Member Contributed Articles
1994a: Linus Torvalds DECUS Redux
(by Richard Weld; August 1994)
August 1994 - Linus Torvalds DECUS ReduxWelcome to the new BCS Linux/Unix User's Group! Linux is a public domain Unix clone that has enjoyed remarkable popularity in a short time. It is primarily for 80386/80486 microprocessor computers but it is being ported to 680x0 computers, and should have versions for PowerMacs, DEC Alpha's, and other CPUs in the near future.
The August MeetingThe August meeting of the Linux Group featured a tape recorded speech that Linus Torvalds, the developer of Linux, gave to a DECUS (Digital Equipment Computer User's Society) conference in May, 1994. Torvalds is a 25 year old computer science instructor and student at the University of Helsinki. He started Linux by writing a Unix terminal emulator in 1991, and then added features like virtual memory for smaller computers. He finished Linux version 1.0 in March of 1994, but he emphasized that he only wrote about half of the kernel and that many others contributed the rest.
Torvalds explained that he wrote Linux mainly for the fun of it, but also because of the need for an inexpensive Unix. He has a great sense of humor and he admitted that he did it through ignorance and arrogance. Ignorance of how much work it would be, and arrogance in ignoring advice that said it was a waste of time. But he also credited others for giving him the inspiration to continue.
Torvalds gave a brief introduction to Linux where he outlined its good and bad features. Of the good features he said it had good hardware support and co-existed well with versions of C+ and other operating systems. Linux fully complies with IEEE's POSIX standard that defines a set of operating system services. He thinks Linux is good for academic, personal and professional uses because it is free, it is expandable, it is configurable, and it is an excellent development environment. In fact Linux has development tools for most programming languages. Linux also has X-Window functions and TCP/IP based networking. He proudly spoke of the technical superiority of Linux, and how it is both faster and more stable than other PC-based Unixes.
Torvalds was equally frank about some of the current problems with Linux. Linux has widespread support form research and academic organizations, but there is little support for users except for online services. The amount and quality of documentation is poor but rapidly improving. Another problem with Linux is that it runs very few commercial programs. Many people do not trust Linux because it is free and in fact the code is young and still not fully tested.
Torvalds ended his presentation with a discussion of the present state and probable future of Linux. Today, Linux is the most popular Unix clone for PCs. It has received favorable recognition from several magazines and at least one commercial outfit has expressed interest (PC Week reported that this is Novell, Inc.). Linux is available from several FTP sites and from private companies on either CD-ROMs or floppy disks. In the future, Torvalds expects increased compatibility with MS-DOS and Windows. He also hopes for more source compatibility with perhaps some official standards. He noted the porting to 680x0 CPUs is primitive but he thinks that will improve, and he says there are several groups working on ports to the PowerMac and other RISCs. Finally he is looking forward to better documentation and support. There are a few books now out and the BCS Linux/Unix Group is an excellent source of support.
Special thanks to Jerry Feldman, long time BCS Activist, and Jon "Mad Dog" Hall of DECUS, for making this tape available!
Some Linux FTP sites:
MeetingsThe Linux User's Group has been meeting at 7:00 PM on the first Tuesday of the month, but you should check the Calendar because there may be occasional changes. For automatic meeting annoucements via the Internet, you can subscribe to the Linux Group's mailing list by sending email to
Meetings are held in room 154 of Building 66 at MIT. Building 66 is on Ames Street which runs between Memorial Drive and Kendall Square. To get there by car, take the Wadsworth Street exit from Memorial Drive and then take your first left onto Amherst Street. (Take any open parking space you see). Amherst Street ends at Ames Street where you should take a right. Building 66 is a triangular building on the left hand side a short distance down Ames Street.
If you take the MBTA, get off at Kendall Station on the Red Line. If you come from Boston, cross the street and walk one block to your right to Ames Street. (From Harvard/Alewife, turn left). Building 66 is a short distance down Ames Street on your right.
Richard Weld / firstname.lastname@example.org