Torvalds looked at Stallman and decided to follow his lead with
open source code.Torvalds’s free software began to attract people who
liked to play around with technology.Some just glanced at it.Others
messed around for a few hours.Free is a powerful incentive.It doesn’t
let money,credit cards,purchase orders,and the boss’s approval get in
the way of curiosity.A few,like Alan Cox,had such a good time taking
apart an operating system that they stayed on and began contributing
back to the project.
In time,more and more people like Alan Cox discovered Torvalds’s
little project on the Net.Some slept late.Others kept normal hours and
worked in offices.Some just found bugs.Others fixed the bugs.Still
others added new features that they wanted.Slowly,the operating sys-
tem grew from a toy that satisfied the curiosity of computer scientists
into a usable tool that powers supercomputers,web servers,and mil-
lions of other machines around the world.
Today,about a thousand people regularly work with people like Alan
Cox on the development of the Linux kernel,the official name for the part
of the operating system that Torvalds started writing back in 1991.That
may not be an accurate estimate because many people check in for a few
weeks when a project requires their participation.Some follow everything,
but most people are just interested in little corners.Many other program-
mers have contributed various pieces of software such as word processors
or spreadsheets.All of these are bundled together into packages that are
often called plain Linux or GNU
Linux and shipped by companies like
Red Hat or more ad hoc groups like Debian.
While Torvalds only wrote
the core kernel,people use his name,Linux,to stand for a whole body of
software written by thousands of others.It’s not exactly fair,but most let it
slide.If there hadn’t been the Linux kernel,the users wouldn’t have the
keeps a complete list of distributors.These range from the small,
one- or two-man operations to the biggest,most corporate ones like Red Hat:Alzza
Linux,Apokalypse,Armed Linux, Bad Penguin Linux,Bastille Linux, Best Linux
Swedish),Bifrost,Black Cat Linux (Ukrainian
CCLinux,Chinese Linux Extension,Complete Linux,Conectiva Linux (Brazilian),
easyLinux,Enoch,Eridani Star System,Eonova Linux,e-smith server and gateway,
Eurielec Linux (Spanish),eXecutive Linux, floppyfw,Floppix,Green Frog Linux,
hal91,Hard Hat Linux,Immunix,Independence,Jurix,Kha0s Linux,KRUD,KSI-
FreeForAll/1-138/repro 4/21/00 11:44 AM Page 10
ability to run software on a completely free system.The free software
would need to interact with something from Microsoft,Apple,or IBM.
Of course,if it weren’t for all of the other free software from Berkeley,the
GNU project,and thousands of other garages around the world,there
would be little for the Linux kernel to do.
Officially,Linus Torvalds is the final arbiter for the kernel and the
one who makes the final decisions about new features.In practice,the
group runs like a loosely knit “ad-hocracy.”Some people might care
about a particular feature like the ability to interface with Macintoshes,
and they write special code that makes this task easier.Others who run
really big databases may want larger file systems that can store more
information without limits.
All of these people work at their own pace. . Some work in their
homes,like Alan Cox.Some work in university labs.Others work for
businesses that use Linux and encourage their programmers to plug
away so it serves their needs.
The team is united by mailing lists.The Linux Kernel mailing list
hooks up Cox in Britain,Torvalds in Silicon Valley,and the others
around the globe. . They post notes to the list and discuss ideas.
Sometimes verbal fights break out, and sometimes everyone agrees.
Sometimes people light a candle by actually writing new code to make
the kernel better,and other times they just curse the darkness.
Cox is now one of several people responsible for coordinating the addi-
tion of new code.He tests it for compatibility and guides Linux authors to
make sure they’re working together optimally.In essence,he tests every
piece of incoming software to make sure all of the gauges work with the
right system of measurement so there will be no glitches. . He tries to
remove the incompatibilities that marred Zorro.
Linux,Laetos,LEM,Linux Cyrillic Edition,LinuxGT,Linux-Kheops (French),Linux
MLD (Japanese),LinuxOne OS,LinuxPPC,LinuxPPP (Mexican),Linux Pro Plus,
Linux Router Project,LOAF,LSD,Mandrake,Mastodon,MicroLinux,MkLinux,
muLinux,nanoLinux II,NoMad Linux,OpenClassroom,Peanut Linux,Plamo Linux,
PLD,Project Ballantain,PROSA,QuadLinux,Red Hat,Rock Linux,RunOnCD,
ShareTheNet,Skygate,Slackware,Small Linux,Stampede,Stataboware,Storm Linux,
SuSE,Tomsrtbt,Trinux,TurboLinux,uClinux,Vine Linux,WinLinux 2000,Xdenu,
XTeamLinux,and Yellow Dog Linux.
FreeForAll/1-138/repro 4/21/00 11:44 AM Page 11
Often,others will duplicate Cox’s work.Some new features are very
popular and have many cooks minding the stew.The technology for
speeding up computers with multiple CPUs lets each computer harness
the extra power,so many list members test it frequently.They want the
fastest machines they can get,and smoothing the flow of data between
the CPUs is the best way to let the machines cooperate.
Other features are not so popular,and they’re tackled by the people
who need the features.Some people want to hook their Linux boxes up
to Macintoshes.Doing that smoothly can require some work in the
kernel.Others may want to add special code to enable a special device
like a high-speed camera or a strange type of disk drive.These groups
often work on their own but coordinate their solutions with the main
crowd.Ideally,they’ll be able to come up with some patches that solve
their problem without breaking some other part of the system.
It’s a very social and political process that unrolls in slow motion
through e-mail messages.One person makes a suggestion.Others may
agree.Someone may squabble with the idea because it seems inelegant,
sloppy,or,worst of all,dangerous.After some time,a rough consensus
evolves.Easy problems can be solved in days or even minutes,but com-
plicated decisions can wait as the debate rages for years.
Each day,Cox and his virtual colleagues pore through the lists trying
to figure out how to make Linux better, , faster, and more usable.
Sometimes they skip out to watch a movie. Sometimes they go for
hikes.But one thing they don’t do is spend months huddled in confer-
ence rooms trying to come up with legal arguments.Until recently,the
Linux folks didn’t have money for lawyers,and that means they didn’t
get sidetracked by figuring out how to get big and powerful people like
Richard Schmalensee to tell a court that there’s no monopoly in the
computer operating system business.
Schmalensee and Cox couldn’t be more different from each other.One
is a career technocrat who moves easily between the government and
MIT.The other is what used to be known as an absentminded profes-
FreeForAll/1-138/repro 4/21/00 11:44 AM Page 12
sor—the kind who works when he’s really interested in a problem.It
just so happens that Cox is pretty intrigued with building a better oper-
ating system than the various editions of Windows that form the basis
of Microsoft’s domination of the computer industry.
The battle between Linux and Microsoft is lining up to be the classic
fight between the people like Schmalensee and the people like Cox.On
one side are the armies of lawyers,lobbyists,salesmen,and expensive exec-
utives who are armed with patents,lawsuits,and legislation.They are
skilled at moving the levers of power until the gears line up just right and
billions of dollars pour into their pockets.They know how to schmooze,
toady,beg,or even threaten until they wear the mantle of authority and
command the piety and devotion of the world.People buy Microsoft
because it’s “the standard.”No one decreed this,but somehow it has come
On the other side are a bunch of guys who just like playing with com-
puters and will do anything to take them apart.They’re not like the guy in
the song by John Mellencamp who sings “I fight authority and authority
always wins.”Some might have an attitude,but most just want to look at
the insides of their computers and rearrange them to hook up to coffee
machines or networks. . They want to fidget with the guts of their
machines.If they weld some spaghetti to the insides,so be it.
Normally, these battles between the suits and the geeks don’t
threaten the established order.There are university students around the
world building solar-powered cars,but they don’t actually pose a threat
to the oil or auto industries.“21,”a restaurant in New York,makes a
great hamburger,but they’re not going to put McDonald’s out of busi-
ness.The experimentalists and the perfectionists don’t usually knock
heads with the corporations who depend upon world domination for
their profits.Except when it comes to software.
Software is different from cars or hamburgers.Once someone writes
the source code,copying the source costs next to nothing.That makes it
much easier for tinkerers like Cox to have a global effect. . If Cox,
Stallman,Torvalds,and his chums just happen to luck upon something
that’s better than Microsoft,then the rest of the world can share their
invention for next to nothing.That’s what makes Cox,Torvalds,and
their buddies a credible threat no matter how often they sleep late.
FreeForAll/1-138/repro 4/21/00 11:44 AM Page 13
It’s easy to get high off of the idea alone.A few guys sleeping late and
working in bedrooms aren’t supposed to catch up to a cash engine like
Microsoft.They aren’t supposed to create a webserving engine that con-
trols more than half of the web.They aren’t supposed to create a graphical
user interface for drawing windows and icons on the screen that’s much
better than Windows.They aren’t supposed to create supercomputers with
sticker prices of $3,000.Money isn’t supposed to lose.
Of course,the folks who are working on free software projects have
advantages that money can’t buy. . These programmers don’t need
lawyers to create licenses,negotiate contracts,or argue over terms.Their
software is free,and lawyers lose interest pretty quickly when there’s no
money around.The free software guys don’t need to scrutinize advertis-
ing copy.Anyone can download the software and just try it.The pro-
grammers also don’t need to sit in the corner when their computer
crashes and complain about the idiot who wrote the software.Anyone
can read the source code and fix the glitches.
The folks in the free source software world are, , in other words,
grooving on freedom.They’re high on the original American dream of
life,liberty,and the pursuit of happiness.The founders of the United
States of America didn’t set out to create a wealthy country where citi-
zens spent their days worrying whether they would be able to afford
new sport utility vehicles when the stock options were vested.The
founders just wanted to secure the blessings of liberty for posterity.
Somehow,the wealth followed.
This beautiful story is easy to embrace:a group of people started out
swapping cool software on the Net and ended up discovering that their
free sharing created better software than what a corporation could pro-
duce with a mountain of cash.
The programmers found that unrestricted cooperation made it easy
for everyone to contribute.No price tags kept others away.No stereo-
types or biases excluded anyone.The software and the source code were
on the Net for anyone to read.
Wide-open cooperation also turned out to be wide-open competi-
tion because the best software won the greatest attention.The corpo-
rate weasels with the ear of the president could not stop a free source
software project from shipping.No reorganization or downsizing could
FreeForAll/1-138/repro 4/21/00 11:44 AM Page 14
VB.NET PDF Image Extract Library: Select, copy, paste PDF images
DotNetNuke), SharePoint. Scan high quality image to PDF, tiff and various image formats, including JPG, JPEG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, etc. Able to convert .pdf to .jpg; to jpeg
stop people from working on free software if they wanted to hack.The
freedom to create was more powerful than money.
That’s an idyllic picture,and the early success of Linux,FreeBSD,and
other free packages makes it tempting to think that the success will build.
Today,open source servers power more than 50 percent of the web servers
on the Internet,and that is no small accomplishment.Getting thousands,
if not millions,of programmers to work together is quite amazing given
how quirky programmers can be.The ease of copying makes it possible to
think that Alan Cox could get up late and still move the world.
But the 1960s were also an allegedly idyllic time when peace,love,and
sharing were going to create a beautiful planet where everyone gave to
everyone else in an eternal golden braid of mutual respect and caring.
Everyone assumed that the same spirit that so quickly and easily permeated
the college campuses and lovefests in the parks was bound to sweep the
world.The communes were really happening,man. But somehow,the
groovy beat never caught on beyond those small nests of easy caring and
giving.Somehow,the folks started dropping back in,getting real jobs,tak-
ing on real mortgages,and buying back into the world where money was
Over the years,the same sad ending has befallen many communes,
utopian visions,and hypnotic vibes.Freedom is great.It allows brilliant
inventors to work independently of the wheels of power.But capital is
another powerful beast that drives innovation.The great communes
often failed because they never converted their hard work into money,
making it difficult for them to save and invest.Giving things away may
be,like,really groovy,but it doesn’t build a nest egg.
Right now,the free software movement stands at a crucial moment
in its history.In the past,a culture of giving and wide-open sharing let
thousands of programmers build a great operating system that was,in
many ways, , better than anything coming from the best companies.
Many folks began working on Linux,FreeBSD,and thousands of other
projects as hobbies,but now they’re waking up to find IBM,Hewlett-
Packard,Apple,and all the other big boys pounding on their door.If
the kids could create something as nice as Linux,everyone began to
wonder whether these kids really had enough good stuff to go the dis-
tance and last nine innings against the greatest power hitters around.
FreeForAll/1-138/repro 4/21/00 11:44 AM Page 15
Perhaps the free software movement will just grow faster and better
as more people hop on board.More users mean more eyes looking for
bugs.More users mean more programmers writing new source code for
new features.More is better.
On the other hand,sharing may be neat,but can it beat the power of
capital? Microsoft’s employees may be just serfs motivated by the dream
that someday their meager stock options will be worth enough to retire
upon,but they have a huge pile of cash driving them forward.This cap-
ital can be shifted very quickly.If Bill Gates wants 1,000 programmers
to create something,he can wave his hand.If he wants to buy 1,000
computers,it takes him a second.That’s the power of capital.
Linus Torvalds may be on the cover of magazines,but he can’t do
anything with the wave of a hand.He must charm and cajole the thou-
sands of folks on the Linux mailing list to make a change.Many of the
free software projects may generate great code,but they have to beg for
computers.The programmers might even surprise him and come up
with an even better solution.They’ve done it in the past.But no money
means that no one has to do what anyone says.
In the past,the free software movement was like the movies in which
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland put on a great show in the barn.
That part won’t change.Cool kids with a dream will still be spinning up
great programs that will be wonderful gifts for the world.
But shows that are charming and fresh in a barn can become thin
and weak on a big stage on Broadway.The glitches and raw functional-
ity of Linux and free software don’t seem too bad if you know that
they’re built by kids in their spare time.Building real tools for real com-
panies,moms,police stations,and serious users everywhere is another
matter.Everyone may be hoping that sharing,caring,and curiosity are
enough, but no one knows for certain. Maybe capital will end up
winning.Maybe it won’t.It’s freedom versus assurance;it’s wide-open
sharing versus stock options;it’s cooperation versus intimidation;it’s
the geeks versus the suits,all in one knockdown,hack-till-you-drop,
FreeForAll/1-138/repro 4/21/00 11:44 AM Page 16
While Alan Cox was sleeping late and Microsoft was putting Richard
Schmalensee on the stand,the rest of the open source software world
was tackling their own problems.Some were just getting up,others were
in the middle of their day,and still others were just going to sleep.This
is not just because the open source hackers like to work at odd times
around the clock.Some do.But they also live around the globe in all of
the different time zones.The sun never sets on the open source empire.
On January 14, 1999, for instance, Peter Jeremy, , an Australian,
announced that he had just discovered a potential Y2K problem in the
control software in the central database that helped maintain the
FreeBSD source code.He announced this by posting a note to a mail-
ing list that forwarded the message to many other FreeBSD users.The
problem was that the software simply appended the two characters “19”
to the front of the year.When the new millennium came about a year
later,the software would start writing the new date as “19100.”Oops.
The problem was largely cosmetic because it only occurred in some of
the support software used by the system.
FreeBSD is a close cousin to the Linux kernel and one that predates
it in some ways.It descends from a long tradition of research and devel-
opment of operating systems at the University of California at Berkeley.
The name BSD stands for “Berkeley Software Distribution,”the name
given to one of the first releases of operating system source code that
Berkeley made for the world.That small package grew,morphed,and
absorbed many other contributions over the years.
Referring to Linux and FreeBSD as cousins is an apt term because
they share much of the same source code in the same way that cousins
FreeForAll/1-138/repro 4/21/00 11:44 AM Page 17
share some of the same genes.Both borrow source code and ideas from
each other.If you buy a disk with FreeBSD,which you can do from
companies like Walnut Creek,you may get many of the same software
packages that you get from a disk from Red Hat Linux.Both include,
for instance,some of the GNU compilers that turn source code into
something that can be understood by computers.
FreeBSD,in fact,has some of its own fans and devotees.The FreeBSD
site lists thousands of companies large and small that use the software.
Yahoo,the big Internet directory,game center,and news operation,uses
FreeBSD in some of its servers.So does Blue Mountain Arts,the elec-
tronic greeting card company that is consistently one of the most popular
sites on the web.There are undoubtedly thousands more who aren’t listed
on the FreeBSD site.The software produced by the FreeBSD project is,
after all,free,so people can give it away,share it with their friends,or even
pretend they are “stealing”it by making a copy of a disk at work.No one
really knows how many copies of FreeBSD are out there because there’s no
reason to count.Microsoft may need to count heads so they can bill every-
one for using Windows,but FreeBSD doesn’t have that problem.
That morning,Peter Jeremy’s message went out to everyone who
subscribed to the FreeBSD mailing list.Some users who cared about
the Y2K bug could take Jeremy’s patch and use it to fix their software
directly.They didn’t need to wait for some central bureaucracy to pass
judgment on the information.They didn’t need to wait for the Y2K guy
at FreeBSD to get around to vetting the change.Everyone could just
insert the fix because they had all of the source code available to them.
Of course, most people never use all their freedoms.In this case,
most people didn’t have to bother dealing with Jeremy’s patch because
they waited for the official version. . The FreeBSD infrastructure
absorbed the changes into its source code vaults, , and the changes
appeared in the next fully updated version.This new complete version
is where most people first started using the fix.Jeremy is a programmer
who created a solution that was easy for other programmers to use.
Most people,however,aren’t programmers,and they want their soft-
ware to be easy to use.Most programmers aren’t even interested in pok-
ing around inside their machines.Everyone wants the solution to either
fix itself or come as close to that as possible.
FreeForAll/1-138/repro 4/21/00 11:44 AM Page 18
Jeremy’s message was just one of the hundreds percolating through
the FreeBSD community that day.Some fell on deaf ears,some drew
snotty comments,and a few gathered some real attention.The mailing
lists were fairly complex ecologies where ideas blossomed and grew
before they faded away and died.
Of course,it’s not fair to categorize the FreeBSD world as a totally
decentralized anarchy.There is one central team led by one man,Jordan
Hubbard,who organizes the leadership of a core group of devoted pro-
grammers.The group runs the website,maintains an up-to-date version of
FreeBSD,and sponsors dozens of lists devoted to different corners or fea-
tures.One list focuses on hooking up the fast high-performance SCSI
hard disks that are popular with people who demand high-performance
systems.Another concentrates on building in enough security to keep out
attackers who might try to sneak in through the Internet.
That January 14,a man in Great Britain,Roger Hardiman,was helping a
man in Switzerland,Reto Trachsel,hook up a Hauppauge video card to his
system.They were communicating on the Multimedia mailing list devoted to
finding ways to add audio and video functions to FreeBSD systems.Trachsel
posted a note to the list asking for information on how to find the driver soft-
ware that would make sure that the data coming out of the Hauppauge tele-
vision receiver would be generally available to the rest of the computer.
Hardiman pointed out a solution,but cautioned,“If your Hauppauge card has
the MSP34xx Stereo Decoder audio chip,you may get no sound when
watching TV.I should get this fixed in the next week or two.”
Solutions like these float around the FreeBSD community. . Most
people don’t really care if they can watch television with their computer,
but a few do.The easy access to source code and drivers means that the
few can go off and do their own thing without asking some major com-
pany for permission.The big companies like Microsoft and Apple,for
instance,have internal projects that are producing impressive software
for creating and displaying multimedia extravaganzas on computers.
But they have a strict view of the world:the company is the producer of
high-quality tools that make their way to the consumer who uses them
and pays for them in one way or another.
The list ecology is more organic and anti-hierarchical.Everyone has
access to the source code.Everyone can make changes.Everyone can do
FreeForAll/1-138/repro 4/21/00 11:44 AM Page 19
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested