Linus Torvalds at DECUS `94

The 1994 DECUS conference offered a large assortment of hardware and software for everyone, from the novice to the professional. DECUS is the Digital Equipment Computer Users Society and its semi-annual conference was held in New Orleans May 7-12, 1994.

The Primary Highlight for the Linux/Unix Community was the special appearance of the “Father of Linux”, Linus Torvalds. There were two sessions which featured Linus and both were very informative and entertaining. The sessions were called “An Introduction to Linux” and “Implementation Issues in Linux”. During the sessions, I learned a great deal about the Linux Operating System as well as the promising future of Linux.

According to Linus, there are over 176,000 lines of code in the kernel of which 88,000 lines of code are for device drivers. While Linus is the primary author of the kernel, most of the device driver code has been contributed by others.

The history of Linux may be short compared to the Unix time scale: three years versus twenty-five years. However, much has happened since the beginning of Linux. A few milestones for Linux follow:

From 1991 to the present, Linus has demonstrated tremendous dedication to Linux. For example, the virtual memory code was written in just three days-and it was the three days before Christmas! In three short years, Linux has transformed itself from a very simple terminal emulator to a powerful enhanced Unix operating system. A great deal of work is now being done to further enhance the existing kernel and implement new features. Some of the work in progress involves kernel threads, extended memory management, file system optimizations, and ports to other architectures such as the 68K and the Power PC and maybe even the DEC Alpha.

I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Linus in New Orleans, Louisiana and was able to learn a lot about Linus and what his interests are other than the Linux operating system. This was my first chance to meet Linus in person and I was shocked to find that he was not at all the “computer hacker geek” that I dared to imagine. Linus is one of the nicest and most personable people I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with. He has a wonderful sense of humor and is very funny. I found myself laughing non-stop during our chats. Linus lives at home with his family and cats and likes to spend time with his girlfriend. He teaches at the University of Helsinki.

Lately, he has been traveling around the world talking about Linux. Linus jokes that

“if you want to travel around the world and be invited to speak at a lot of different places, just write a Unix operating system.” Upon meeting Linus, one would never dream that he was the author of a Unix operating system; he never brags, boasts or even seems to want very much recognition for his massive effort.

There never seemed to be any selfish attitude at all from Linus. I wish all software developers had the attitude and determination to produce quality code such as Linux and want little, if anything, in return. Someone asked him at DECUS how he felt about other people and companies using part or all the Linux kernel for profit and not giving him any money. Linus simply replied, “I wrote Linux for public use, not for the money.”

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