Sunday, October 23, 2005

Book Review: Just For Fun

A few days back, I read this amusing book "Just For Fun". I just noticed the author "Linus Torvalds" and that was reason enough to issue the book from my company library. And true to the title, reading the book was fun.

So what does Father of Linux want to say to all geeks (and non-geeks too)? You think he would describe the birth of Linux in all gory and geeky details. Yeah, he does that and a lot more. For those who are not geeks, he presents some philosophical content, and this is highly amusing, although you might disagree with him in this area.

Thus somewhere around 1991, he creates Linux just for fun. Believe it or not, most programmers program for the sake of fun and enjoyment they get out of it, and here Linus goes on to describe his fun creating Linux. The journey begins when he was an undergraduate at University of Helsinki. There he got hold of "Operating Systems: Design and Implementation", the book which changed the course of his life. As he says, "As I read and started to understand Unix, I got a big enthusiastic jolt. Frankly, it's never subsided." In the book Tanenbaum describes Minix, an educational OS based on Unix.

Linus installed Minix on his new 386 machine, and figured out that this OS was too crippled for any real work (it had to be, after all it was for educational purposes only). He didn't like the terminal emulation program and started developing his own version entirely by programming the 386 hardware. That was how it all started with a terminal emulation program. I can't describe the whole story here (for that you need the book), but what I got the feeling that it was great and wonderful.

In one of the chapters he explains his tussle with Tanenbaum ("Minix vs. Linux"). Here you see his sentiments expressed when someone challenges his creation called Linux. His feelings for Linux are contained in his email to Tanenbaum like this "but, I am touchy when it comes to Linux." In further chapters one finds the growth of Linux, open source and GNU. In a decade or so he becomes a revolutionary and a celebrity.

Next he describes the growth of Linux from some geeks in newsgroups to the common user at desktop. You come to know about his Transmeta affair. And one hears the talk of fame and glory (and money too). It's difficult to imagine how his pet project grew to such enormous proportions and with it Linus became an "accidental revolutionary."

In the concluding chapters, Linus presents his view on topics like "Intellectual Property", "Why Open Source Makes Sense" and "Fame And Fortune". These articles are worth spending time. In one article "An End to Control" he talks about the freedom of customers and expresses views against the pure greed of companies.

The ultimate philosophical content is expressed in "The Meaning of Life II" where he says that one begins from survival, then gets into social order and finally seeks fun and entertainment. Whether you agree with him or not, you will have the fun knowing the philosophy of a computer geek.

I had fun reading the book and I hope some of you out there will experience the same.


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12:27 PM  
Anonymous Captain Jack Sparrow said...

Another great review....
You should give a review of a good book each month. This makes it two books which your blogs inspired me to read.

But I have a lot of backlog (of reading books) and hope to clear it quickly, so that I can start with Feynman's Letters and then with "Just for Fun".

10:14 AM  

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