Building Linux while juggling chainsaws

Building Linux while juggling chainsaws

First and foremost, they discussed the exact day of Linux’s birthday. Torvalds “has redefined the birthday of Linux that everyone used to use — August 25 — and then said, ‘well, actually it’s September,’” according to Hohndel. Indeed, Torvalds and I have discussed this before, and there are four possible dates for Linux’s “official” birthday.

Linus Torvalds founded Linux thirty years ago, give or take. Torvalds discussed Linux’s history with his good friend and VMware VP and chief open-source officer Dirk Hohndel at the Linux Foundation’s Open Source Summit last week.


  • Torvalds is just fine with that:We’ve never had a very good and well defined birthday and I’m more than happy to just have the party continue for six weeks because the first time it was publicly talked about an announcement per se, the code wasn’t ready, and then when I did the first code drop, which was September 17, I still didn’t think it was quite ready enough. But I had promised some people that I will make it available so I made it available but didn’t announce it publicly. And then the next code drop was the one that I now hold so there’s like this six-week period of wild partying going on every year when the anniversary comes up because the birthdays just spread out.”

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Torvalds remembered, “I was at university, but it was never a university project. So I didn’t really talk to anybody about it, except for five people I emailed about the 0.01 release.” He told them, “Hey, I put it up like I promised.” And that was that.

What did he expect to happen once Linux was out in the wild? It certainly wasn’t for it to become the world’s dominant server, device, and cloud operating system.

He explained, “I was 21 years old. I’d been programming for about half my life…It started with Torvalds’ memories of the first precious hours of the operating system’s release. While he’d intended to call his newly-minted operating system Freax, “I had already been told that the FTP site that I put it on, that I did not maintain, had a directory called Linux. So I had actually changed the name in the kernel main make file to be Linux at that point.”

He added, “I am eternally grateful for two other people for having more taste than I did.”

But then Torvalds remembered he’d expected to move on to the next new and interesting project, leaving Linux behind in a state where “it’s kind of done. It’s not quite usable. But it’s done enough that it’s not interesting anymore. “That was clearly then what open source changed. Because suddenly this project — that I probably would’ve left behind, if it was only up to me — I started getting questions about, and eventually patches — that just kept the motivation going. And here we are 30 years later, and it’s still what keeps the motivation going.

“Because as far as I’m concerned, it’s been done for 29 of those 30 years, and every single feature ever since has been about things that other people needed or wanted or were interested in.”