26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2001
As someone who has been tracking the progress of Linux since 1992, and has been using it continuously since 1994, I have been looking for some years now - at least since 1998, when Linux hit the mainstream news - who is going be the first to come up with a history of Linux; something among similar lines as Gleick did for chaos theory. Now we have the winner: Glyn Moody, a British IT journalist.
Not always organized in a chronological order, Rebel Code follows the progress of Linux and several other open-source projects (XFree86, Sendmail, Perl, Apache, Samba...) from the grandfather of Linux, Unix, in late sixties; then we follow the stories of Andrew Tannenbaum's Minix system and Richard Stallman's project GNU through the eighties, until we finally arrive to the beginnings of Linux in 1991. From then on, we follow it rise and blossom, with its added functionalities, with the first contributors to the kernel starting to appear, and then the first Linux distributions.
If the first half of the book deals mostly with technical topics, the second half - following the decision of Netscape Corporation to open the source code of their Web browser - is mostly concerned with the socio-economical issues of the open source model, the differences between it and the idea of free software; the huge initial success of the IPOs of open-source companies (Moody is much less vocal about the fact that they lost most of their values a year later), possible alternative uses of Linux (handheld and internet appliances) and musings on the possible future of the free/open source movement.
Speaking of the latter, I miss a more thorough and independent analysis on whether the author sees the free/open source development model as a sustainable strategy or just a part of the dotcom craze. In that aspect, Rebel Code doesn't bring much one would not already know from the writing of Larry McVoy and Eric Raymond. I may not be alone here. Anybody who has already been tracking the progess of Linux - and I believe the majority of readership ought to be sought in this audience - will probably find some 80% of the book already familiar. The rest present the interviews the author conducted with some principal contributors throughout the 2000, and contained many new and interesting facts to me. The whole is packaged in a fairly pleasant and readable form.
There is something about Moody that makes me uneasy, though. I cannot quite decide whether it is his intellectual criticism, or is he simply looking for some cheap drama. His best known writing on Linux before this book was his 1997 HotWired article titled "The Greatest OS That (N)ever Was" where he depicts his worrisome views about the future of Linux in dramatic tones ("...But Linux also sits at a critical juncture..."). In Rebel Code, he seems to be especially proud of his description of the schism that was threatening in Linux development in 1998, which "... nobody outside the Linux world noticed."
Finally, there is no apologize for the complete omission of references. Linux is a child of Internet, its development was carried out in the open, and so it is perhaps the best documented OS ever. This book had a wonderful chance to become the authoritative list of resources concerning the Linux history, and flunked it. On the positive side, Rebel Code does have a decent index.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2002
If you enjoyed _Hackers_, by Steven Levy, or if you are interested in computing, this book is a must read. Moody tracks the history of the Open Source movement from its inception in the AI lab at MIT up to the present, and along the way shows the people and events that have propelled the movement forward to its present pace. I was left with a profound and indubitable realization that open source is the future of software, and that realization is exhilerating.
The book is impeccably researched and organized, but occasionally I was left stumbling over some awkward phrasing. Some of the prose, especially some of the idioms, could benefit from a redaction. Nevertheless, if you read only one book this year, this book must be the one. It's a powerful message, with an absorbing delivery.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2003
I very much enjoyed this book. Mr Moody writes well and entertainingly about the origins of the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Movement. The historic characters in the drama are well drawn and engaging. Time and again I'd remark 'So, that's where he/it came from!' as Moody traced the origin of Apache or Samba or Alan Cox. I was very much reminded of the excellent history of the PC 'Fire in the Valley' that traces the origins of the PC industry to where we find it today. I would recommend Rebel Code to someone interested in GNU/Linux and the inner workings of how it came to be. This is a book for the tech historian, not necessarily the hacker.
If I were to fault the book it would be that is is 3 years old. As such it misses the effect of the tech bust/recession on the Linux movement, and the growing successes it has achieved recently from the third world (e.g. China's Red Flag distribution) to supercomputing. I can only hope Mr. Moody will correct this fault with another edition.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2001
Moody has done an excellent job of bringing to 'life' many of the key characters in this mini-revolution. He even stops and introduces aspects of their personal life that affect their work. He talks about many players including Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman, Larry Wall, Guido van Rossum, Eric Raymond, Ken Thompson, Andrew Tanenbaum, etc.
He touches on the hacker work ethic, the motives, the religious factors (both in a traditional sense and flame-war sense), and some of the great exploits of hacker lore.
My only complaint is his presentation of the 'other side'. I think it would've have been interesting if his closing pages were expanded to include more possible road-blocks for the movement. Although I agree that the books focus was supposed to be biased. :-)
Overall this book is just plain fun and informative. -Ali
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2002
As a veteran programmer (on *nix, MS and Mac) I have read many "history of," "biography of," "story of" books, and I've enjoyed a lot of them. However, I can think of none that inspired me as much as this book. I thought it was very well-researched, incredibly entertaining, and, as I've already mentioned, truly inspiring. I don't see how any programmer could read this book and not want to go out and immediately develop something new, unique and revolutionary. For that matter, I don't see how anyone whose just interested in computers and technology could read this book and not want to immediately want to learn how to program. While I was reading it, I couldn't shut up about how great it was. Since I finished it, I find myself still thinking about it a lot--and I still can't shut up about it! I really don't think it matters what your techno-political background is, if you love programming, computers or just technology in general, I think you'll really enjoy this book.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2005
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
The book is mainly based on the information collected by the author from various people via e-mail, telephone or personal communication between September 1999 and September 2000, and the interview with Linus Torvalds at a critical juncture in his life, in December 1996, as well as other interviews with key players from the last three years.
The book begins with a story of Richard Stallman, who labored for years to create a Unix-like system, written from scratch that would be free. Hw worked alone at first; then he gradually received contributions from to others, including - thought neither of them knew it in 1991 - Linus, whose Linux program would provide the last major pieces still missing from Stallman's huge software jigsaw puzzle.
The book covers the GNU project from its formal beginning, when in January 1984 Stallman started working on Bison, which was a replacement for Yacc. Having limbered up with this relatively minor task, he moved on to one of the most important. One of the key elements of a Unix system is the C compiler. After an unsuccessful attempt, he returned to Emacs and released GNU Emacs in September 1984. In October 1985 he has founded Free Software Foundation and then proceeded with C compiler and the C library.
The book then describes the biography of Linus, his years at the university and his work on his operating system, his experience with Minix, quite popular at that time in academic area, and fight with Tanenbaum, the author of Minix. The book then brings out the history of the development of Linux in detail.
Besides Linux, this book covers Open Source movement in Netscape, the development of TEX, Perl, Cygnus, etc., and how big companies like IBM adopt Open Source software and contribute to its development.
I would also recommend "The Cathedral & the Bazaar" by Eric S. Raymond in addition to this book.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2001
Glyn Moody's book is an admirably complete history of Linux and the open source movement. It also manages to keep the pace going well, despite having to deal with a comparitively dry subject matter. The trouble is, because the movement is so disparate, the book has to jump from point to point and person to person rapidly. By trying to cover the people, the products and the philosophy behind open source, Rebel Code stretches itself a bit too thinly. It is thorough though, with historically correct-to-the-second Linux launches and loads of annotated email from the important parties.
However, it doesn't explain itself thoroughly enough for a mainstream book. Someone with even a sketchy knowledge of computing will have no problems with the terminology, but those who don't even know that Windows is an operating system (or for that matter what an operating system is) may be left out in the cold. Then again, those who don't know what a web server is probably will not be drawn to the book (and are highly unlikely to read this critique on-line). There is also an underlying implication that Linux is only server-sided. This could inadvertently undermine today's open source movement - the next move for Linux must be to break into the small office/home desktop as successfully as it has into the web server world, as soon as more people discover there is 'no-cost' life beyond the Windows desktop.
Finally, despite praising the Open Source movement, Rebel Code doesn't fall into the trap of simply becoming a 'Microsoft is evil' rant. Instead it remains balanced which means anyone interested in the state of the computer world (now and for the next few years, at least) could find something of interest here.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2001
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
From the cover and the initial descriptions I've read about this book, I thought it was going to be centered around Linux. In reality, it covers most of the major open source projects. This book describes the beginnings of free software and many of the most innovative projects including: Linux, Perl, Xfree86, Apache, Emacs, Hurd, and many others.
"Rebel Code" is well researched and goes in to just enough detail. Mr. Moody is careful not inundate the reader with too many details. Besides giving a history of Linux and open source, the book examines the motivating force behind the hacker ethic and the fruits of free software.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2004
The book gives a complete history of open source development starting from the earlier days of RMS and Linus. The strong point of the book is that the depth of coverage on open source history is unmatchable. My most favourite chapters are the ones that describe the early development of Linux and the history of Perl.
Reading the book gives the impression that author's bias against the RMS-style free-software. Also the author gives enough hints of his dislike for Microsoft's style of proprietary software. And towards the end, as the author starts explaining linux' entry into the corporate place, the book tends to be a bit dragging.
Overall, a must read for any open source enthusiast.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2001
Glyn Moody does an excellent job on showing how the Linux kernel came about as a culminating event of work started years before by other hackers. It explains how, from a humble bedroom and a 386, came the missing piece of the free software movement.
The book shows how the free software movement and GNU/Linux are bringing computing back to a state where the users have control over what they are running, after 20 years of proprietary software ruling.
I recommend this book for those interested in computing. Every professional would benefit from its reading.