21 July 2006

Tanenbaum Rides Again

For younger readers of this blog, the name Andy Tanenbaum may not mean much. But for oldies such as myself, it is highly redolent of those epic days when Linux was but a fledgling kernel, and taunts like "your mother was a hamster" and "Linux is obsolete" were thrown down like gauntlets.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Tanenbaum for my book Rebel Code, and it was fascinating to learn how close he came to creating what we now call GNU/Linux with his Minix. But Tanenbaum failed to do one crucial thing that Linus did almost without thinking: to let go. Understandably, as a professor of computer science Tanenbaum wanted to keep control of his teaching materials. But that one, tiny, reasonable brake was enough to stunt the growth of Minix and lend wings to Linux when it appeared in 1991.

Tanenbaum is still teaching, at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam (another Dutch story, then - must be the Rembrandt Effect), and I was interested to note this piece about some of his recent work on developing an anti-RFID device. Good to see him still moving forward in his work. (Via openspectrum.info.)

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