Free for All: How Linux and the Free Software Movement Undercut the High-Tech Titans

Peter Wayner, Author HarperBusiness $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-662050-3
Necessity remains the mother of invention-or so it seems judging by this intriguing history of the free software movement. A self-confessed nerd who covers technology for the New York Times, Wayner starts by describing how computer programmers who wanted to tinker with proprietary source code were frustrated by the ""no trespass"" signs posted on operating systems like UNIX, Apple, DOS and Windows. They ultimately formed a grassroots movement that retaliated by building independent systems. Once they achieved their goal, they were determined to keep the source code open to all, following the tradition of academic research labs. As soon as these hackers developed a simple operating system, a worldwide network of interested programmers contributed free time and ideas to make it run smoothly on all manner of machines. One of the major results of this experiment in intellectual freedom is Linux (named after its originator, Linus Torvalds), an operating system that many claim is more stable, more adaptable and more accessible (and infinitely less expensive) than the current commercial leaders. That may explain why it's used in more than 50% of the Web servers on the Internet. Wayner writes in hushed tones of the exclusive group (almost all men) who worked on Linux out of the simple desire to play in the guts of the machine. But if anybody thinks that these are a bunch of harmonious code-lovers, Wayner's tales of nasty flame wars between the founding fathers and of turf battles petty enough for Dynasty reveal that even nerds are not above a little mud wrestling. Illus. not seen by PW. Agents, Daniel Greenberg, James Levine Agency. Author tour; 15-city NPR radio tour. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
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