Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary

Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary

4.5 8
by Linus Torvalds, David Diamond
     
 

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Once upon a time Linus Torvalds was a skinny unknown, just another nerdy Helsinki techie who had been fooling around with computers since childhood. Then he wrote a groundbreaking operating system and distributed it via the Internet — for free. Today Torvalds is an international folk hero. And his creation LINUX is used by over 12 million people as well as by

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Overview

Once upon a time Linus Torvalds was a skinny unknown, just another nerdy Helsinki techie who had been fooling around with computers since childhood. Then he wrote a groundbreaking operating system and distributed it via the Internet — for free. Today Torvalds is an international folk hero. And his creation LINUX is used by over 12 million people as well as by companies such as IBM.

Now, in a narrative that zips along with the speed of e-mail, Torvalds gives a history of his renegade software while candidly revealing the quirky mind of a genius. The result is an engrossing portrayal of a man with a revolutionary vision, who challenges our values and may change our world.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com editor
The Barnes & Noble Review
Of the many characters who've arisen in 50 years of the computer revolution, few are more intriguing than Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux. Here's a guy who created the first Linux kernel in his bedroom, as a hobby -- starting a snowball rolling that may yet bury Microsoft in an avalanche. He seems to preside over his own personal global revolution with amiability, equanimity, bemusement -- and far less evident greed than you'd expect from your typical technology titan.

Ever wonder what it's like being Linus? How he got that way? What motivates him? Read his new quasi-autobiography, Just for Fun, and wonder no more.

We suspect when the mainstream press reviews this book, they'll cluck over amusing tidbits like Linus describing who picks his wardrobe: "...it's the marketing staff for high-tech companies, the people who select the T-shirts and jackets that will be given away free at conferences. These days, I dress pretty much exclusively in vendorware, so I never have to pick out clothes."

Or, Linus on meeting his wife: "She had more of an impact on my life than even Andrew Tanenbaum's book, Operating Systems Design and Implementation."

The tidbits are embedded in a narrative that starts with a look at growing up in Finland, where "we have a healthy share of both alcoholics and fans of tango dancing. Spend a winter in Finland, and you understand the roots of all the drinking. There's no excuse for the tangoistas..." You'll learn why he started writing Linux, why he open-sourced it, and how he handles celebrity: "Take a person whose life-long philosophy has been to have fun and do something interesting, then add some money and fame, and what do you expect will happen? Instant philanthropist? I don't think so."

The whole book's laid-back fun with a purpose. Here's Linus's management philosophy: "...the same as it was when I coded away in my bedroom: I don't proactively delegate as much as I wait for people to come forward and volunteer to take over things.... I try to manage by not making decisions and letting things occur naturally. That's when you get the best results."

As Torvalds sees it, fun isn't just, well, fun: It's the inevitable, desirable direction of human evolution. "...neither business nor technology will change the basic nature of human needs and yearnings...[which] move away from plain survival through a society based on communication and finally into the realm of entertainment..."

If you're not having fun, you're not meeting your evolutionary destiny. In the longterm, you'll have to solve that problem for yourself, but in the shortterm, read this book. You will have fun. (Bill Camarda)

Bill Camarda is a consultant and writer with nearly 20 years' experience in helping technology companies deploy and market advanced software, computing, and networking products and services. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks For Dummies®, Second Edition.

Time
Some people are born to lead millions. Others are born to write world-changing software. Only one person does both: Torvalds.
Time Magazine
Some people are born to lead millions. Others are born to write world-changing software. Only one person does both: Torvalds.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The autobiography of a career computer programmer, even an unorthodox one, may sound less than enthralling, but this breezy account of the life of Linux inventor Torvalds not only lives up to its insouciant title, it provides an incisive look into the still-raging debate over open source code. In his own words (interspersed with co-writer Diamond's tongue-in-cheek accounts of his interviews with the absentminded Torvalds), the programmer relates how it all started in 1981 with his grandfather back in Finland, who let him play around on a Vic 20 computer. At 11 years old, Torvalds was hooked on computersespecially on figuring out how they ran and on improving their operating systems. For years, Torvalds did little but program, upgrading his hardware every couple of years, attending school in a desultory fashion and generally letting the outside world float by unnoticed, until he eventually wrote his own operating system, Linux. In a radical move, he began sharing the code with fellow OS enthusiasts over the burgeoning Internet in the early 1990s, allowing others to contribute to and improve it, while he oversaw the process. Even though Torvalds is now a bigger star in the computer world than Bill Gates, and companies like IBM are running Linux on their servers, he has retained his innocence: the book is full of statements like "Open source makes sense" and "Greed is never good" that seem sincere. Leavened with an appealing, self-deprecating sense of humor and a generous perspective that few hardcore coders have, this is a refreshing read for geeks and the techno-obsessed. (May) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780066620732
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/28/2002
Edition description:
First Harper Business Paperback Edition
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
761,268
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.64(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I was an ugly child.

What can I say? I hope some day Hollywood makes a film about Linux, and they'll be sure to cast somebody who looks like Tom Cruise in the lead role -- but in the non-Hollywood version, things don't work out that way.

Don't get me wrong. It's not as if I looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Envision instead large front teeth, so that anybody seeing a picture of me in my younger years gets a slightly beaverish impression. Imagine also a complete lack of taste in clothes, coupled with the traditional oversized Torvalds nose, and the picture starts to complete in your mind.

The nose, I'm sometimes told, is "stately." And people -- well, at least in our family -- say that the size of a man's nose is indicative of other things, too. But tell that to a boy in his teens, and he won't much care. To him, the nose only serves to overshadow the teeth. The picture of the profiles of three generations of Torvalds men is just a painful reminder that yes, there is more nose than man there. Or so it seems at the time.

Now, to add to the picture, start filling in the details. Brown hair (what here in the United States is called blond, but in Scandinavia is just "brown"), blue eyes, and a slight shortsightedness that makes wearing glasses a good idea. And, as wearing them possibly takes attention away from the nose, wear them I do. All the time.

Oh, and I already mentioned the atrocious taste in clothes. Blue is the color of choice, so that usually means blue jeans with a blue turtleneck. Or maybe turquoise. Whatever. Happily, our family wasn't very much into photography. That way there's lessincriminating evidence.

There are a few photographs. In one of them I'm around thirteen years old, posing with my sister Sara, who is sixteen months younger. She looks fine. But I'm a gangly vision, a skinny pale kid contorting for the photographer, who was probably my mother. She most likely snapped the little gem on her way out the door to her job as an editor at the Finnish News Agency.

Being born at the very end of the year, on the 28th of December, meant that I was pretty much the youngest in my class at school. And that in turn meant the smallest. Later on, being half a year younger than most of your classmates doesn't matter. But it certainly does during the first few years of school.

And do you know what? Surprisingly, none of it really matters all that much. Being a beaverish runt with glasses, bad hair days most of the time (and really bad hair days the rest of the time), and bad clothes doesn't really matter. Because I had a charming personality.

Not.

No, let's face it, I was a nerd. A geek. From fairly early on. I didn't duct-tape my glasses together, but I might as well have, because I had all the other traits. Good at math, good at physics, and with no social graces whatsoever. And this was before being a nerd was considered a good thing.

Everybody has probably known someone in school like me. The boy who is known as being best at math -- not because he studies hard, but just because he is. I was that person in my class.

But let me fill in the picture some more, before you start feeling too sorry for me. A nerd I may have been, and a runt, but I did okay. I wasn't exactly athletic, but I wasn't a hopeless klutz either. The game of choice during breaks at school was "brännboll" -- a game of skill and speed in which two teams try to decimate each other by throwing a ball around. And while I wasn't ever the top player, I was usually picked fairly early on.

So in the social rankings I might have been a nerd, but, on the whole, school was good. I got good grades without having to work at it -- never truly great grades, exactly because I didn't work at it. And an accepted place in the social order. Nobody else really seemed to care too much about my nose; this was almost certainly, in retrospect, because they cared about their own problems a whole lot more.

Looking back, I realize that most other children seem to have had pretty bad taste in clothes, too. We grow up and suddenly somebody else makes that particular decision. In my case, it's the marketing staffs for high-tech companies, the people who select the T-shirts and jackets that will be given away free at conferences. These days, I dress pretty much exclusively in vendorware, so I never have to pick out clothes. And I have a wife to make the decisions that complete my wardrobe, to pick out things like sandals and socks. So I never have to worry about it again.

And I've grown into my nose. At least for now, I'm more man than nose.

Just for Fun. Copyright © by Linus Torvalds. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Meet the Author

Linus Torvalds was born in Finland. He graduated from the University of Helsinki and lives with his wife, the six-time karate champion of Finland, and his children. Linus currently works as a programmer on several projects for Transmeta.

David Diamond has written regularly for such publications as the New York Times, Business Week, and Wired. He is executive editor of Red Herring Magazine and lives in Kentfield, California, with his wife and daughter.

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