February 23, 2019

Kernel Development, Desktops, and Scooby Doo: The Alan Cox Interview - page 4

A Connoisseur of Indian Food and Scooby-Doo

  • February 10, 2000
  • By Paul Ferris

LT: How long have you been doing Linux now?

Alan: Around eight years.

LT: From the very beginning practically?

Alan: I was using Linux for a while. I sent Linus a patch for 0.95 or somewhere which Linus rejected because someone else had already fixed the problem. Then I sent him another one for process accounting shortly afterward, which eventually got into the kernel some point after 1.2. It had been written and rewritten by 10 people in the process.

Then came the networking stuff. What actually happened was that I'd been using Linux a bit at home, writing a multiuser game. It kind of did the job. It was a real user environment, and it worked like a proper computer.

LT: So you were writing a game?

Alan: I was involved in most of the design work and a little writing of a multiuser game called ABERMUD. It was probably the first generally available multiuser game released onto the Internet.

Although certainly not the first of the game, it was actually a cheap knock-off of a game written in 1982/83, and we thought, we ought to be able to do this too. Before I'd been doing some game work with Adventure International in the U.K.

So, that was my background. I had sort of assumed that I was going to university and finish. If I could find a way to make a lot of money I'd go and write computer games. I got sidetracked on it.

But what happened was that the university computer society got a 4-megabyte 386 [Intel] machine, and we stuck it on the university LAN. And it fell over--within minutes. So we started debugging the network code.

At the time we probably had one of the biggest multiprotocol networks that a Linux box was attached to. So we were finding a lot of the bugs that other people weren't, and I started fixing them.

LT: A 386. That would be pretty sluggish, too, although we don't remember things that way.

Alan: It wasn't that bad. You have to remember that the kernel was a lot smaller then.

LT: I remember 286es as being blazingly fast. But you know something, I encountered a 286 running DOS the other day and I thought I'd stepped in the mud. It's amazing how our tolerance for speed changes from year to year. Once you sit down and use a 600-MHz Pentium III and then go to something like a 200-MHz Pentium....

Alan: It probably depends upon what you are doing. There are a lot of systems out there running on 8-MHz microprocessors that feel just fine.

LT: Yes. If I'm in raw text mode on a console, which is what I switch to if I'm doing real work, it's different.

Alan: Well, that's what people were using, something like that, until around Word 5, text mode. People only flipped into graphic mode to do a final check through. It was too slow to draw the page.

Peoples' expectations have moved on. They want to do more. The ways of working have changed. There are things today that you wouldn't do with a computer before. You just say now, "I've got all this computer power--you sort it out."

LT: I feel like some of our demand like that is effecting our stress levels, making us less tolerant of not just computer things. Waiting in line these days I see a lot more people impatient waiting in line. They've increased their bandwidth at home, why should they have to wait for anything. I see it bleeding over into areas where it shouldn't.

Alan: Certainly people have forgotten that being happy is somewhat more important than owning all the best stocks and the other things that people sort of spend all their time running around trying to achieve.

LT: On the happiness question--what do you consider happiness? Where does it come from for you?

Alan: Making other people happy, I think, is probably the world's number-one cause of happiness. That's always the way I've looked at it.

LT: It's not something that fades with time. All this other stuff sort of fades and rusts. Things become invaluable over time, but a good deed never seems to be forgotten.

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