I interviewed David Rusling and Jon ‘maddog’ Hall back in August of 2012 in the hopes that I could get another Linux publication to run this interview; however, that wasn’t to be. And with maddog now coming on board to assist with a couple projects at Linaro I thought this would be a fitting place share all the awesomeness they shared with me. It’s a rather long interview but well worth the read. Many many thanks to both David and maddog for the time they shared with me in this interview and for the talents that they each share with world; Open Source has a brighter future because of all they do!
(Side note: David’s answers are in blue and maddog’s in a dark orange so you can see the interactive exchange that was had as they answered the questions)
At the time of the interview I asked both David and maddog to tell about their current roles and what they do.
David Rusling was at the time of this interview and currently the Chief Technical Officer at Linaro. “2 years, I helped form it. I wave my arms and try to stay ahead of the bow wave,” said Rusling about how long he had been with Linaro and what he does in his role as CTO.
maddog is the Executive Director of Linux International, President of Project Cauã, and Industry Consultant. When asked what he does and how long he has been in those roles he had the following to say.
For Linux International (www.li.org) I have been a voluntary (unpaid) ED since 1995. LI defended and protected the Linux Trademark against attack, helped to start the Free Standards Base project and helped to start the Linux Professional Institute. I travel the world helping governments, corporations, companies, universities and people learn how to make or save money with Free Software. Other than that it is fairly dormant, as the Linux Foundation is doing a good job with most things Linux. Someday I may start it up again if I see a need that has to be addressed.
Project Cauã (www.projectcaua.org) is a project to help create millions of sustainable, private sector, entrepreneurial jobs in dense urban areas in Latin America. It is having a few issues about getting to pilot launch, but we are addressing them.
I make my living as an Industry consultant, mostly in Free and Open Source Software. I am always looking for new business and things to do, so people who are willing to pay are welcome to send me email. “Free as in Freedom, not as in beer”
[QUESTION] – It’s my understanding that you all worked together at Digital Equipment Corporation together? If so, is it true that you all worked in the same office and on the same version of Unix? Did you all know each other before working there? What is one story from those days you both remember fondly that would help those who are getting stared in Technology? What was the lessons you learned that you still remember and apply today?
David: Not only do we go way back, but maddog got me interested into Linux in the first place. For which I am eternally grateful.
We both worked for Digital; but not even on the same continent. I worked in Reading, England, maddog in New England. The catalyst was that Digital decided to build the Alpha processor and sell it around the time that Linux was being created and maddog refused to let the second architecture that Linux ran on be anything other than an Alpha. I had never heard of maddog until I was told about Linux; I met him for the first time just before we went into a meeting with one of the Digital execs. The rest is history.
As for Digital and Linux; all of us working on it were renegades. At that time Digital was focused on VMS, Digital Unix and Windows NT. The Linux work was done with very little management buy in. The thing was that Digital was a great engineering company with some amazing people working for it and you could get away with having a bright idea and following it. maddog saw what was happening with Linux, believed that it would one day be big and infected the rest of us with his passion.
I was looking for something to own and Linux became that. It was technically very challenging, fast and fun. We did things in days or weeks when other teams would take that long to set up a meeting to discuss the possibility of doing something. I learnt so much, so quickly.
maddog: Yes, we both worked for Digital, but it would have been impossible for David to share my office, as the office was so cluttered that things would have fallen on the poor chap. I worked for the Digital Unix group, in Nashua, New Hampshire, USA and we had just created a 64-bit version of OSF/1 Unix on the Alpha microprocessor. At that time the Alpha (a RISC processor) was the fastest in the world, and for a number of years we were registered in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the fastest.
I did not have the pleasure of knowing David before the Alpha/Linux project, but I did get to spend some very nice time with both him and his family in the years afterwards.
I do not know which stories we both remember fondly…perhaps the time that the port was finished and David and I went to a Digital Equipment User’s Society (DECUS) event in Dublin to talk about the project and show it off. We shared a graduate student flat on the campus that was situated for four students, so had four bedrooms, two baths, a small kitchen and sitting room. More importantly the campus had three huge pubs that served Guinness….we had a good time. I am not sure that story will really get people “started in technology”, unless of course you consider that we had fun…and as Linus has often stated, having fun is very important to life.
David: I remember that weekend very well as we ended up going out to an Irish bar with a bunch of folks from Finland. They gave us pints of Guinness as we got onto the coach to go into town. I had a huge hangover the next day. That was my 40th birthday. [maddog sighs: only 40!]
maddog: Lessons…Hard work, honesty, love for your fellows, kindness towards others, taking care of your family, loving your life partner and children, guiding your children the correct way, earning a decent living, self-dependence, enjoying life and helping others to enjoy it too, these are the things that allow a person to look themselves in the mirror every day. Do your best, every minute, every hour, every day.
If anyone asks anything more of you than that, it is their problem, not yours.
[QUESTION] – How did each of you move to Linux? What was the first Linux distribution you can remember using (ok, I am sure you compiled it yourself and probably wrote some of it, too; did you?)? What year was this? What distribution do you currently use and if you are comfortable with answering, why do you use that distribution?
David: It’s all maddog’s fault. The first distribution I ran was Slackware on an old Digital 386 with 120 Mbytes of disk (yes, Mbytes). That was just before we got it running on Alpha systems. We first ran a Slackware like home brew (and yes, we did compile it ourselves, but only after we fixed the compiler). Red Hat were involved early on and we worked with them to create Alpha based distributions, so I ran Red Hat for years. I got fed up with upgrading systems and moved to Debian for a while. These days I run Ubuntu, but I occasionally flirt with other distributions. Ubuntu is flexible enough to let me I use whatever GUI I want, mostly just works and lets me experiment.
maddog: I had been using the equivalent of “Open Source” ever since college in 1969. I first started with software from DECUS, written by its members and contributed to their library. This software could be obtained for 5 USD per copy (15 USD if it was long) on paper tape. This charge was for handling and postal expenses, as the software itself was “free”. I would then buy new paper tape from the school store and punch off copies that I would sell to my roommates at 1 USD per copy to make back my money. This was both legal and encouraged by DECUS.
In 1992 when I worked for DEC I worked on a project called “Good Stuff” that compiled and built available Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) on the Digital Unix system, which we handed out to our customers. It saved them time and money from doing this all themselves, and they loved the work.
In late 1993 I saw an advertisement for “A complete Unix system, source code included, for 99 USD”. Intrigued, I bought it, only to find out that it only ran on an Intel-compatible device. Since I only had “real computers” (VAX, MIPS, Alphas), I could not use it, but I mounted it on my workstation and looked at the man(1) pages. Convinced that it was interesting, I put it in my filing cabinet.
In early 1994 a friend of mine, Kurt Reisler started sending emails to various companies and copying me on them. Kurt was the chairman of the Unix Special Interest Group for DECUS (UniSIG). Kurt wanted this person to come from Europe to the Spring DECUS event in New Orleans, and was looking for funding from various small companies. They all told him that they did not have much money, but they would be happy to send CDs of their software to the event.
I felt bad for Kurt, since he was a good guy and had good ideas, so I went to my management and told them we should fund this, even though I did not really know this speaker nor what he had done, as “Kurt often has good ideas”.
My management funded 5,000 USD to bring this speaker to DECUS and to supply a PC to run the software.
I traveled to DECUS in May of 1994 and found Kurt trying to install some software on the PC and not being very successful. Along comes this nice young man with sandy, brown hair, white socks and sandals and asks if he can help. Ten minutes later Linux was running on that PC, for that young man was (of course) Linus.
During that event I saw Linux in operation for the first time, and conceived of the idea of porting Linux as a 64-bit operating system to the Alpha. While riding a steam-powered riverboat, the Nachez, up and down the Mississippi River I convinced Linus to do the project. It was symbolic that the decision to port a Free Operating system to the world’s fastest processor was done on board one of the earliest forms of automation.
I returned to my office at Digital and gave a presentation to a small group of managers on what I saw. The last bullet of the last slide said that “Linux is inevitable”. When I was asked what that meant I said “nothing is going to stop it”, and they laughed at me.
I sent around an email to all the engineers in Digital Unix about what I saw, and a couple of them wrote back and told me that they had been using Linux for six months on their laptops. One engineer had written an entire subsystem using Intel Linux on his laptop sitting in his backyard under a tree. He got the code to compile, then brought the source code to the office and put it on his Alpha system, compiled and linked it, and it worked.
These actions confirmed my resolve, and I started to “pull in favors”. I had been at DEC for 11 years at that point, done a lot of favors for a lot of people, and now it was time to start “calling them in”. I called a person named Jim Jackson, and convinced him to give me a 30 thousand dollar workstation for a project and person he did not know. “What will you pay for?”, he asked.
I told him I would pay for the shipping.
I found a group of engineers in the Alpha Technology section of Digital that were also thinking about porting Linux to the Alpha, but a 32-bit port. I convinced them to join Linus and make it a 64-bit port. This group was headed by Andry Riebs, and consisted of a group of engineers including Jim Paradis, Jay Estabrook and our own David Rusling.
David: These chaps deserve more recognition. They invented something called FX!32, technology that translated x86 code to Alpha code on the fly and were very bright and interesting people indeed. I first saw Linux running on Jim’s Tadpole Alpha laptop; probably the same week that I met maddog. By a strange coincidence, at that time Tadpole’s VP Engineering was one George Grey, now CEO of Linaro.
maddog: Linus took the rest of 1994 to study the Alpha architecture, finish up V1.2 of the kernel, and plan the change to the source code tree to support multiple hardware architectures.
We started the port in earnest January, 1995 and had a complete Red Hat distribution of Alpha Linux nine months later.
David: That was really fun. Everything happened so fast. I created a bootloader called MILO which used bits of the kernel (block devices, file system, graphics) to load and start the kernel / OS. The first code that sent to Linus (early PCI support if I remember correctly) was roundly rejected. I was fuming but went for a walk outside and calmed down. Linus, it turned out, was perfectly right and accepted the code once I’d rewritten it.
maddog: The rest, as they say, is history.
I joined Linux International in 1995, and became the Executive Director. In 1999 I left Digital to “Linux” full time.
As a consultant, I use the same Linux distribution that my customer uses. Recently I finished a job with Red Hat, so currently I am running Fedora.
And that first “A complete Unix system, source code included, for 99 USD” that I bought in 1993? It was an Yggdrasil Linux system.
[QUESTION] – Looking back at those days to present day, what amazes you most about the evolution and adoption of Linux and Open Source, both as an Operating System and as a philosophy. What’s been the biggest surprise not only in FOSS, but in technology in general, and what has been the biggest disappointment?
David: These days, if your business has anything to do with software, you will be involved with open source software. If your business cannot interact with open source software, you will stop having a business. it’s a fact of life. I wasn’t surprised that Linux was successful; at a certain point in time, it became unstoppable (probably around the time that Red Hat floated on the stock market and IBM backed it). I am a little surprised that it’s powering the majority of the world’s smartphones, but maybe I shouldn’t be as I helped get Linux running on those early ARM processors (along with many, many others)
It’s not the code that’s the big thing though. The big thing is the social engineering. That communities of engineers join together to achieve coherent, robust and practical code bases that can be used in everyday products. Linux will power the internet of things.
My biggest disappointments are unnecessary secrecy and patents. Not everything a company does should be secret. Some things may be, but companies end up with cultures where they do not differentiate between generally useful code and genuinely innovative software. This means that they don’t share enough information, which doesn’t help the open source community support their hardware. Innovation is also very overused, it most means ‘more duplicated code’. Patents are an interesting area and some open source folks are entirely against them. I’m not, I think that if you invent something original, you should be able to get some commercial advantage from it. However, many, many patents (particularly software ones) are entirely obvious and the patent system (worldwide) is pretty broken. The only people making money are the lawyers.
maddog: In those early days the thing that amazed me was the willingness of people I had never met to spend their own money and time to acquire an Alpha processor and help port this little-known operating system to that processor. Even people who were not DEC customers understood the mission and would beg, borrow or (well hopefully not) steal an Alpha system to do the work.
One that stood out was David Mossburger-Tang, a student at a university in the western part of the United States. David did a huge amount of work in porting libraries and making sure they were 64-bit clean. After the porting project was finished David went on to write “SANE”, a back-end for scanners used to this day in Linux. He also did some very good work in cache utilization, showing how to speed up programs by 40 times with proper cache usage.
I had found David Mossbuger-Tang an Alpha system so he could do his work faster, and shipped it to him on a loan-of-products. Many years later David contacted me to return the system, but did not know who to return the system to, since Digital was no longer in existence. David told me that he was currently working for Hewlett Packard. “Just hold onto it”, I told David, “it will be ‘returned’ soon.” The next week Hewlett Packard bought Compaq.
David: DavidM was great; wasn’t he at Linus’ talk at the University of New Hampshire (I think that I have a picture)? He was one of our first users and was great at testing software, getting new bits working and making things happen. I think of him each time I use SANE.
maddog: Another super-star was Richard Henderson, who was a college student at Texas A&M University, and did the work for Alpha Linux to have shared libraries. For his contribution I have sworn that he will never have to buy food or drink in my presence ever. Later he was the leader of the GNU compiler project and today he works for Red Hat Software.
One final project out of the port was the math library. Digital had done a huge amount of work on their math library for the Alpha, and while they were willing to have a binary object run on Alpha Linux, they were unwilling to ship the source code. I was being beaten up by the community, when I turned to them and said:
“If you are such hot-shot programmers, why don’t you write a better one?”
Silence for a week. Then an email:
“sin(3) is 3% faster”
another two days:
“cos(3) is 5% faster
and so it went until the entire library was re-written, and faster than Digital’s Alpha math library.
Only one routine was never any faster…because “nobody” used it, and nobody cared…it was fast enough.
[QUESTION] – Now you all are smart guys, and have that “Chuck Norris” type technical knowledge combined with humble and like-able personalities, so how’d you get to be that way?
David: maddog was my mentor and when I stop to consider a philosophical position involving open source, I still think ‘what would maddog think?’.
I’ve been influenced by various great engineers over the time and what they all have in common is humility and respect. They’re interested in solving problems, not in being right. The open source world is not about giving orders, it is about influencing people. The best arguments I’ve seen have been entirely ego free and deeply technical.
I got some email the other day which disagreed with me. Someone one the CC list told me that people should not send emails like that to the CTO of a company. My response is that I’d have failed if that was true. The guy sending the email was right.
maddog: Mom&Pop(TM) were a gigantic influence. The steady hand upon the tiller, the safe harbor in the stormy seas of life. Everyone liked them.
My career was influenced by a lot of people, many of which will be mentioned here for the first time. Mr. Ralph Rigger, my woodshop teacher in middle school, Mr. William Roberts, my electronics teacher in high school. Philosophy came from my 10th and 11th grade English teacher, Mr. Koehler.
David: In that case, I’d better mention Miss Cole. I’m mildly dyslexic and she helped me learn to read when I was eight. She started a life long love affair with reading for which I am deeply grateful.
maddog: I owe a lot to my first “boss” and co-workers from co-op at Drexel University (nee Drexel Institute of Technology). During three terms of co-op (1.5 years total) I worked at Western Electric in Baltimore, Maryland. John Kammer (my mentor) was “an engineer’s engineer” (think Dilbert), and Bill Collins was his supervisor (fortunately the opposite of the “Pointy Haired Boss”). In 1969 they encouraged me to sign up for a correspondence course in “How to program the IBM 1130 in FORTRAN”, which was my first exposure to software.
Bill was also the one who encouraged me to grow my beard, which I have not shaved since 1969.
After my first co-op, and while finishing my correspondence course, a salesman from DEC gave me a couple of paperback books on how to program the PDP-8 computers in the physics labs back at Drexel, and by reading those books, and practicing, I learned how to program in assembler and machine language.
A professor of math and statistics at Drexel, Dr. Richard Haas, who was rumored to be the hardest teacher in the school. Because of him the class came together and focused as a group, helping each other. We later learned that his tough exterior was a way to get students to “meet the challenge”. Several went on to become statistics majors.
Another big influence was my first job at Aetna Life and Casualty, at that time the largest commercial user of IBM equipment in the “Free World”….a great place to work for a kid right out of college and who wanted to learn. I also made friends with a lot of the operators in the computer room downstairs and I had direct access to the mainframes.
My students at Hartford State Technical College, where I taught full time were another influence, where I learned at least as much from them as they learned from me. I also learned that you do not really know something until you have to teach it to others.
Bell Labs. What can I say? Working with incredibly bright people. Bea Fink, my first female supervisor, and one of the best supervisors I ever had. I joined Bell at the North Andover facility, hired as their “senior systems administrator for Unix” and I had never touched a Unix system before. Through my background, the study of books and the help of two great mentors, Bob Wessling and Tom Merrick, I learned Unix quickly, to the point that one day Bob threw up his hands and said “That is it! I can not teach you anything more! You have surpassed me!”
David: If I had a time machine, a visit to Bell Labs around that time would be on my list.
maddog: And then there was DEC. I joined in 1983, the 16th person they had hired to work on their new distribution of Unix. It was a small family of scrappers with a dream and a goal to create the best Unix system in the world. I watched as young engineers came in from college to meet with older, more experienced engineers such as Fred Canter and Chet Juszczak.
We called the younger engineers “the boat people”, because they were hired all at once, and it was if they came off the boat at Ellis Island.
We watched and mentored.
Now a lot of those “boat people” work for Red Hat Software….and I am proud of them, what they did and what they continue to do.
Finally, most of the people I have met in FOSS. As in any group, there are some that are lesser, and some that are greater, but for the most part, I think they are “greater”. I love most of them.
Sorry, the story of my nickname has been told many times and in many places. I earned the name at a time when I did not have control of my temper. I keep using it to remind myself to never lose my temper again.
[QUESTION] – It’s my belief that anyone can become technical and if they really want to they can even become a developer, but there are other things about life in F/LOSS ecosystem that well quite honestly isn’t taught in books. So, lets say I came to each of you asking for mentor-ship and were given the opportunity to have each of you all as a personal FOSS mentor; what would you want to make sure I knew? Why? What resources would you point me to in order to help me ensure I build a strong fundamental cornerstone of F/LOSS knowledge. (ok maybe I am hinting here, just a little, but can you blame me for trying – I mean you all are legends!)
David: Find an itch to scratch. What problem do you want to help solve? Find a FOSS community that’s doing work around there and have a look at what they’re doing and see how you could contribute. Try to fit in. Be useful. Be patient.
Most communities have pretty good ‘how to join in’ information. I like LWN as a good source of what’s going on.
maddog: I disagree that “anyone can become technical”, as I have met too many people that despite their best efforts and my own best efforts, they failed. But this does not mean that they can not contribute, as I believe each person can contribute in their own way.
David: Good point. When I went to my first UDS, I was amazed at the range of involvement, including testing, documentation, art work and so on. One of my old bosses in ARM used to say that if all you can do to help is make the tea, then make the tea.
maddog: One of my many interests while growing up was beekeeping. In a bee hive bees take on several different jobs throughout their lives, ending up (typically) as a “field bee”. One of the jobs might be making honeycomb. No bee will build an entire cell, each deposits a little wax, pinches it to shape it a little, then moves on. In the end is a perfect honeycomb.
The essence of Free Software.
[QUESTION] – maddog I would ask you about general Open Source and Linux Philosophies and how to be a good consumer and contributor to F/LOSS projects.
maddog: Understanding the basic philosophies from a simple perspective is a good place to start:
- I start with Free Software so I do not have to write the whole thing
- I contribute to Free Software so I can work and learn from others
- I do not take away the freedoms of others, as it breaks the chain
It is as close to the proverbial “Golden Rule” as I think that technology can get.
Not all of us can contribute directly to writing code, but all of us can contribute something to make life easier.
At the same time I will point out that even the most ardent supporter of “Free Software” will say that you should be able to earn a living writing code, so there is this balance that is sometimes hard to see.
David: I often talk to companies and communities about open source and I emphasis the moral and philosophical duties beyond what is encoded in the licenses. In essence, someone gave the code an open source license in order that it could be taken, shared, modified and used. It is, therefore, your duty to respect that wish.
This can be hard for companies (and individuals) to grok. It requires a paradigm shift from secret source(s) and NDAs. Most companies need fairly sophisticated risk strategies in place to handle this interaction with open source well (or their efforts get stranded in their legal departments). This is not an option, all companies need software and will, to some extent, have to interact with open source software. It’s not the exception, it’s mainstream.
ARM is a good example. ARM needs Linux to run well on systems that include its technology and yet the ARM partnership must keep systems under development secret until they’re released. That’s a difficult balancing act.
[QUESTION] – David, I would ask you about starting on a Technical path and given that both you and I work at Linaro, I would narrow that to ARM what advice would you give me and others about getting started in this area?
David: I like to fix things (or rather, I don’t like broken things) and I like to know how things work. What else would I be other than an engineer? Most of the engineers that I know started by doing sciences at school / university. A lot got into Linux as its free and they like to solve problems and tinker. The issue, for me, is to create engineers that embrace open source. I mostly see that outside of the west, in Brazil, Africa and so on.
[QUESTION] – I would ask both of you how do you influence an organization or corporate entity to adopt not only Linux and Open Source for their technical computing needs, but embracing the philosophies of F/LOSS as well. How important do you see this adoption for the future of Linux, F/LOSS, ARM etc.
David: Having spent years doing this at ARM; get the CTO and legal on board, nibble away at the problem. Support the engineers. Don’t give up.
maddog: In the beginning I wanted Alpha Linux to be used by universities to study how to use large address spaces to improve sorting and searching techniques. I would still love to see Donald Knuth update Volume 3 of the “Art of Computer Programming” to include his thoughts on this.
Later I began to embrace the whole FOSS philosophy, which worked well with programmers and students, but was lost on businesses. Captains of business were not interested in the “Kumbaya philosophies of sandal-wearing hippies.” Yet I began to see a commercial value of Linux and FOSS that went beyond just “getting the software ‘for free’”
At that time I started talking about saving money and making money with Free Software, and that gained some interest. I did not talk about software freedom, but talked to business people about regaining control of their business. I talked about software slavery. Most business people understand issues of “lack of control” and “slavery” much more than they understand Freedom.
I talked to governments about security, sovereignty, longevity of the solution, balance of trade, and brain-drain. They responded.
It is my personal belief that for the bulk of software today, the market is too diverse for solutions to be produced in a “closed source” way, and that FOSS will replace closed source models.
As Linus would say “World Domination” is inevitable.
David: I agree. Open source is mainstream.
[QUESTION] – If you had a magic wand and you could magically fix one area of the F/LOSS ecosystem, what would it be and why? Since there are no real magic wands other than hard work, perseverance, and a quest for knowledge what do you see as the real world solutions to those problems?
David: I’d get the kernel communities to formally get together every 4 months to make decisions. The in-kernel communities, server, embedded etc are having separate meetings – it makes heavy engineering in the kernel take too long. I’d have 3 plumbers a year that they all go to.
Technology wise, Linux is not obsessed enough about power and battery utilisation. There are also too many subsystems doing similar things.
maddog: With my magic wand I would eliminate software patents and drastically reform copyright laws.
Before the mid-1980s software copyrights and patents did not exist and we had huge amounts of innovation. After 1990 the only thing truly new and innovative was a talking paper clip, and everyone hated that.
Today most large companies (other than patent trolls) swear they only have software patents to build a pool to defend themselves, yet if software patents did not exist, you would not need to defend yourself. It is a circular argument.
In the end it is only the consumer who pays the large legal fees, or who is blocked from using a competing product.
Notice that I would eliminate only software patents. Other types of patents are useful, but I believe the whole patent system does need drastic reform.
David: There’s a clear and present danger from loosely drawn software patents. I think that this will settle down as the post-PC era finds its feet, and as governments reform patent law. Sadly, it will probably happen very slowly.
[QUESTION] – Since most of the “Legends in Linux” are your peers and friends, do you have any that you are in awe of and would like to meet that you don’t already know? If so, who and why?
maddog: I am not a hero worshiper. I do not follow the lives of “famous people”, or ask for autographs, or have my picture taken with someone famous. Many times I will ask to have my photo taken with a young person who I think has potential because I want to remember them, not because they are “famous”.
David: I have lost count of the number of pictures of maddog and friends that I see posted on Facebook.
maddog: I have been truly lucky in my life to have met and spent time with some really great people. Besides the ones I have mentioned before, I have met Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, Maurice Wilkes, Douglas McIlroy, Dennis Ritchie, Ken Thompson, Linus…the list goes on and on. But some of the most interesting are the ones “behind the scenes” that few people have ever heard of their contributions, and I have been fortunate enough to not only know them, but to be invited into their homes, be with their families and their lives.
This is, for example, my relationship with Linus and his family. When I do see them (not as often as I would like) we do not talk about Linux. Instead we talk about mutual interests, and I talk with his wife Tove and his daughters. I have met their families, who I like immensely, and we have taken sauna together. Linus and his family went to a county fair with me one time, and to the boardwalk at Santa Cruz beach.
Probably three or four times early in our mutual friendship has the topic turned to Linux, and then only a tiny nudge to get things back on course. It did not take much effort.
I appreciate the fact that I have known Richard Stallman for over a quarter century, and even though we do not agree all the time on everything, I will admit to having moved closer to his philosophies over the years.
On the wall of my office hangs a plaque with the poem “Desiderata” on it. I bought the plaque when I was in college. The poem begins “Go placidly among the noise and haste”….(something I have always found hard to do), and eventually talks about how there will always be people who are greater and lesser than yourself. No matter how intelligent you are there will always be someone more intelligent than you, or more knowledgeable in some subject or a harder worker, or otherwise gifted where you are not, but “beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself”.
The poem goes on to warn you to avoid loud and aggressive persons, “for they are vexations to the spirit”. So I really prefer to be with small groups of people, to sit down and perhaps have a glass of beer rather than with large groups. A lot of people might find it surprising to know that I am quite shy.
USENIX, DECUS and the people I met there, were also huge influences on my life, and of course the many thousands and thousands of people I have met around the world in the Free and Open Source movement.
I am sure that after this question a lot of business leaders will dismiss me as a “sandal wearing hippie”. That is their problem, not mine.
David: I’ll echo Maddog’s comments. There are, undoubtedly, some very bright individuals writing extraordinary code but, in general, open source is the sum of its many contributors, not of the few. The influential ones are those that are good are enthusing others with their ideas and in growing capable teams around them. Open source is distributed intelligence not centralised command and control. I get a real buzz at open source working sessions, such as those we have at Linaro Connects, where a group of kernel hackers discuss a problem and strategies for solving it. It’s a very interesting spectacle of social engineering as views are aired and consensus is reached.
That said, I’ve never physically met Ingo Molnar but I’ve watched his work with interest. As the Linux kernel has got bigger tries to serve many needs, it takes a strength of character to propose wholesale changes in debug and in the scheduler.
I’d never describe Maddog as a ‘sandal wearing hippie’, I usually describe him as ‘Father Christmas on his holidays’.
[QUESTION] – Many people using Linux today don’t know about or even care about the whole GNU/Linux argument. Personally, I think it’s good to know the history of GNU and Linux and the importance of each. As someone who mentors others, when would you introduce this topic, how would you introduce it, and what are your personally thoughts on the subject?
David: My friends are either in technology and know all about Linux or are entirely ignorant of technology. With non-technologists you can point at Android (as they can buy that) and talk about open source communities.
maddog: Computers are a huge part of our life, everything from smartphones to supercomputers, yet most people have never even read the license that they blissfully click on.
I would be very happy if at least “computer science” people understood about GNU and Linux in depth, and the rest of the people practiced the “Golden Rule” more…
[QUESTION] – What do you see as the future of Linux? What areas of this future are you most interested in? Any predictions about what technology will be in say 1, 5 and 10 years?
maddog: World Domination. There are currently 1.5 billion desktops in the world, and 7.5 billion people, so 5 billion people have not selected their desktop yet. These people typically do not speak one of the 50 major languages of the world, do not do business the same way that Western Europe or the USA does business, and represent groups that are too small (and too unprofitable) for closed source countries to address their issues.
David: I don’t think that it will be a desktop (or what we now call a desktop). For most people, a mobile phone or a tablet together with the infinitely connected internet is the perfect tool.
maddog: We no longer need a multi-million dollar, twenty-ton computer to write software. I hold in my hand a computer faster than all the computers that Aetna Life and Casualty owned in 1977 when I left, yet it runs off a battery. Thank you, Dave, ARM and DEC (who did a lot of work on the StrongARM chip and architecture). It runs an operating system called “Android” based on the work of a college student from Helsinki, Finland.
David: I was listening to BBC Radio 4 on the way to work and an entrepreneur was talking about how easy it is for someone to have an idea and to create a scalable business to support it via the internet. Creating a web site and writing software has never been easier.
maddog: Linux runs on 98% of the 500 fastest computers in the world today, half of all the servers shipped, and is the most used operating system in embedded system designs.
The timeline of the future? Sorry, too hard to call. By now we should all be flying around in rocket belts, according to the magazines of my youth. But while the timeline is too hard to call, the direction is clear, and Free Software will be there.
David: In some ways, we’re there already. Just stop and be amazed. Power and energy will dominate and something called the internet of things will actually make sense.
[QUESTION] – Is there anything else you would like for readers/viewers to know in regards to your personal journeys in F/LOSS, the companies you work for, or pet projects you are currently working on?
David: Being at Digital when alpha Linux was happening was a happy accident – I would advise people to grab opportunities and to always look for ways to develop, as an engineer and as a person. My current project is looking at how to use Neon instructions in the kernel for cryptography.
maddog: Getting to know David, meet and know his family, and through a lucky accident, sharing with Dave the experience of a “Royal Wave” from the Queen Mother right before her Diamond Jubilee….but that is another story.
David and I see each other, way too seldom, at Linux events around the world.
David: Sadly true, but sitting on your hotel room balcony drinking your lovely home made Trappist beer and reminiscing was memorable. I will treasure that Royal Wave forever.