An Interview with Corey Minyard

Our series of unexpurgated interviews with Linux kernel pioneers continues with this e-conversation with Corey Minyard.

Welcome to the unexpurgated version of Linux Journal's Linux Kernel Who's Who. If you haven't yet seen our June 2000 issue, which features 40 profiles of some of the kernel's pioneers (hackers like Alan Cox, Lars Wirzenius, Jon Tombs and, of course, Linus Torvalds), make sure you get a copy from your nearest newsstand--or your nearest Linux Journal website. If you have already read the profiles, our unexpurgated versions of the original interviews, e-mailed to each major contributor to the Linux kernel, may reveal a few surprises, and a lot more detail.

We'll be posting the original interviews here on the Linux Journal website over the next several weeks. So sit back and enjoy a few words from some of the folks who helped make Linux possible!

--David Penn

An Interview with Corey Minyard

Linux Journal:How did you first learn about Linux? What were you doing in your own life at the time? (age, student, occupation, etc.)

Corey Minyard: It's hard to remember exactly where I learned about Linux. It had to be on Usenet someplace. I downloaded 0.11. I was working as a hardware/software designer at the time and we had just obtained Internet access recently. The timing was right.

LJ:What attracted you to it, compared to FreeBSD, proprietary UNIX systems, or lucrative areas such as Windows? What made you want to help with development?

Corey:It had to be Linus' attitude. He had the right attitude to make it succeed. I knew it would be big from the beginning. I helped because when things don't work right, well, it annoys me. Plus, everything else cost too much or was lousy. Except for FreeBSD, which I didn't know existed. I'm not sure it even did exist at that point in time.

LJ:What part of Linux were you personally interested in and working on? Are you still involved with Linux development? If so, how?

Corey: I sent various small patches in at the beginning. I wrote the CDU31A proprietary CDROM driver (which, amazingly, some people still use, even though the driver doesn't work very well any more due to kernel changes and my inability to support it). I did a lot of work in the 0.98/0.99 days on the TCP stacks finding race conditions and submitting patches. I am currently doing some work on the PowerPC code; I did a major restructure to make adding new platforms easier and I did a port to the Force Powercore board. I'm doing lots of little things for work.

LJ:What was most important to you about Linux? What's the very best thing about Linux?

Corey: It is the attitude of the developers. The culture. As I said before, Linus' attitude was good. It rubbed off. Linux people don't bicker among themselves much. We work together. We overlook people's faults. Reporting bugs is not an offense against someone, it is help. Personal glorification is not important. Writing good code is.

LJ:How important was the GNU project and how did the GNU Hurd factor into your thinking? Should Linux be properly known as GNU/Linux?

Corey: Without GNU, Linux would not have happened. No way. The eventual goal of GNU was to produce a Unix-like OS. With that goal, they enabled Linux to happen. If they had not been shooting for Hurd, just developing tools, compiler and platform choices might have been different and Linux might not have happened. As far as the name, that kind of gets back to the personal glorification thing. But I don't really care.

LJ:What was it like to be working with others over the Internet at a time when several computer luminaries thought that organizing successful software development over the net was difficult if not impossible? Did you realize how revolutionary this approach was?

Corey: It didn't really occur to me that this was happening. I was just doing my little part. I'm not sure it really occurred to anyone.

LJ: What are you doing with your life now? (occupation, family, etc.) What's a typical day like in your life? How do you find time for work and Linux, and how do you balance free software with the need to make a living (or the need to become rich)? What do you do for fun?

Corey: I'm an system architect at a major communications equipment supplier. I have a wife and two young kids. Most of my days are made up of work, playing with kids, reading email, and writing a little code. I play guitar at my church's youth group some days.

I don't get to do as much with Linux as I did before kids, although I get to use it at work. Being an architect means I spend a lot more time telling other people what to do and a lot less time doing stuff myself, though. I have no great desire to be rich. If I become rich, so be it, but that would mean more responsibility for me to handle it properly.

LJ:Who do you think other than Linus has had the most influence over the Linux community, and why?

Corey: It's hard to say. Probably Alan Cox. But the nice thing is that people work together and good ideas from anybody are not generally ignored.

LJ:What do you think is the most important addition or change that is needed by Linux in order for it to succeed further? In what direction does Linux development need to go? Where is Linux's future the brightest? What is the #1 biggest threat to Linux today?

Corey: For it to work well on the desktop it needs a good application support. Beyond that it's tracking the current state-of-the-art in the hardware. Linux is primed and ready to take over the embedded computer market right now; it has a big future there no matter what happens on the desktop.

The biggest threat to Linux is a change in attitude. It could survive almost anything else (well, an asteroid destroying all life on earth might cause some problems), but the attitudes of sharing, mutual respect, and working together need to remain for Linux to continue to be what it is.

LJ:How do you feel about Linux's current popularity? Would you have preferred it stayed contained in the hacker community? Would it have survived on the fringes?

Corey: When the Internet finally started getting popular outside the computer community, I used to tell my wife, "Get these people that want to talk about macrame off my network!" But in the end, getting the world involved has generally been a good thing for the Internet. The same for Linux. Without the popularity it might have survived like Minix survived, but it wouldn't be what it is now.

LJ:Would it have survived without the IPOs and financial backing? What impact has the commercialization of Linux had? How do you feel about Linux profiteering and the people who make millions off of other people's volunteered efforts?

Corey: It's hard to say what would have happened. Money makes a lot of things possible. It's probably a good thing in general as long as the attitude doesn't change. The people who are making the money are the ones that took the risks. They deserve the rewards.

LJ:How can Linux compete with MS in the desktop sector, and will we be able to hold the commercial sector if we don't take the desktop as well? Can we take the desktop without ruining the spirit of Linux by dumbing it down? Where will be our next areas of growth and expansion?

Corey: Linux can certainly compete with MS if it has good desktop applications. It's just as easy to install now and it's pretty easy to maintain. Much easier to maintain in a corporate world. I think it can become a corporate desktop without any dumbing down. For the average home user it's hard to say, but most of them are unable to install or maintain Windows either. Growth and expansion next? I said it before: the embedded computer world. I'm waiting to see Linux in a toaster :-).

LJ:How do you feel about commercial applications being written for Linux, and proprietary software and protocols in general? Do you run Linux more for philosophical reasons or practical reasons? If something that appeared to be better came along, would people jump ship? Conversely, would we stay with Linux even if it somehow degenerated, took a wrong turn, or stopped progressing?

Corey: I run Linux for practical reasons. I'm generally a philosophical person, but Linux is a nice combination of philosophical and practical. Proprietary software annoys me; I can't fix the bugs I find. I'll always choose open source if I have a good option there. Proprietary protocols are really annoying because they limit their use and the tend to be very bad, but they generally don't survive in the long run.

If something better came along or things went sour, sure I'd jump. But to be better it would have to be open source and have that attitude I keep mentioning. It's hard to imagine something better coming along now, but you never know.

LJ:Do you think the community should support only open source/free software? How would the community survive hard times if there were a lag or downtime in the continuing success of the open source methodology? Is the free software philosophy strong enough and with enough adherents to pull us through?

Corey: Depends on what you mean by support. Should open source be the backbone of what Linux is? Certainly so. Should we allow proprietary software to be run on Linux? Certainly so. Should we encourage it? Not generally.

Could we survive a short-term failure of open source? For a short time, yes. A long term failure would mean that we were all wrong and it won't work. That may be the case, but it looks pretty good now. And as long as hackers exist there will be adherents to pull it through.

LJ:How do you feel about the different licenses? GPL, LGPL, QPL, etc?

Corey: Licensing is actually an issue I deal with at work. It ranks down there with writing status reports in my list of favorite things to do. But licensing is important. I think the Linux community has done a good job with licensing. GPL and LGPL each have their place. As far as all the other licenses, it seems a bit excessive to have so many, but as long as the terms are good I don't mind.

LJ:Is there a world outside of computers? Are you ever afraid that you'll wake up one day and feel you wasted your life in front of a computer?

Corey: Of course a world exists outside of computers. They shouldn't be our raison d'etre. I worship in church, take my children to the zoo, spend time with my wife, and do a host of other important things. If I had to choose between computers and those things, computers would lose. Thankfully I don't have to choose. I try to spend my time in front of a computer helping others or learning. Those things are not a waste of time.

LJ:Thank you very much! Anything else you'd like to add?

Corey:I'd like to thank all the people that made Linux possible and brought it to where it is today. It has certainly made my life a lot more interesting and fun.

______________________

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