Rating: 4/4 (Fun read)
I spent the long weekend reading the book Just For Fun: The Story Of An Accidental Revolutionary. The book which shares the authoring credits of Linus Torvalds and reporter David Diamond is about the life of Linus and that of Linux. The writing is mostly by Linus in first person, with some intermediate chapters by David Diamond to give an outsider’s view of Linus’s life.
The book is mainly in 3 parts: Birth of a nerd, Birth of an operating system and King of the ball. I loved reading the first two parts where Linus talks about Finland, early life with his family, introduction to computers, birth of Linux at university, his lovelife(!), move to Transmeta and growth in popularity of Linux upto the time of the book’s writing. The third part is where he gives his opinions about more serious aspects like IP, open source software and even delivers the Meaning Of Life! These are the chapters where he appears confused and ambiguous, almost like he was asked by the publishers to write something serious since he has really fooled around in the former parts.
Like the title, the book was fun to read. Linus’s writing is full of analogies, most times self-deprecating. Thankfully, for the non-tech readers he stops at the right point when delving into the technical details of operating systems, kernels etc. He comes across as someone who does something firstly because it is fun. Everything else is secondary. This applies to Linux too. That is the reason why he stays away from the GNU/Stallman/OSS politics. The book was written at the end of 2000, so not everything about Linux is right now as rosy at it is in the book (like Linux IPOs). After having read about the OS and the hacker behind it from a gazillion outside sources, it was still fun to get it all from the man himself. Recommended read.
Here is a funny excerpt from the book:
He was armed with an opened can of Coke as he emerged from the innards of Transmeta’s offices in an anonymous Santa Clara office park. He wore the programmer’s uniform of jeans, conference T-shirt, and the inevitable socks-and-sandals combo that he claimed to have favored even before meeting another programmer. “It must be some programmer’s law of nature,” he reasoned when I asked about the footware choice.
The first question to Linus, as we sat in the backseat, was a throwaway. “Are your folks in technology?” I asked while fiddling with my tape recorder.
“No, they’re all basically journalists,” he replied, adding: “So I know what scum you are.”
He didn’t think he could get away with that.
“Oh. You come from scum?” I responded.
The world’s best programmer laughed so hard that he coughed out a spray of Coke onto the back of the photographer-driver’s neck. He turned red. This would be the start of a memorable afternoon.