 1992 SuSE was formed, in February Bruce Perens released MCC Linux, and on 8 December Yggdrasil alpha was released.

1993 began with Yggdrasil beta's release (18 February) and went on to RedHat's being set up by Mark Ewing. August 1993 brought us Debian (from Debbie and Ian Murdoch).

And, on 5 November 1993, Linus spoke at the NLUUG (Netherlands UNIX Users' Group).

On 12 March 1994, Linus released Linux 1.0, basically v0.99, patch level 157. It was the first stable kernel distribution.

I don't want to go into extensive detail here. But I think that there are a number of important points to be made:

  • The birth, growth and development was totally unorganized.
  • It was well-distributed, geographically.
  • It was conducted via the Internet.
Ted Ts'o was one of the first Linux users in the US. I spoke to him over dinner in Atlanta.
I was working as an undergraduate staff person at MIT -- I was planning to go to graduate school, but I got caught up in projects. So I've got some courses, but no grad degree.

I worked at Athena for three years. For Dan Geer and Jeff Schiller, who were not yet at Kerberos. In '91 I was working on a help desk application, and in the midst of this I discovered Linux.

It was via Usenet. It think .08 or .09 had been cross-posted.

I'll return to Ted's recollections later. The important thing was that thanks to the Internet and to Usenet, the work of a hobbyist in Finland could be picked up elsewhere in Europe, in Australia, and in the US.

"There was fairly strong social cohesion," Ted told me. "Linux was the first big project to succeed in a distributed fashion."

Dr. Salus is the author of "A Quarter Century of UNIX" (which you can obtain here, here, here and here) and several other books, including "HPL: Little Languages and Tools", "Big Book of Ipv6 Addressing Rfcs", "Handbook of Programming Languages (HPL): Imperative Programming Languages", "Casting the Net: From ARPANET to INTERNET and Beyond", and "The Handbook of Programming Languages (HPL): Functional, Concurrent and Logic Programming Languages". There is an interview with him, audio and video,"codebytes: A History of UNIX and UNIX Licences" which was done in 2001 at a USENIX conference. Dr. Salus has served as Executive Director of the USENIX Association.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.


The Daemon, the GNU & the Penguin - Ch. 18 ~ By Dr. Peter Salus | 154 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Authored by: jesse on Thursday, September 22 2005 @ 04:43 PM EDT
Corrections go here

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off Topic
Authored by: RoQ on Thursday, September 22 2005 @ 04:47 PM EDT
Hey, Linus is almost exactly one year younger than me! Makes me feel old...


[ Reply to This | # ]

Peter, as always ...
Authored by: dmarker on Thursday, September 22 2005 @ 06:51 PM EDT

Thanks for the work & making it available to us here.

It is good that there are *ix scribes of your quality and dedication.



[ Reply to This | # ]

Another source for books
Authored by: qu1j0t3 on Thursday, September 22 2005 @ 07:10 PM EDT has those titles: Tanenbaum and Torvalds, starting from $3 and $2 respectively.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Calling it an "attack" is unfair
Authored by: darkonc on Thursday, September 22 2005 @ 08:00 PM EDT
Tannenbaum's so-called attack on Linux is, I think, unfairly categorized. I think that it was a critique, and a fair one from someone who honestly believed that microkernels were a far bette way to go than monolitithic. (Both Tanenbaum's comment, and Linux's response can be found here).

To be even more fair, Linux ultimately migrated towards the microkernel side of the fence, with Modules being detachable from the kernel proper.
In fact, both of Tanenbaum's primary critique points were basically agreed with by Linus, and ultimately applied to Linux.

Yes, there was a bit of one-upmanship with each defending their 'baby', but in reading the exchange right now, I'd say it was _mostly_ calm, and they even exchanged (backhanded) compliments.

(and on a complete tangent: Compliment and complement seem to be very closely related -- one fills up. the other inflates).

Powerful, committed communication. Touching the jewel within each person and bringing it to life..

[ Reply to This | # ]

Didio rides again
Authored by: ws on Thursday, September 22 2005 @ 10:43 PM EDT
Ms Didio has found a new platform, but spouts the same message, probably with the same backers.

Link to Newsfactor website
But on the other hand, there is the distinct possibility that the inclusion of such products and services might raise the company's TCO to levels that equal or surpass the current cost of the Microsoft Windows or Sun Solaris environments.

Same old same old.


[ Reply to This | # ]

  • Didio rides again - Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 23 2005 @ 06:46 AM EDT
What about Multics ?
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, September 22 2005 @ 10:53 PM EDT

[ Reply to This | # ]

Steps Grew from Earlier Ones?!
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 23 2005 @ 06:46 AM EDT
August 1969 as the "birthmonth" of UNIX. A few days later, the ARPANET (soon to become the Internet) was born. And, on 28 December 1969, Linus Torvalds was born.

I believe each step grew from the earlier one(s).

Does this say it took only a "few days" to implement ARPANET after being inspired by UNIX? Was Linus' gestation less than 5 months?


[ Reply to This | # ]

C vs PL/I
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 23 2005 @ 10:52 AM EDT
If only K&R had written Unix in PL/I, it would have been secure right from
the very start... (And if IBM could release a PL/I compiler for Linux, security
would increase many orders of magnitude!)

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Daemon, the GNU & the Penguin - Ch. 19 ~ By Dr. Peter Salus
Authored by: ak_hepcat on Friday, September 23 2005 @ 12:41 PM EDT
Mmm. Old school linux.

Sometimes I'm reminded that I started using linux at

I've got the first Yggdrasil beta cdrom floating around.

1992... wow.
13 years of linux. that's pretty crazy!

And I wouldn't have it any other
"Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US; rv:1
.8b4) Gecko/20050908 Firefox/1.4"

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Daemon, the GNU & the Penguin - Ch. 19 ~ By Dr. Peter Salus
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 23 2005 @ 01:50 PM EDT
Somewhere on some old media I probably can't even read any longer, I have an
archive of my e-mail correspondence with Ted Tso. He did (among other things)
the serial port drivers for (pre 1.0) Linux. At the time, I was playing with
Linux as a gateway between the Internet and the Amprnet (Amateur Packet Radio)
and had lots of TNC's (terminal node controllers) connected to my Linux box (as
well as dial-up modems, printers, speech synthesizers, etc.). I had run out of
interrupts for my many serial ports (at the time, there were no vendors offering
a shared interrupt serial port solution). I had a set of patches that I would
apply to the kernel so my extra ports would function with no interrupt (via
polling). Somewhere along the line, Ted had screwed up the driver so polling no
longer worked (I think he forgot to tri-state the ISA IRQ line) and I contacted
him via e-mail. It took a dialog of a few messages back and forth before he
took me seriously enough to accept my contribution. I think this was before the
LKML existed (or at least I didn't know about it).

Ahhh the fond memories I have of that time...


[ Reply to This | # ]

The Daemon, the GNU & the Penguin - Ch. 19 ~ By Dr. Peter Salus
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, September 23 2005 @ 09:41 PM EDT
The author missed the very FIRST distribution (mentioned on
the Wike article by the way.) That was SLS. It took around
50 floppies - and it worked. Slackware was based on SLS if
I recall correctly.

It was my first distribution. I did it the hard way before
that using version 0.12.

Steve Wilson

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microkernels aren't always robust...
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, September 24 2005 @ 10:11 AM EDT
The parent wrote:

Microkernels have many advantages over monolithic kernels, the most obvious of which is that bugs or faults in a user-space driver can't crash other user-space processes. So for example, if your video card driver crashed, the system would keep running (and could easily detect that the video card driver had crashed and start a new one; after all, its just a user- space process).

That's a great theory, but sometimes that's a bit harder in practice...

I have done some programming for Symbian, a microkernel-based OS. I've found it to be remarkably easy to crash. While I am not 100% sure what's going on, it seems like there are too many inter-dependencies on the modules.

For example, does the file system contain any context? Say, information about open files? What happens when it restarts? What do the other users of the file system do about it? You can get cascading failures...

I think it's fair to say that a microkernel is necessary, but not sufficient, for stability and robustness.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Groklaw © Copyright 2003-2013 Pamela Jones.
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners.
Comments are owned by the individual posters.

PJ's articles are licensed under a Creative Commons License. ( Details )