We Talk to Everybody

A quick look at some of the people who helped make Linux possible.

The editors here at Linux Journal have been talking about doing a Who's Who in Linux for some time, but couldn't decide on a way to do it that would make sense and not need the space of a book. With so many people contributing to Linux and new ones joining the community every day, it would be almost impossible to compile a list that didn't leave someone out. We finally decided that what we wanted to do was present short profiles of the developers who contributed to kernel 1.0, and of a few others who were involved at the time of its release. We got the kernel 1.0 credits file and split it up. I took a few names, including Linus', having talked to him just last year. With the help of Jason Kroll, we spent a good bit of time tracking people down, and were not entirely successful. A list of those whom we couldn't get hold of and the contribution they made to the kernel is included as a sidebar. If any of you guys are reading this, please get in touch (ljeditor@linuxjournal.com.com)—we'd like to talk to you.

We wish to thank all these people for talking to us and providing this look at who they were then and now. Since there was not room to include each interview in its entirety, we will put the interviews on the LJ web site in the coming weeks. We also thank these folks for their invaluable contributions to Linux—without them, where would it be today? Or LJ, for that matter?

Linus Torvalds

Everyone knows who Linus Torvalds is. He's the metaphoric father of the Linux community, having brought the Linux operating system into being. After doing so, he kicked it out of its nest and onto the Internet and invited others to try it out and participate in its growth, not realizing at the time what a tiger he had let loose on the world. He is a quiet, self-assured young man, a family man who obviously loves his daughters, allowing them to join him onstage at conferences they attend with him and his wife Tove.

Writing Linux earned Linus his master's degree at Helsinki University. Since then, he has turned kernel maintenance over to Alan Cox. Development is done by many others, yet Linus remains the mainstay of Linux. He makes the final decisions about what will and will not go into the kernel and when a new version will be released. His word is law, and no one disputes it.

After leaving the university, Linus moved to the United States with Tove, near San Jose, California, and went to work for the ultra-secret Transmeta. Early this year, Transmeta announced their Crusoe chip, which is headed for the mobile appliance market. Linus had been helping by making a Linux version that would fit in flash ROM—here's what he said about it in a conversation with Doc Searls.

It's the standard 2.3 kernel with some power management stuff done on it, but anybody can see what that is. There is the compressed file system that I made part of the standard kernel not long ago. And that's really the question of... you have a very limited amount of ROM. You want to fit Netscape in there, too. And you want to page things in from the ROM. You obviously want to compress it. That's number one. But how do you compress it so you can still do random seeks and paging in things? Those are the kinds of questions I spent a fair amount of time thinking about. What's the good way of doing this? What fits in and works well? These are not fundamental design shifts.

Linus agrees to make appearances at many trade shows, although these days, he prefers question-and-answer sessions over giving talks. In fact, he agrees to so many that I once wondered if he knew how to say “No”. (He does.) But he also realizes he is a big draw, and helping Linux and Linux shows become successful is something he is willing to do. He remains unassuming, and says fame has not intruded on his personal life.

Linus has proven to be a good father to both his children and Linux. The community couldn't have a better leader.

Donald Becker

Donald didn't respond to any of our messages, but we know a bit about him so we decided to wing it. First of all, we know Donald because he was on the cover of issue 10, February 1995, where he was a part of the Linux Conference at Open Systems World in Washington, DC.

Donald was a big contributor early in the Linux game, writing the code for the Ethernet drivers. He did this while working for NASA at the Center of Excellence in Space Data and Information Sciences as a staff scientist. Information on Donald and his code can be found at cesdis.gsfc.nasa.gov/people/becker/whoiam.html.

He was the principal investigator on NASA's Beowulf Project, “an effort to develop a software distribution to help others build high-performance workstations based on a cluster of off-the-shelf processing nodes running Linux.”

He is now the Chief Technical Officer of Sycld Computing Corporation, where he “continues the Beowulf work, making available the expertise to non-NASA entities.”

For fun, Donald likes to kayak, and you can read about his kayaking trip down the Yukon River in 1993 at his web site. There is also a beautiful picture of the river and mountains, as well as information on how to reach him.