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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Book Review: Rebel Code

One of the books I purchased recently is "Rebel Code, Linux and the Open Source Revolution"; written by Glyn Moody, the book is around 320 pages. It's available in paperback form, and is easy to carry and read when you are traveling, for example.

A lot is discussed and I'd agree with Eric Raymond's comment that this is the best history of the open source movement. It starts off from Richard Stallman, GNU and "Free Software Foundation" and goes to the Mozilla foundation and the new trendy name of "Open Source Movement." The best parts are the email excerpts from various mailing lists, which take you back into history when things were still being defined.

Below is the table of contents and a brief overview of what various chapters contain:
  • The Coolest Year provides some background on the university years of Linus.

  • The New GNU Thing talks about the famous AI Lab at MIT which are the earliest traces of "hackers." It tells how the group was disbanded and how Richard Stallman took onto himself to write a "free" Unix.

  • A Minor Rebellion starts off with Linus' interest in 386 processor and how he gradually went onto writing Linux, after working on Minix. The chapter takes excerpts from the famous flame war between Tenenbaum and Linus.

  • Factor X talks about various contributing factors which made Linux a hit, including XFree86 and NFS. It also discusses 386BSD. Linus is quoted as saying that he wouldn't have bothered with writing Linux if 368BSD had come out a few years earlier.

  • Patching Up is all about contributions to the kernel in the form of patches; the most interesting part is the fork in TCP/IP stack -- when Linus finally preferred Alan Cox over Fred.

  • Boot then Root covers the origins of Linux distributions, specifically SLS and Caldera, and how their maintainers became famous people.

  • Linus 2.0 is about Linus getting a job in Transmeta, and he moving to the US from Finland.

  • Learning from Berkeley is about Internet revolution and Perl. It covers a lot of background information on Larry Wall, the author of Perl.

  • The Art of Code discusses the importance of a paper by McVoy at Sun for having a unified Unix release. It also talks about Eric Raymond and Donald Knuth (and of course, TeX).

  • Low Down in the Valley discusses how Linus' family life and work started interfering in the open source work; it also talks about the most dangerous point in the history of Linux development---when people started talking of having a different leader to take over kernel maintenances.

  • Mozilla Dot Party tells you how Mozilla came into being, starting from the origins of Netscape to the open source project, heavily inspired by the writings of Eric Raymond. The most interesting part is the one that discusses Jamie Zawinsky. By the way, I personally think Jamie Zawinsky is very, very cool.

  • A Foothold enlightens you how IBM dumped its own HTTP server and adopted Apache for all its products

  • Distributions and Shares is about companies which started working on Linux distributions, most notably Redhat.

  • Open for Business talks about the various business aspects of the open source projects, and how most of them contributed back to the open source world. I think Glyn Moody didn't do justice with this topic, and a lot is left to be desired. Perhaps, the later editions of the book provide more insight.

  • Trolls Versus Gnomes is about the desktop on Linux.

  • Lies, Damned Lies, and Benchmarks truly represents the chapter title. It's one of the things that proved to be demoralizing for the hackers---various tests, which talked of Windows being superior to Linux, proved to be true on multiprocessor machines.

  • Tomorrow's Hothouse discusses the trends as the author foresaw them at the time of writing.

  • Beyond the Market is also about future.

  • The Postscript is a little bit on Python and related trends.

I got hold of a very old edition of the book; it discusses events till 2001. A lot has happened after that which isn't discussed in my copy. I'd give it a 4 out of 5 rating---a must have.