We Talk to Everybody

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

In typical open-source development fashion, Rob Hooft began hacking on Linux “because I could”. There were limitations to the 0.95c++ kernel (the first one he installed at home). Rob says, “0.95c++ was only 200KB in .Z form” and it did hang on his home machine. So, he jumped into the kernel in order to understand the driver and implement modifications. This was how Rob became a Linux contributor.

I improved the OPL3 sound code in the kernel sound driver; changed the floppy formatting routines to use sector shifting; and helped develop some shared libraries.

Linux had little in the way of libraries then, but as we all know, Linux development grew because of what wasn't there.

When Rob first encountered Linux, he was at a UNIX users group meeting of the Dutch Hobby Club. Linux was the only true free UNIX. Ignoring the limitations, he “decided that Linux was what I had been waiting for, and I bought a computer (my first x86 after a Z80) specifically to run it.” He had a lot of faith, seeing that Linux was equipped with “only 64 processes, with 64MB virtual address space each; only four partitions on a hard disk (maximum 64MB each); init/getty/login (IGL) were barely completed; and no X.” One of the true wonders of the Linux world comes from the belief early developers had in the potential of Linux.

Rob is now a programmer for Nonius BV, which makes “machines that are used for crystal structure analysis. The control software is written almost completely in Python on a Linux machine, using Tcl/Tk GUI.” He is using only free software to create a commercial application. Rob made the shift from academia to industry because of his wife and son, and a little thing called job security. Not surprisingly, he doesn't have a problem with, as he puts it, “smart brains getting rich, even if they're not programmers.”

Though he writes commercial software, Rob tries to make certain modules freely available, but

only if they are generally applicable. If I make the whole lot open source, the only one studying it would be our competitors. My competitors are not feeding my family.

Fair enough. Rob Hooft can be reached at rob@hooft.net.

Olaf Kirch

Olaf discovered Linux while writing his master's thesis in mathematics. He says, “Linux was so cool that I ended up spending a lot more time on it than on gnawing pencils over my theorems.” He did finish the thesis eventually and went on to write the The Linux Network Administrators' Guide (first published in 1993). This was his first Linux project, and it has since gone to paperback and no doubt sits on many a system administrator's desk.

Attracted to Linux by the lack of an “initial” hierarchy, Olaf worked with Jeff Uphoff on the first Linux security list, then turned his efforts toward Linux NFS implementation. He has maintained the user space NFS daemon for the past five years, but has “toned down” his overall involvement to spend more time with his wife Maren and their 18-month-old daughter.

Looking back on the early days, Olaf was struck by “the cooperative spirit that reinforced itself.” Nothing has changed there. The community has always been the driving force behind Linux. The Internet has always helped to connect to the community. Back then, Olaf relates, “it [the Internet] felt like giving money-grubbing UNIX vendors the finger.” He credits not wanting to pay hundreds of dollars for inferior software as a key factor that drove early Linux development.

As for the future of Linux, Olaf is hopeful that the major Linux distributors will adopt the Linux Standard Base definition. Olaf sees platform differences between the various distributions as an increasing obstacle to software vendors entering the market. He believes that “once LSB is finished and accepted, there will be a common base platform for porting commercial software to Linux, and we will experience a surge in new software being made available on Linux.”

He currently works for Caldera, doing “security and a lot of network stuff, as well as developing an admin tool framework.” Working for Caldera affords him an opportunity he did not dream of eight years ago: being paid to work on Linux.

Olaf can be reached at okir@caldera.de.