[By Nic Lindh on Monday, 15 November 2004]
Coauthored with David Diamond, Linus Torvalds’s autobiography Just for Fun is a slim volume that follows Torvalds on his journey from geeky kid with a large nose in Finland to Open Source-icon in California.
The book is breezy and fast-paced, talking about why Torvalds started work on Linux and how it spread and took on a life of its own, as well as his childhood and family situation in Finland.
Anybody reading this for nerdPr0n like technical details of the kernel and programming tips and techniques will be sorely disappointed–Just for Fun is about Torvalds, not his creation.
And Torvalds is an interesting person. From the way he is portrayed in the book, he comes across as a high-functioning autist; exceptionally bright, eerily able to focus, and with a proclivity for hard work, but with little interest or ability for social interactions. Just the kind of person who would get the idea to write an operating system in order to learn more about the processor in his computer.
From the outcome of the Linux project, it certainly seems like this is exactly the kind of personality needed to drive a world-spanning project where most if not all information exchanges go through the social-cues-stripping filter of email, and what matters most is not whether somebody is a nice person or not, but the quality of their work. As Torvalds says, he accepts good patches and rejects bad ones. If somebody submits a lot of good patches, they become more trusted. Simple as that.
Torvalds also displays an amazing sang-froid regarding his creation. It’s not something he’s ever lost sleep over, he says. He did it, as the title says, just for fun.
The only way to really get a rise out of him, it seems, is to challenge his technical decisions, like in the infamous Tanenbaum flame war early on in the history of Linux.
In the end, Just for Fun provides interesting anecdotes and insights and is great reading for anybody involved with computers.
Bonus nerd fact: Torvalds originally felt the name Linux was too egotistical and wanted to call his kernel Freax. But the person offering him FTP space for the kernel managed to change his mind.