Just for Fun - a book on Linus Torvalds

This is a book review. Just for Fun is a candid narrative by Linus Torvalds: chief nerd and the creator of Linux operating system, and co-wr

 · 3 min read

What would you do if you don't like your operating system? Make do with it? Try another one? Read some help and make it a bit more likeable? Well, Linus Torvalds just created one.

Just for Fun is a candid narrative by Linus Torvalds: chief nerd and the creator of Linux operating system, and co-written by David Diamond. It is the story of why and how Linux came to be, and a window into the mind of a creative genius.

The book starts off with an unusual topic: the meaning of life. It is something that engenders convoluted answers from even the most diligent philosophers. Yet Linus's theory seems refreshing and original-that every phenomenon in life progresses from survival to social order, and then to entertainment. We're all here to have fun.

Linus recounts his life at school as a typical nerd: good at math and physics, not so stellar in the social circle. Someone who was perfectly happy in his room, at the computer, cloning various games and tinkering under the hood. "No fun could compare to computer fun". 

From the cover, you would think that this book would be just about the making of the operating system, but it is also gives us a glimpse into Linus's family, the advanced state of education in Finland, his experience at the army, general traits of its people and their affinity to technology.

He then goes to unfold the story of his association to computers, from the first one-his maternal grandfather's Commodore VIC-20, to a Sinclair QL, and eventually a 386 PC, on which, the Linux operating system came to life. Even the tale of deciding on such purchases and financing them is intriguing.

He wrote his own programming tools from a driver to a floppy controller, editor, assembler and disassembler. (And now I feel ashamed that all I did was complain about the lack of a driver for my HP printer). His interest in Operating Systems grew further when he started to understand Unix. To him, Unix was beautiful - a system that gave you the building blocks that are sufficient for doing everything.

Linux got started as a project to create a terminal emulator to replace the one provided with Minix, while Linus was studying at the University of Helsinki. He also wrote a disk driver, so that he could download/upload files to a university computer. Realising its potential to become a complete operating system, he read and implemented POSIX system calls and eventually got a shell running - in just a few months! To put it in perspective, to compile the Linux operating system source code is pretty complicated; Just imagine how incredibly skilled he must be to write it.

"In a software kind of world, I find that once you solve the fundamental problems of a project, it's easy to lose interest."
Any programmer would identify with this statement.

He regales us with the events proceeding the release of Linux to the world: the Minix vs. Linux flamefest, how he met his wife, the case of the Linux trademark, adopting the GPL license, moving to Silicon Valley to work at Transmeta Corp. and his meeting with Steve Jobs. With Linux's meteoric rise to fame, he also sheds light on the pressure of denying millions of dollars to make sure that he remains neutral. 

His views on Intellectual Property, companies trying to control things out of fear and why open source makes sense, seem to be prophetic in light of recent events like the Samsung vs. Apple case or the Oracle vs Google one. At the end, he comes full circle to his idea about the meaning of life-that Linux offers both social motivation and entertainment, and that having fun is a better motivator than money, when survival is more or less assured.

This book is a chronicle filled with wit and humour. It reminds you to not take life so seriously-after all, we are here just for fun.

Anand Doshi

Anand is the Chief Technology Officer at ERPNext. He reads fiction, dabbles in photography and is always on the watch for the best ToDo app.

1 comment
Mayur Patel July 2, 2013

Pretty true.

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