April 24, 2019

.comment: What Are We Shooting For, Anyway?

The Surprise of Linux

  • March 21, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

As I write this, I have the ability to compile, on this very machine, a Linux kernel that would power an IBM S/390. I haven't tried it and do not know if in the processor specification when configuring the kernel I could nominate an S/390, but the code now comes with the kernel source.

It pleases me, as in some way it ought to please all Linux users, that Linux runs on big iron. But when you analyze it, this pleasure and pride is of the sort that we have when the local team makes the World Series or the World Cup -- our satisfaction is vicarious.

As a pure programming exercise, Linux is an unparalleled success. The sheer audacity of a young computer student actually believing that he could essentially clone UNIX is remarkable. That he would put together enough competent code to interest others speaks of his ability. That it would grow as it has, to involve thousands of programmers, most working for the sheer love of the art, is stunning. That the result would be the rise of multi-million-dollar companies (still) and the involvement of billion-dollar companies is miraculous.

Today, a decade into Linux, there are millions of Linux users who, by their very use of Linux, are able to look down upon the owners of machines running the commercial operating system. Lusers, we call them, and with considerable justification. Appliance owners. We have sympathy for those who embraced the previous noble attempts, the Amiga owners, the OS/2 users. It wasn't their fault, so our hearts are open, but to us they're lusers, too.

We're unstoppable. We can thumb our noses at everyone. We can taunt them a second time.

And if we believe that. we're fooling ourselves. Yes, Linux has grown in wonderful and unexpected ways, and has become the tremendously competent operating system that no one expected. But step back and take a look.

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