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.
I believe each step grew from the earlier one(s).
- Murray Hill, NJ
- Los Angeles, CA
- Helsinki, FI
Where Free Software is concerned, the geographical
spread is equally interesting:
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:
- Richard Stallman, New York and Cambridge, MA
- Tim Berners-Lee, Oxford, UK, and Geneva, CH
- Linus Torvalds, Helsinki, FI
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
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
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
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
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:
Ted Ts'o was one of the first Linux users in the US. I spoke
to him over dinner in Atlanta.
- The birth, growth and development was totally unorganized.
- It was well-distributed, geographically.
- It was conducted via the Internet.
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'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.
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
It was via Usenet. It think .08 or .09 had been cross-posted.
"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.
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