Ye Olde Linux

An account of “Linus-as-Martin Luther” from an article in Salon, 25 years ago:

Linus Torvalds is an information-age reformer cut from the same cloth. Like Luther, his journey began while studying for ordination into the modern priesthood of computer scientists at the University of Helsinki — far from the seats of power in Redmond and Silicon Valley.

Also like Luther, he had a divine, slightly nutty idea to remove the intervening bureaucracies and put ordinary folks in a direct relationship to a higher power — in this case, their computers.

Dissolving the programmer-user distinction, he encouraged ordinary people to participate in the development of their computing environment. And just as Luther sought to make the entire sacramental shebang — the wine, the bread and the translated Word — available to the hoi polloi, Linus seeks to revoke the developer’s proprietary access to the OS, insisting that the full operating system source code be delivered — without cost — to every ordinary Joe at the desktop.

While the rise of Linux no doubt played a central role in the last two decades, the “programmer-user distinction” hasn’t gone away as the author’s (or an early SVLUG zealot’s) giddy excitement would suggest. In fact “free software” was largely co-opted by the cloud giants of today — they wouldn’t exist without it.

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