Just for Fun is a book by Linus Torvalds and David Diamond about the past life of Torvalds, the creation of Linux and his views on the technical world. I mainly bought it because I wanted a nice summary of Unix history and what Torvalds’ mindset looks like. Just finished it recently and wanted to share some quick thoughts on it and why you should read it.
The book uses a lot of “nerd humor”, it is indeed more like a personal biography than a raw documentation of Linux history, just like you would expect from Linus Torvalds. Though the book tries to keep a neutral view of everything.
In the first few chapters we learn about Torvalds’ childhood and how he learned to love computers. It also brings some view on Finland, which is quite sarcastic, mainly the saunas.
Later we read about the pre-events of Linux. It probably was a thug time to write for 386 machines back then! He goes on about how x86 task switching is great.
“My sister Sara knew about my great personal accomplishment (on task switching). I showed it to her and she looked at the screens of AAAAA’s and BBBBBBB’s for about five seconds; then she said “Good” and went away, unimpressed.”
The horrors, unfortunately I never got task switching to work on my little kernel.
Just for Fun takes a good approach on showing how beautiful programming and working systems can be, by hinting at the large amount of work that goes behind such things. I consider these things important.
The next chapters Torvalds goes on about Unix and its advantages compared to other operating systems. The first one is simplicity. Each thing in the OS is a task. And you can combine other tasks, for example by piping. This motivation of creating complex systems by combining simple things is quite a beautiful design. Another one is that it was not just an idea but a movement. A lot of versions of Unix exist, for example Minix, the Unix Torvalds first installed on his PC, still conscious about its flaws.
Nerds who will read this book will get satisfied, but Torvalds also wants to talk about his political views on things like Intellectual Property. He of course also writes about Open Source and its big advantages against other software development models. “If you want to do something right, make it Open Source” I had been hoping for a little bit more contact to Richard Stallman. While he tries to keep a civil attitude against him you can see that he is not quite impressed by his later work. Then the book goes on about Torvalds’ financial success, his view on miscellaneous things and his role as a family man. Seeing how he could adjust his life with the financial help of Linux made me feel good. Seeing that Open Source can really work as a job and role model.
Yes, I enjoyed the book and you get a fairly good view on Torvalds experience on Linux and its impact on the world. You should buy the book if you want to learn about Linux’s development and Torvalds’ life. It’s not a very technical book, except when it goes about how basic operating systems work, not more.