We Talk to Everybody

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

Dirk has been involved with Linux since the early days. He was 24 and a student of mathematics/computer science at the University of Wurzburg in Germany. Working as a system administrator within the university, he “found postings from Linus in the comp.os.minix group, where he talked about a project of his.” Dirk wanted a UNIX operating system for his own machine. “FreeBSD didn't exist and 386BSD wasn't an option,” says Hohndel. Linux was the best choice, so he began to develop.

With an interest in memory management and adding hardware support, he helped with the first Ethernet drivers (for the WD8003) and the first SCSI support (ST01). “Soon thereafter,” he says, “I became involved in the first implementation of shared libraries (based on jump tables) and applied that for the XFree86 shared libraries.” Dirk can recall an e-mail exchange with Linus “where we joked that at some time, it might be possible to run X on Linux.” Since then, he has continued his work with the XFree86 project, currently holding the title of Vice President.

Dirk was recently named CTO of SuSE Linux AG. This means he spends much of his time managing projects and not so much on programming. “Working on XFree86 is what I do for fun,” he says with a smile. Helping Linux continue to grow is an overall goal. “Making Linux easier to use for the end user” is one area for Linux developers to place focus on. Dirk doesn't see this as “dumbing down,” as it in no way subtracts from the power and flexibility of the operating system.

Claiming to have a life outside computers, Dirk said, “Having friends that know nothing about computers and get bored when you talk about computers really helps.” Do such people exist?

Dirk Hohndel can be reached via e-mail at hohndel@suse.com.

Nick Holloway

Nick Holloway doesn't think the beginnings of Linux were all that revolutionary when it started out. As Nick recalls,

I have seen it in action with the various source newsgroups (alt.sources, comp.sources.unix, comp.sources.misc), where I could make changes, submit them back to the author, and see them in the next release. Initially, Linux wasn't all that different. It was just an OS kernel, rather than an application. It just grew to be a much larger scale.

Nick considers his contributions to Linux to be relatively modest—as do many original kernel hackers.

I was interested in the areas that I needed to work for me. I contributed patches to libc4 when I found problems ... I contributed tab expansion for the tty layer in the kernel when I wanted to use a dumb terminal that couldn't handle hardware tabs. However, these days, my involvement normally is restricted to tracking the Linux kernel mailing list and browsing the patches. I'll submit minor patches from time to time, but I am not a mainstream contributor.

As a Ph.D. student at the University of Warwick, Nick first heard about Linux through Usenet. “I immediately subscribed to alt.os.linux so I could read more. In early 1993, I bought a machine specifically to run Linux.” Nick was one of the many Linux hackers who was weaned on UNIX, having used both BSD and the SunOS “almost exclusively” since starting at the university in 1985. The problem was that he wanted a home computer and he wanted to run UNIX. “When Linux became available, it was the obvious choice to me,” he says. “It had enough to get started and be usable, but there was plenty of scope for being able to contribute to the development.”

This best-of-both-worlds thinking carries over to Nick's opinion of Linux's present-day situation. The open-source operating system's exceptional popularity, he thinks, has definitely helped quicken the pace of development, guessing that Linux might have remained “a hacker's plaything” otherwise. As such, Nick believes there is a place for commercial applications being written for Linux. He says,

Just because the OS and many of the standard applications are free doesn't mean they all have to be. If a company has to invest in producing an application for Linux, then they have the right to charge for it.

In fact, as far as Nick is concerned, such so-called profiteering can actually end up helping the Linux development community. “For example, Red Hat and SuSE are in the position to employ important hackers, which means [hackers] don't suffer from real work getting in the way of their Linux work.”

Which is something Nick knows all too well. Currently employed in “the development of business-to-business e-commerce solutions,” Nick spends his work time with Windows NT and Solaris. All the same, he says, it's not so bad. “It allows me to separate work and play in a clean way.”

Nick Holloway's e-mail address is Nick.Holloway@alfie.demon.co.uk.