Building notes, projects, and occasional rants

Tannenbaum comments about Linus and Linux

Tanenbaum comments about the idiotic Alexis de Tocqueville Institution report is an excellent read, and includes some precious comments worth quoting:

Thus, of course, Linus didn't sit down in a vacuum and suddenly type in the Linux source code. He had my book, was running MINIX, and undoubtedly knew the history (since it is in my book). But the code was his. The proof of this is that he messed the design up. MINIX is a nice, modular microkernel system, with the memory manager and file system running as user-space processes. This makes the system cleaner and more reliable than a big monolithic kernel and easier to debug and maintain, at a small price in performance, although even on a 4.77 MHz 8088 it booted in maybe 5 seconds (vs. a minute for Windows on hardware 500 times faster). Instead of writing a new file system and a new memory manager, which would have been easy, he rewrote the whole thing as a big monolithic kernel, complete with inline assembly code :-( . The first version of Linux was like a time machine. It went back to a system worse than what he already had on his desk. Of course, he was just a kid and didn't know better (although if he had paid better attention in class he should have), but producing a system that was fundamentally different from the base he started with seems pretty good proof that it was a redesign. I don't think he could have copied UNIX because he didn't have access to the UNIX source code, except maybe John Lions' book, which is about an earlier version of UNIX that does not resemble Linux so much.

The Linus was just a kid part is truly excellent.

Update: there is an followup to the original story.