Since the Linux kernel is reaching it’s 20 year mark, it’s brought me to the point of really thinking what an impact it has on my life. Since 1995 I have had Linux as my outlet of creation along with a vague but powerful brotherhood with others just like myself. I started on MS-DOS on the PC, and I could not stand using Windows 3.1. I wanted something more powerful, fluid, able to run more than one application without swapping it out of memory to go to the other. Not crash the entire computer when an application screwed up! I ran a BBS (bulletin board service) on MS-DOS and experimented with multitasking in Windows… would work until you actually did something with the second application. I jumped over to a multitasker named Desqview/386 by QEMM, and it worked beautifully… it showed me that it was indeed possible to have 2 applications running at the same time on the same processor. It was all text-based, as well. I wanted more, so I tried Windows 95 Beta 1 (Code name: Chicago). Initially, it was amazing because it would multitask two applications together without a visible flaw. The selling point for me was the multithreading capabilities which was dividing a process into individual threads, and allowing the processor to switch between each of them in a far more granular fashion. Unfortunately, it did not deliver what it said it had. Running an application that displayed a spinning thread, I started about 30 windows, and saw that the multithreading was not being performed in any efficient way. Also, the system appeared to be too reliant upon Microsoft for drivers, and codes. I wasn’t going to allow this, that’s not how computing is meant.
I used VAX VMS on the University of Maryland system before all of this, and I wanted something like that, with that structure of growth. On an FTP site, I ran across Minix. I read the description: a UNIX-like PC-based operating system with the ability to multitask. I downloaded it, blasted it to floppies, and ran it on my system. SO bare, so minimal (unusable by most in today’s world) but it was working. Nothing was hidden, everything was there at my fingertips and believe me… it was the first moment I felt like a god. To be denied that feeling for so long, and to have it given to you in an instant is enough to make any man absorb himself in it.
After a couple weeks, it wasn’t enough. I was missing the ability to reach out with my modem and connect to BBS boards. That part would dry up quick, because I discovered TCP/IP and the ability to connect to a world-wide network. This was a huge thing in that time, and still is even though it’s often just an accepted part of life. Since I knew C programming from coding on WWIV BBS & Renegade BBS systems, I whipped up a quick and dirty dialer for Minix and connected to the county internet gateway machine. Granted, TCP/IP wasn’t easily configurable on it at that time, but the connection was made.
With that thought in mind, I went with my friend to a Trek convention (yeah yeah… it was for fun, not for dressing up) and I ran across a table selling geeky stuff. A 5-CD box was there, with “Infomagic Slakware Linux 1.2” emblazoned across the box. It was only like $12, I thought what the hell, let’s see what this is. I took it home and blasted Minix off of the machine to install Slakware Linux. At the time, installing Linux was not for the faint of heart. Understanding disk geometry, CPU register tables, graphics card internals, and a couple other important things, were necessary to configure the harddisk and install the operating system properly. After a week or two of playing around, it worked. IT WORKED. With a graphical interface, at that. As against graphical interfaces as I was at the time, I remained at the prompt which proved very valuable due to the heavy learning curve teaching the internals by force. I got Linux talking to the county VAX gateway, and used Gopher & Veronica for information digging… for hours, days, weeks…. months… learning about this new thing.
When something just screams to be ripped apart, examined, making you want to taste it, you know it’s your very essence. Linux has come so far in that time, a ghost of what it once was. It’s still held on to that one philosophy that almost brings me to tears when I think about it disappearing. That philosophy is:
1) Everything written is a tool, nothing does everything
2) Everything on the computer is a file. Nothing is hidden, everything is accessible.
3) All code is transparent, available for the user to alter for his/her own needs
While there are many mantras of the UNIX & Linux world, these 3 are the largest in my mind. With this, everything you dream can become a reality, all that is necessary is ambition, stubbornness, and a touch of rebelliousness.
Cheers, Linus Torvalds. You’ve created a monster named Linux, a kernel that sprouted it’s own wings with the help of many, and has breathed hellfire throughout the computing industry. I love you, man. Keep the fight until we pass the torch, brother.