The Greatest OS That (N)ever Was
By Glyn Moody
Linus Torvalds and thousands of disparate hackers created Linux, perhaps the only alternative to Windows NT. It may be the greatest software story never completed.
Nor yet were you seen
neither seen nor heard
when this earth was made
when the sky was built...
- Kalevala 3:245-248
The Kalevala is an epic poem of some 23,000 lines. Written in Finnish, it forms a huge patchwork of fragments taken from an oral tradition evolving over thousands of years in the province of Karelia, a region now split between Finland and Russia. Its creation in the middle of the 19th century was instrumental in defining not only the Finnish language but the Finnish nation.
The hero of the Kalevala is the shaman Väinämöinen. Early in the poem he is challenged by his hotheaded rival Joukahainen to a duel of magic powers, expressed through secret chants. At the end of this one-sided contest, the upstart is defeated, and the hero triumphantly asserts his unanswerable superiority by noting that he, Väinämöinen, helped create the world.
While the Kalevala is the result of an expansive literary imagination, its origins resemble the real-world inception of what some consider to be the greatest masterpiece that the Internet has produced. Aided by thousands of dis-parate hackers - a "net.mind" of sorts - Linus (pronounced "LEE nus") Torvalds, a 27-year-old Finn, has also created a new world. That realm, Linux (pronounced "LINN-ooks"), is an operating system, the force that defines the digital domain of programs just as our own environment determines the characteristics of animal and plant life.
For most hackers, the goal is to create neat routines, tight chunks of code, or cool apps that earn the respect of their peers. Linus went much further, laying down the foundation that underlies the cool routines, code, and applications, and achieving perhaps the ultimate hack.
Linux was started six years ago as a typical programming lark: written to run on a PC with 4 Mbytes of RAM as a free version of the costly commercial Unix operating system. Today, Linux has an installed base conservatively estimated at around 3 million users. And they're not just spotty adolescents playing in their bedrooms: Linux vendors say that most of the top companies in the US have bought the OS - but that few will readily admit to running their multimillion-dollar corporations on code put together by a band of software idealists.
Linux's installed base may not be on the level of the 100 million-plus users of Windows, or even the 50 million-plus in the Apple Macintosh sector, but Linux has made its mark in just half the time. Linux is freely distributable - one CD-ROM can be passed on hundreds of times - so it's particularly popular in countries just getting wired: South Africa, Cuba, Mexico, Slovenia, Croatia, Russia, India, Pakistan, Nicaragua, the Philippines, Bolivia. And technologically, Linux eclipses all the other brands of Unix. "Linux is far and away the most vital part of the Unix market," says Tim O'Reilly, founder of tech book publisher O'Reilly & Associates. Even Dennis Ritchie, one of the two fathers of the original Unix, calls Linux "commendable."
The saga of Linux has many strands. It is the story of Linus, an arch hacker of unusual wit and charm who single-handedly solved problems that usually require teams of programmers toiling for months. It is also the story of the Internet as a model for distributed collaboration. Indeed, Linux is the Internet's Kalevala, a huge patchwork of code that defines a rapidly growing cybernation, the tightly linked community of those who make and use it. What unites these coders is the drive to create the world's greatest operating system, one more powerful than any commercial Unix, able to run on practically any hardware, and infinitely customizable. An OS, moreover, that is fully the equal of Microsoft's flagship, Windows NT - with true multitasking, virtual memory, shared libraries, TCP/IP networking, and other advanced features. Many see Linux as NT's most serious competitor, the only viable alternative to the Microsoft monoculture - singular proof of the ideal that says we should have a digital choice.
But Linux also sits at a critical juncture. Although the freely distributable OS can never be completely swallowed up by Bill Gates's behemoth, Linux needs to gain the trust of the business sector if it wants to take on the Microsoft machine. Yet independence is a source of fierce pride to Linux coders, who fear Linux might become just another honest freeware Mosaic wiped out by a slick commercial Netscape. In other words, the same hacker ethic that created Linux could cap its expansion, making Linux the greatest software story never completed.
A kernel germinates
This epic begins in Helsinki. Almost as if some cosmic hacker had been at work on the source code of life, it turns out that Linus's home is just a 10-minute walk from the center of the city on a road called Kalevagatan - Kalevala Street, more or less.
Kalevagatan offers a characteristic mix of 19th-century houses and blocks of modern flats. A tram periodically rumbles along the last part of the street on its way down to the Seaside Hotel, beyond which lies the gray sea that surrounds the city on three sides. Linus lives with his wife in a building that feels as if it were built to accommodate college students. Rows of bikes stand padlocked under the stairs.
Linus himself looks more like a schoolboy than a shaman: medium height, with light brown hair and blue eyes that gaze out steadily from behind glasses with roundish lenses and mottled rims. Only the eyebrows, which are remarkably dark and bushy, jar slightly with the general effect of an intensely boyish face.
Plenty of books line the walls of his apartment. The place is dotted with paintings and trinkets, rather chintzy curtains, a desiccated crocodile between a pair of armchairs, plus two supercilious cats and a few computers - three PCs, a Power Mac, and three Alpha-based micros lent by Digital - that lurk discreetly at the edges of the room. One of the most interesting elements is barely noticeable: a lead connecting the computers to a telephone socket. This is a 256K leased line to the Internet, installed and paid for by a local Internet service provider as a small token of gratitude to the shaman of Linux.
Linux, it turns out, was no intentional masterstroke, but an incremental process, a combination of experiments, ideas, and tiny scraps of code that gradually coalesced into an organic whole. Many of Linus's formative years of low-level programming were spent poring over a Sinclair QL, an eccentric British computer launched in 1984 that had many faults but one real virtue: it was a true multitasking system that allowed advanced hacking. But the key event that ultimately led to Linux occurred in the autumn of 1990, when Linus took a Unix course at the University of Helsinki, where he studied and eventually earned a master's degree in computer science this past February. That fall the university had just installed a MicroVAX running Ultrix. Ultrix is one of the many flavors of Unix, an operating system pervasive in university science and engineering departments, and routinely used by corporations for heavy-duty computing. Unix is also inextricably linked with the history of the Internet - in fact, it still runs most of it. Created in AT&T's Bell Labs in 1969, Unix grew in the 1970s as a labor of love, the product of devoted hackers such as Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, and Bill Joy. In 1993, AT&T sold Unix to Novell, which sold it to the Santa Cruz Operation in 1995. Today, variants are available from companies such as SCO, IBM, Digital, HP, and Sun, resulting in a highly fragmented market - one that is increasingly vulnerable to Microsoft's rival system, Windows NT.
But in 1990, Linus was occupied with more mundane matters: his university's hardware couldn't cope with more than 16 users at a time. "You had to wait in line to get to a terminal," he recalls.
One of his course books was Andrew Tanenbaum's Operating Systems: Design and Implementation, which provided a guide to a kind of baby Unix called Minix. "That's when I actually broke down and got a PC," Linus says. Until then he had resisted, he explains, because "if I had gotten a PC, I'd have gotten this crummy architecture with this crummy MS-DOS operating system and I wouldn't have learned a thing."
Minix was very limited, designed simply to teach operating systems, explains Tanenbaum, currently professor of computer science at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. Nonetheless, he says, Minix seemed to strike a chord: "Within two months of its release in 1987, there was a newsgroup with over 40,000 users worldwide."
However, many wanted more capabilities. "I was getting hundreds of emails a day asking to add this feature and that feature," Tanenbaum says. "Many people were frustrated with my constantly saying no."
Linus began to experiment with his own hacks, using Minix as scaffolding to develop a new program. "I made two processes and made them write to the screen and had a timer that switched tasks," he recalls. "One process wrote A, the other wrote B, so I saw AAAA, BBBB, and so on."
Linus says he never intended to create a kernel, the part of an operating system where the real processing and control work is done. Instead, a purely practical need to read Usenet newsgroups drove him to modify those first two trivial processes. "At some point," he recalls, "I just noticed, Hey, I almost have this functionality."
Linus had been a true hacker early on: in his early teens he had programmed a Commodore Vic-20 micro the hard way, using assembly language - partly because he didn't recognize there were other tools available, and partly because it just seemed natural. In 1991 he needed a simple terminal emulation program to access newsgroups. So Linus sat down and wrote one - based on his two-process lash-up. As Linus tells it, doing so was simply a matter of changing those As and Bs into something else. "One process is reading from the keyboard and sending to the modem" - which then connects to the university computer - "and the other is reading from the modem" - receiving the newsfeed - "and sending to the screen."
But there was something else Linus needed: drivers. A driver acts as a software buffer between something central (like the kernel) and something peripheral (like a keyboard, screen, or modem). You could build this straight into the kernel, but then you'd have to rewrite the kernel each time you wanted to use a bigger screen, a different keyboard, or a faster modem. Far better to abstract out this layer in a driver: to use a new screen or keyboard, you just slot in the new driver and the old kernel works.
In the summer of 1991 - just six months after he got his first PC - Linus found he needed to download some files. But before he could read and write to a disk, he recalls, "I had to write a disk driver. Then I had to write a file system so I could read the Minix file system in order to be able to write files and read files to upload them," he explains, as if it was the only reasonable thing to do. "When you have task-switching, a file system, and device drivers, that's Unix" - or at least its kernel. Linux was born.
This fledgling system would have been short-lived had Linus not mentioned it in the Minix newsgroup. His early posting prompted an offer of space on an FTP server at the Helsinki University of Technology, letting people download the first public version of Linux. "Linux was my working name," Linus says, "but if I actually used it as the official one, people would think that I was an egomaniac and wouldn't take it seriously. So I chose this very bad name: Freax" - free + freak + x. "Sick, I know." Ari Lemmke, who ran the FTP site, decided he didn't like the Freax label, so he used the working name instead.
By January 1992, only 100 people or so were using Linux, but they provided a critical online baptism. Those early uploads and comments were crucial. Particularly key were the patches sent in by fellow hackers to fix problems they found with the code. By chance Linus had stumbled into an online Karelia and was about to start piecing together the patchwork of his Kalevala. Anybody anywhere on the Net could obtain the basic Linux files. Email enabled them to comment and offer improvements, while Usenet provided a forum for discussion. Beginning as the product of one mind, Linux was turning into a tapestry, a movement of like-minded hackers.
The sorcerer's apprentices
A kernel on its own is not much use, even if it is being refined constantly through patches sent by interested hackers. Part of the reason Linux took off so spectacularly is that nearly everything else needed for a complete OS was there waiting.
These programs-in-waiting were part of the Free Software Foundation's GNU project. The recursively named effort - "What's GNU? GNU's Not Unix" - was begun in 1984 by Richard Stallman as a reaction against some of the draconian rules imposed on software users by vendors. (See "Is Stallman Stalled?" Wired 1.1, page 34.)
GNU's aim was to write a complete "free" version of Unix - the kernel and all the associated elements - that is, one that gives users the freedom to share and change software but not add restrictions and impose them on others. With the Linux kernel, Stallman says, "the available free software added up to a complete system."
Rather than wait for someone to write applications designed specifically for his operating system, Linus tweaked Linux to perfectly fit GNU's pre existing apps. "I never ported programs," Linus says. "I ported the kernel to work with the programs. Linux was never the primary reason for anything - user programs have always been the reason."
A similarly pragmatic approach allowed Linux to acquire, almost overnight, a graphical front end à la Windows - this was indispensable for its wider acceptance. (Until then, Linux was controlled through obscure commands entered as text at a prompt, rather like DOS.) The GUI was provided by the Xfree86 Project, a nonprofit group that provides free software for PC versions of the X Window System.
Linus also adopted the standard GNU licensing scheme called copyleft. The general public license, or GPL, allows users to sell, copy, and change copylefted programs - which can also be copyrighted - but you must pass along the same freedom to sell or copy your modifications and change them further. You must also make the source code of your modifications freely available.
GPL has proved a powerful force for Linux's success. First, it has encouraged a flourishing commercial Linux sector. Although Linux is readily available on the Internet, buying a set of CD-ROMs for US$30 is generally far cheaper than downloading several hundred Mbytes of code - and far quicker. GPL also has given programmers an additional incentive to join in the essentially philanthropic spirit of the Linux movement. The license has ensured that their work would be freely distributable, but not unfairly exploited or locked into proprietary products by unscrupulous commercial organizations.
In a sense, GPL provided a written constitution for the new online tribe of Linux hackers. The license said it was OK to build on, or incorporate wholesale, other people's code - just as Linux did - and even to make money doing so (hackers have to eat, after all). But you couldn't transgress the hacker's fundamental law of software: source code must be freely available for further hacking.
In March 1994, the official Linux 1.0 appeared, almost as a formal declaration of independence. By then the user base was already large, and the core Linux development team substantial. Among the thousands of files Linux contains, there is one called simply Credits. In it are the names, addresses, and contributions of the main Linux hackers. The list runs to more than 100 names, scattered around the world. Almost uniquely for a hacker project, Linux has huge and comprehensive sets of FAQs, how tos, and general help files (see, for example, the Linux Documentation Project).
The growth of the development team mirrored the organic, not to say chaotic, development of Linux itself. Linus began choosing and relying on what early Linux hacker Michael K. Johnson calls "a few trusted lieutenants, from whom he will take larger patches and trust those patches. The lieuts more or less own relatively large pieces of the kernel."
The Linux approach is deceptively simple. All hackers are free to work on any additional features or improvements. Even in the earliest stages, new code is freely downloadable for users to try and critique: beta-testing is not a last-minute attempt to catch the worst flaws, but an integral part of the process. When several people work on the same area, they may compete or combine; if they compete, the best code wins through raw Darwinian selection.
"The Linux and free software community can be thought of as true meritocracy," says Marc Ewing, who in 1994 founded Red Hat Software, which sells one of the most popular Linux distributions. "People in a traditional development group are assigned jobs that they may not know much about, or be best suited for."
Bruno Haible, who has contributed to Linux's memory management code, puts it even more succinctly: "When the main author doesn't improve his code anymore, other people will."
This freewheeling situation has allowed hundreds of thousands of users to employ Linux on perhaps tens of thousands of hardware configurations: Linux supports everything from an Intel 386 to a Pentium Pro, along with platforms based on Alpha (Digital's RISC chip), SPARC (Sun's RISC chip), MIPS (port to Silicon Graphics's RISC chip under development), and MkLinux (a version of Linux that runs on Intel and PowerPC machines).
Users also have, via the Net, ready means for communicating any problems to the person who knows the program best - the author. That can be a big plus, or a distinct minus. While serious hackers might like having a tête-à-tête with another codejockey, most regular users just want their questions answered fast. Providing a reliable Linux help desk could help a commercial vendor bring Linux to the masses.
Linux, of course, is not alone in using the Internet for distributed development and user feedback. "The main difference," says Eric Youngdale, a coder who has led the development team for Linux's SCSI drivers, "was basically Linus." Free-flowing self-regulation is all very well, but without the right person to act as a focus, this energy will just be dissipated. Linus is omnipresent through the development approach he created. Yet he almost never intervenes - in a way, he solved all the problems up front.
The automatic selection of programmers to work in the areas they know best, and the ability of the system to expand endlessly by delegating tasks in this naturally distributive way, has produced other benefits. "I am impressed by the speed at which Linux has obtained features that have taken commercial vendors many years to develop," says Jon "Maddog" Hall, senior marketing manager for the Digital Unix Software Group and executive director of the nonprofit Linux International.
Indeed, the pace of upgrades is vertiginous: from the earliest days, the latest patches have typically appeared every week. And yet in parallel, there is always a stable release distribution that moves forward just as inexorably when the new features have been thoroughly tested. Linux generally proceeds with point releases - 1.1, 1.2, et cetera. There is also a complicated system of subpoint releases such as 1.1.12. When a big enough jump in software functionality occurs, developers move to the next version, a process normally presided over by Linus.
This two-track development process has made Linux probably more advanced and yet more stable than any other version of Unix today. "Linux is now entering an era of pure development instead of just catching up," says Jacques Gélinas. "This is where the huge number of developers and testers will give an incredible edge to Linux over any other operating system - NT included."
Phil Holden, Microsoft's product manager for Windows, seems not to be unduly concerned: "We have a very talented team of developers making sure NT is the most powerful, flexible, and easy-to-use operating system," he says.
But staying on top may prove increasingly difficult for Microsoft. The latest version of Linux - release 2.0 - offers 64-bit processing (NT and many Unixes are only 32-bit); symmetric multiprocessing, which allows the simultaneous deployment of several chips in a system; and networking more advanced than that of any other operating system.
A related advantage of Linux's developmental structure is that security fixes typically turn up faster than from commercial suppliers. For example, when a "Ping of Death" assault of multiple, low-level messages crashed several operating systems worldwide, a quick patch to Linux enabled the attack to be thwarted in a couple of hours. "Somebody posted a report of the ping," recalls Alan Cox, author of the fix, "so I just sat down, fixed it, and posted the fix straight back." Users of other operating systems had to sweat out their vulnerability far longer.
While the quality and sheer technical brilliance of Linux are undisputed, few people outside its circle have heard of it. Linux could easily seem to be some interesting but ultimately marginal phenomenon. The facts suggest otherwise.
Because Linux can be downloaded from hundreds of sites and users are encouraged to pass on CD-ROMs, it is impossible to accurately determine how many people use the OS. Based on an amalgamation of voluntary registration systems and market research, however, Linux distributor Red Hat estimates that there are between 3 million and 5 million users worldwide. These numbers understate the true reach of Linux, according to Harald Alvestrand, project coordinator of The Linux Counter. "The more than 46,000 users who have chosen to register are less than 5 percent of the total number of Linux users," he estimates, extrapolating from a comparison of the Counter's figures and the considerably higher number of Linux machines believed to be running Web servers. "I figure the true ratio is closer to 0.5 percent. That would indicate 9 million Linux users."
Whatever the actual numbers, it is not unrealistic that Linux will emerge as the second operating system after Windows, especially given Apple's currently confusing sense of direction. However, Microsoft's huge installed base of users and wide range of applications is unlikely to be surpassed, despite what believers in the Linux magic might hope. Linus has no illusions on the subject and even employs tools like Microsoft's PowerPoint - running on top of Linux via one of the Windows emulators available.
Yet Linux's importance lies not just in the size of its installed base, but also where those users are found. "More than 120 countries are represented," according to Alvestrand. "And Linux is a real power in the less developed countries - in some cases growing faster than the Internet."
Given the growing expanse of users working collaboratively, today's Linux is less a seamless piece of coding than a tapestry of hundreds of hackers' contributions. The parallels with the Kalevala are striking. Finland's national epic was created in the middle of the last century when a district medical officer, Elias Lönnrot, traveled around Karelia collecting lines of poetry from many different sources - scraps of an ancient oral tradition - and wove them together. When Linux first emerged, it consisted of some 10,000 lines of code. Now the kernel alone is almost 1 million lines, with millions more in the hundreds of ancillary programs that make up a full Linux distribution.
Given that Linux is immensely powerful, free, and truly open, you might expect cost-conscious companies to be rushing to embrace it, to obtain more software for little money and without the crippling dependence on one supplier that the Microsoft approach implies. And they are - in secret. Freeware is a dirty word in most companies. And certainly not something on which you'd base mission-critical operations.
Bryan Sparks heads Caldera, a company that hopes to claim its piece of the business market with OpenLinux. Caldera was set up with funding from Ray Noorda, the former CEO of Novell and a longtime critic of Microsoft. There is no love lost between the two companies - Caldera has filed an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft relating to DOS coding allegedly pinched from Caldera-owned DR-DOS. Sparks definitely sees Windows NT as a competitor. "You have to if you're selling an OS - Microsoft is the 2,000-pound gorilla," he says. But, Sparks notes, Caldera focuses on small- and medium-sized businesses, typically those with fewer than 50 servers. "We don't primarily target companies like Ford Motor Co., although we've sold some there," he says. "We look at ourselves as a grassroots company."
OpenLinux costs anywhere from $60 to $400, but Sparks still must frequently calm user fears about a product primarily regarded as a hacker group project. "We had an MIS guy at a large company who called and said, 'We're using Linux for gateways and other things to attach all our Internet sites. My MIS director just found out that I'm running Linux and said we're not going to run our company on no free software. Can you help me?' And I said, 'You bet we can.' Linux is free, but we're a real vendor; if you have problems we'll stand up and take the bullet."
Red Hat's Marc Ewing says his company already has many top-drawer customers, including NASA, Disney, Lockheed Martin, Industrial Light & Magic, General Electric, Ernst & Young, Price Waterhouse, UPS, Nasdaq, the IRS, and Boeing, as well as leading US universities.
Skeptics contend that Linux will never break into the mainstream because of its lack of desktop applications. Even as recently as a year ago, this was probably true. Linux hackers - including Linus - generally don't seem interested in writing apps; Mnemonic, a Linux browser project, is a recent exception. But now that the Linux market is expanding, commercial companies are filling the gap. Applix and Star Division both offer integrated suites of powerful desktop programs - wordprocessors, spreadsheets, graphics applications, et cetera. Caldera has put together a Solutions CD, including products by big names such as Corel (a version of CorelDraw to add to the existing Linux port of WordPerfect) and German company Software AG (Adabas D database).
Other major firms that have ported or helped others port to Linux include Netscape (Navigator 3.0 browser and Fast-Track Web server) and Adobe (Acrobat PDF reader), plus companies like Marimba (Castanet). Even Microsoft is coming out with a Linux version of its standard for distributed computing, DCOM (Distributed Component Object Model, also known as network OLE - basically a way of linking distributed software objects across networks). And Linux's Java support means that any apps produced in this platform-independent language will immediately add to the pool of Linux software.
However, it is worth considering some of the obstacles. One is that the distributed development model may ultimately fail. "As time goes on," Eric Youngdale confesses, "it gets harder for key developers to communicate because of the enormous noise on the mailing lists." This could provide the opening needed for a major developer to pull Linux more completely into the commercial sector.
Even if the development process continues to feed new improvements into Linux, this in itself may be ultimately destructive. One of Linux's great advantages has been its leanness, but the temptation to add more and more features can end up causing software bloat - huge programs trying to do too many marginal things.
And then there is Microsoft. With Bill Gates steadily buying up most of the OS talent around, can Linux hope in the long run to compete against Windows NT? One reason it might is that Linux 1.0 came into existence more or less fully formed - like Väinämöinen's world - as a complete, advanced system, rather than one that evolved slowly and painfully through various primitive stages. NT, on the other hand, was designed to be the robust incarnation of Windows 3.0, itself the third iteration of a program that began as a hack to make MS-DOS usable. MS DOS, in turn, was heavily based on a very simple operating system that Gates bought from Seattle Computer Products in 1981 just before IBM launched its PC - and MS-DOS.
Linux, by contrast, was able to incorporate all the past successes of Unix and ditch its failures - another reason Linux may stand a chance against NT. "Given the long history and millions of person-hours of unpaid efforts that are crystallized in Unix," says Dick Pountain, contributing editor to Byte magazine, "the resources that lie behind Linux may be even greater than what Microsoft has put into NT."
However, Linux still needs to address the crucial issue of how to gain the trust and confidence of the business sector. And Caldera's example could be key. The question is, Can it successfully mediate between the distributed Linux ethos and the demands of the business world - and can this approach be scaled to match the Microsoft machine?
Suddenly, at the end of 1996, amid the growing sense that Linux may well be approaching a historic juncture in its progress, came a stunning announcement. Linus was leaving the University of Helsinki to work for an unknown US computer company called Transmeta, based in Santa Clara, California. Many initially wondered whether Linux would be fatally wounded. But senior developers and commercial vendors now seem fairly confident that Linux now has enough momentum and structures in place to continue.
What's Linus going to do at Transmeta? "I can't tell you," he says coyly. "But it's actually in my contract that I'm doing Linux part-time."
Though Linus nominally spent the last seven years at the University of Helsinki working on his master's degree, in reality he devoted much of that time to Linux. He and everyone else knew that one day his thesis (on porting Linux) would be finished - and with it his research salary. Then he would confront the perennial question for aging hackers: How do I earn a living in the real world?
Some, like Matt Welsh, remain in academe; others, like Hannu Savolainen, now sell commercial versions of their Linux work - in this case, drivers for sound cards. Setting up his own company would have been one option, but Linus was not interested: "At this point," he says, "I wouldn't want the paperwork." He happily concedes a quite unhackerish desire "to have money," but adds "it's not my primary goal in life."
Basically, Linus needed a new challenge, and he candidly admits that "if things at Transmeta go really exceptionally well, I'm going to be rich just working and doing whatever I want anyway." The only technical detail he will divulge about Transmeta is that it is into VLSI, or very large-scale integration - chips, in other words, though "they obviously have a software side, too."
Transmeta, it turns out, is a start-up headed by Dave Ditzel, chief scientist of the chip development project at Sun that produced the SPARC processors, probably the most successful example of the RISC idea. One of Transmeta's big investors is Paul Allen, the other founder of Microsoft.
Although there are no public statements (www.transmeta.com/ offers only the self-contradictory declaration, "This Web page is not here yet"), Paul Allen's Web site mentions something about Transmeta being involved in the creation of "alternative VLSI engines for multimedia PCs."
But despite the fears of some in the Linux community, it is not Transmeta that is likely to distract Linus, but another, more personal, genesis. He has an infant daughter - Patricia Miranda - born in December 1996, two days before we met.
Ever the realist, Linus sees his daughter - more than his move to Silicon Valley - as likely to change his involvement in the development process of Linux. And what right have we to complain if the shaman who conjured up the rich world of Linux 2.0, the ultimate digital hack, should now want to concentrate on his other creation - Linus 2.0 - the ultimate analog hack?
Besides, if this latter-day Väinämöinen ever wishes to renounce completely his leadership of the online tribe, now there's sure to be someone out there ready to lead the Linux nation into battle.
That is where the way goes now
where a new track leads
for more versatile singers
more abundant bards
among the youngsters rising
among the people growing.
- Kalevala 50:611-620