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Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary Hardcover – May 8, 2001

4 out of 5 stars 104 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Most 31-year olds can't boast of being the instigator of a revolution. But then again, the world's leading promoter of open source software and creator of the operating system Linux does humbly call himself an accidental revolutionary--accidental being the operative word here. Just for Fun is the quirky story of how Linus Torvalds went from being a penniless, introverted code writer in Helsinki in the early 1990s to being the unwitting (and rather less than penniless) leader of a radical shift in computer programming by the end of the decade.

OK, perhaps "story" in the traditional sense of the term is stretching it a bit. This whole book is more like a series of e-mails, an exercise in textual communication for someone more used to code language than conversation: choppy sentences packed into short paragraphs, and sometimes just one-liners. The pace is fast, but the quippy tone can get somewhat tiring, though it definitely suits the portrayal of a computer-dominated life. And like an e-mail conversation, the tense often changes, the topics jump back and forth, and the narrators occasionally change, mostly alternating between the Linux man himself and Red Herring executive editor David Diamond, who convinced the difficult-to-pin-down Torvalds to write his story (or at least allow Diamond to poke, prod, and pull it out of him, all the while giving his own impressions and interpretations). But Torvald's tale contains enough informative and entertaining tidbits--on growing up in dark, strangely silent but communication-gadget-obsessed Finland (which boasts more cell phones per capita than anywhere else), on what makes passionate code writers tick, on making the transition from unknown computer geek to world-famous computer geek, on the convergence of technology and ideology, on his work for Transmeta and involvement (or lack thereof) with all the players worth mentioning in Silicon Valley - to keep more than just computer programmers engrossed in his story. For the latter, of course, Just for Fun will be required reading.

If you pick up this book as a geek's guide to the meaning of life (which, believe it or not, Torvalds does ramble on about at the beginning and the end), then you're in for a bit of a shallow take on the whole thing. But if you're interested in the idea of technological development as a global team sport, and how a nerdy Finnish transplant to California got the whole game going in the first place, check out Linus's story... just for fun, of course. --S. Ketchum

From Publishers Weekly

The autobiography of a career computer programmer, even an unorthodox one, may sound less than enthralling, but this breezy account of the life of Linux inventor Torvalds not only lives up to its insouciant title, it provides an incisive look into the still-raging debate over open source code. In his own words (interspersed with co-writer Diamond's tongue-in-cheek accounts of his interviews with the absentminded Torvalds), the programmer relates how it all started in 1981 with his grandfather back in Finland, who let him play around on a Vic 20 computer. At 11 years old, Torvalds was hooked on computersespecially on figuring out how they ran and on improving their operating systems. For years, Torvalds did little but program, upgrading his hardware every couple of years, attending school in a desultory fashion and generally letting the outside world float by unnoticed, until he eventually wrote his own operating system, Linux. In a radical move, he began sharing the code with fellow OS enthusiasts over the burgeoning Internet in the early 1990s, allowing others to contribute to and improve it, while he oversaw the process. Even though Torvalds is now a bigger star in the computer world than Bill Gates, and companies like IBM are running Linux on their servers, he has retained his innocence: the book is full of statements like "Open source makes sense" and "Greed is never good" that seem sincere. Leavened with an appealing, self-deprecating sense of humor and a generous perspective that few hardcore coders have, this is a refreshing read for geeks and the techno-obsessed.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 262 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; 1st edition (May 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0066620724
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066620725
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #859,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Douglas Welzel on February 22, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Just For Fun isn't about to win any writing awards (boy, I really hope I don't have to eat crow for saying that), but it provides a quick, enjoyable story.
The book is a conversational look at the creation of Linux and Linus' life. It begins with the origins of Linux and plenty of dwelling on Linus' lack of a social life (too much, actually). From there, Linus chronicles the surge in the popularity of Linux and the changes it caused in his life. Nothing particularly "revolutionary" is covered, but it is an interesting story nonetheless.
Linus comes across just as you would expect, somewhat arrogant and very direct. He says exactly what is on his mind and doesn't make any excuses. Yep, Linus is the same person he has been since the beginning. :)
On the downside, the book has several chapters of commentary by David Diamond that essentially document the "making of" this book. They are probably there to add some color, but I don't think they add anything.
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Format: Paperback
Linus Torvalds, as most geeks and many non-geeks know, is the person behind Linux, the operating system. This book provides a soap box for Linus to talk about what has driven him (computers, programming) towards his goal. He did not intend to create a phenomenal operating system; rather, he was content adding features to his terminal emulator until the fine day that it started to grow into an operating system. In the early '90's I remember reading a posting from him on the MINIX bulletin board; the posting urged readers to download and install Linux, his new operating system based on Unix (I never quite got down to doing that, but I did follow his work including his visit to Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, where I worked during the early-mid 90's.) The book is an interesting read for me since I readily subscribe to the open/free software, extreme programming, open source movement. Reading about Linus' travails with Andrew Tannenbaum (an extremely well known Computer Science personality) and their exchange on the merits of micro-kernel vs. macro- kernel architectures is very interesting. I am not sure non-computer literate folks (non-geeks) would find this as interesting. What they will find interesting is Linus' philosophy that the world constantly moves towards entertainment with a short detour through survival and forming of societies. Case in point: industrial revolution started as a means for humans to survive in a dangerous planet, evolved into humans forming societies to channel it and has now morphed into a quest for entertainment. Computers are no different -- started off as few people depending on them for their survival (the 'anointed ones' behind glass windows), evolved into the formation of soceities (bulletin boards, newsgroups, chat rooms) and are now used for entertainment. Maybe he has something there.
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By A Customer on July 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I really wanted to hear Linus' story, in his own words. Unfortunately, this book showed very little organization aside from chronological; there was no underlying *story* there. Just a bunch of disjointed facts presented in chronological order. The personal anecdotes, while interesting, shed very little insight about Linux. I was hoping to get some real insight into Linus the person and how he is reflected in Linux the operating system. To this end, the book failed to deliver.
However, I was interested enough in his story to slog through the awful writing in this book. Large sections of text (pages on end) are presented in italics, which make it extremely difficult to read. I don't blame Linus for this abomination of a book: that blame clearly lies with David Diamond since that was *his job*.
For folks who really want to read a good book about Linus the person and Linux the operating system, make sure that you read Rebel Code by Glyn Moody. That is a well-written book and thoroughly researched book that places Linux within the context of the open-source movement.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is in fact the "bio" of Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, an operating system (OS) that has been described as an "alternative" to Windows for PC users. In it, Linus describes his early years, how he mostly loved to play with computers, spending hours and hours on an old Commodore, and then a Sinclair PC, and so forth. After saving up to buy a better PC, he describes how he tried to install Minix, a form of the Unix OS on his machine and ran into so many frustrations he decided to create his own OS, which eventually became Linux. He describes that process, as well as his "flame war" over the Internet that he encountered with Andrew Tannenbaum, the Minix creator. Another thing I noticed from this book is how Linus doesn't look at himself as any kind of "hero" or "amazing person" just because he created something so many computer folk use as their OS of choice. Essentially, Linus comes off for the most part as just another average guy, even if this "average guy" created something quite amazing and became the most famous example of "Open Source software."
Interesting story from the "Linux creator" himself, as to how Linux first came to be and what it is today, as well as about the man himself.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is great if your have some knowledge of Linux and the open source community. The best part is towards the end when you get Linus's moderate opinions of a variety of topics. I just started using Linux in the past few years and I always thought that Linus shared the same views as Richard Stallman. This is not the case at all, it turns out Linus has really practical views when it comes to open source software and IP in general. The first 1/2 of the book is a brief history of Linux. This book is a really quick read. It turned out to be much more entertaining than I originally thought it would be.
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