We Talk to Everybody

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

Why did the hacker hack the kernel? According to Jeremy Fitzhardinge,

I started hacking it for the reason that everyone hacked on it then: there was a lot of stuff it didn't do right, and there were things I wanted it to do for various programming projects.

In the beginning, Jeremy was working at his first “real job” when he got deep into kernel hacking. He says,

I was also looking at relatively obscure research operating systems (Amoeba, Sprite) and wondering whether I could run one at home. Then a friend showed me Linux, and I was amazed at how concise it was compared to, say, SVR4.

Jeremy, whose contributions to the Linux kernel include work on file systems and VM (virtual machine), is currently working on more “stuff it didn't do right,” such as autofs, the Linux automounter that he has been trying to improve. He is also one of those hackers who has been fortunate enough to make a living hacking Linux. Right now, most of his work is in embedded systems, getting Linux to boot out of flash memory on a “reasonably powerful PPC-based server the size of a CD-ROM drive.”

And, as might be expected, Jeremy is thrilled with both the prospect of commercial applications being written for Linux, as well as the overall popular success of Linux these days. If anything, however, Jeremy sees little sense in fixating on competing with Microsoft. He tells us,

The number-one threat [to Linux] is thinking that competition with Windows is important, or indeed, that all the commercial interest is important to Linux.

Let Linux be Linux, Jeremy seems to suggest, very much as many of his hacker colleagues continue to urge:

There's still a way to go before people will happily sit down to a Linux machine and do work, because the desktop applications are not there yet. I like the fact that there's lots of different efforts, but they should all go to some effort to keep their file formats interchangeable wherever possible.

All the same, he thinks Linux does undermine many of the pretensions of shrink-wrapped, proprietary software. “I think people will become wary about buying closed-source programs as the quality of open source improves.” Furthermore, Jeremy believes that the expectations open-source customers have will make closed-source vendors more accountable.

Philosophically speaking, Jeremy is among those “kernel forefathers” who places high value on the GNU Project, even though his support for the GNU Project is more on the practical side. “Without GNU, we'd be stuck without a serious compiler to base everything on, and also be without many of those programs which make the UNIX experience,” he says.

Jeremy Fitzhardinge's e-mail address is jeremy@goop.org.

Philip Gladstone

Philip was interested in making Linux a good platform for timekeeping. He added the kernel phase locked loop and “fixed a bunch of problems with timekeeping.” He continues to assist in this area of development, but his “principal area is now bug-fixing obscure conditions.”

Linux was not Philip's first experience with developing software via the Internet. He had done so previously with Tom Lane. This work produced the initial version of the IJG (Independent JPEG Group) JPEG library. The recent mission of the Mars Pathfinder used JPEG encoding, but Philip has not yet been able to determine if this included his work.

In 1991, Linux found him working as a consultant for a large New York City-based bank. Philip was concerned with connecting the company to the Internet. He relates it best:

We needed to build a system to act as the name server. Somehow I found out about Linux, and I built a system on a 386 running 0.99pl15 and bind. It served as the external DNS server for many years—only rebooting after power failures.

Philip “can't say anything” about his new job, where he works for a new startup in the Network Security field. He still runs Linux on his laptop and home systems, but home life allows for only the occasional bug fix. He adds, “my principal contributions [to Linux] are now work-related. There are times when I produce something at work that can be given back to the community.”

He still views Linux as a good platform for “certain types of solutions.” Having more support for Linux from hardware manufacturers on the driver end is necessary. “It's not realistic to rely on the free software community to produce drivers for everything.” Philip doesn't see Linux taking the desktop in the next three years, citing “no consistency in user interface style” as one problem. He does feel that Linux should be able to hold the server market, as long as “the management tools are improved.”

Is there a life outside computing? Philip says, “Very much so. If you never have children, then you will miss out on something much more important than computers.” He is married, has a daughter and another child is on the way.

Philip Gladstone can be reached at philip@gladstonefamily.net.