We Talk to Everybody

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

Ian Kluft has done a lot for Linux and open-source software. He founded sbay.org in 1993, which he calls “a communications geek group in Silicon Valley.” He is still the group's coordinator and notes that Linux has been the backbone of the group's infrastructure since the beginning. Ian also helped with the Usenet Volunteer Votetakers. He contributed a module (mod_mime_magic) to Apache and helped start the Apache JServ (Java servlet engine) project.

His work with Linux was born out of time spent in Amdahl's mainframe UNIX lab in 1992, where he first discovered Linux. He says, “I had been involved with maintaining the smail mail transport agent on Amdahl's mainframes.” He noticed that smail was not yet ported to Linux. He did the port on a 486, then passed his work on to the smail maintainers. “Little did I know at the time, I had made the first Linux e-mail server.” He continued his work with smail by maintaining the Linux binaries on Sunsite, an early Linux FTP site. He maintained smail for Debian and Slackware until mid-1995, when “it looked like the Linux distributions were able to handle e-mail servers on their own.”

Ian was attracted to Linux because he didn't feel limited by a commercial organization. Like many, he didn't want to pay SCO $800 for a two-user UNIX license. After a few weeks, he had Linux running on a 386. The real draw was that there was no one telling him what he could or could not do with his computer. “Any code I could write, I could run. Anyone competent enough to be the system administrator of their own server had uncommon computing power in their homes.” Like the rest of us, the current success of Linux astounds Ian and he certainly “never expected to end up with Linux stock worth about a year's salary.”

In 1995, Ian left Amdahl for a smaller, lesser-known company called Cisco Systems. He is currently a software engineer in Cisco's IOS technologies division. Outside the computing/Linux world, Ian involves himself with the West Valley Amateur Radio Association, serving a term as president. He has a strong interest in amateur rocketry and works with other rocketry hobbyists “on using a real-time variant of Linux as an on-board flight control system for a suborbital amateur rocket.” He spent a week in the Nevada desert in March to help a group from Sacramento attempt the first amateur rocket launch to space.

Ian can be reached via e-mail at ikluft@thunder.sbay.org.

Michael K. Johnson

Michael was introduced to UNIX during the first week of his freshman year at St. Olaf College. He was “deeply impressed by the communication potential of a true multi-tasking and multi-user system.” He was primarily attracted to UNIX, but his student budget sent him looking for another alternative. BSD386 wasn't available, and there was no free software alternative. He tried Coherent, “but they didn't deliver on their promises [SCSI drivers, networking, etc.] and weren't interesting as a result.”

After the release of kernel 0.02, Michael downloaded Linux and placed an order for an IDE hard drive to run it. “I was excited to see that my dream of a home-built operating system was viable.” From there, he read the entire kernel source code in an attempt at understanding the user space. He has worked on many aspects of Linux development, but focused mainly on user space, “specializing in system component interface and integration.” Michael helped Matt Welsh with the Linux Documentation Project and worked on writing procps and the parallel port device driver, as well.

It is interesting to hear Michael talk about the early development of Linux. He admits that “...there was no way you could call me a hacker. I was quite clueless—as was, in some ways, Linus when he started.” The early developers of Linux weren't always experienced programmers. Many learned as they went, sharing their knowledge with others. He says, “we developed a community that worked despite its imperfections ... and didn't waste time pondering the idea that we might be making history.”

He isn't upset with the commercialization of Linux, saying it “has made it possible for me to put Linux on my father's computer.” This is something the early developers probably didn't foresee. At least it wasn't the reason they volunteered their efforts. Michael had no idea he would be able to make a living by working on Linux. Like many, he worked on Linux to learn, and as he says, “that learning was sufficient compensation for my volunteered efforts.”

Michael currently works at Red Hat, which he says provides a good balance between his desire to work on Linux and the need to make money. He was an early editor of Linux Journal and co-authored Linux Application Development with Erik Troan. Michael considers this to be his “biggest indirect contribution to Linux development”. He can be reached via e-mail at johnsonm@redhat.com.