Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jobs, Gates and Torvalds, Icons of computing history

You know when it comes to the history of the popular and personal computer, images of two people comes into my head, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. These two are life long soul mates of sorts in the short but colorful history of the personal computer. They inflict on each other wounds of friendly fire in commercials for the public to side up to their respective company's products. The actors who portray them resemble them so closely that even in caricature we are deluded to believe the rivary between them is real. In them and in their rivary we compare their companies and their products as if they themselves embody the reason to choose between them. They carry on and via for the public's attention and dollars to the exclusion of anything else going on in the computer world. To most people, at least to my knowledge, Apple and Microsoft are the two left standing after all the rest have come and gone. With Microsoft being the defacto standard and Apple being the official alternative platform, you would think commercial success would indicate the user has gotten the best and brightest a user could ask for. Fortunately computing history has more stories than just about Jobs and Gates. Let's see, before computers became personal, there was this thing called Unix which ran on university and government mainframe computers. Being inaccessible to most and expensive to all, it was not destined to be put on something so insignificant as a personal computer. Yet there was this bit of code called Minix and the desire of a guy, his name Linus Torvalds. He wanted to write an free operating system that would run on this personal computer. I won't get into who came first the chicken or the egg, but the development and use of Linux grew up along side of Microsoft Windows and Apple Macs, yet in the background. From the get go, Microsoft and Apple were business ventures, but Linux was the backroom project, the passion of folks who just like to code. The rest is history, only you have to insist that the ones telling it include the whole story, not just the popular parts. It seems romance and legions have not been forth coming in including Linux. Even Jobs and Gates have refused to include Torvalds publicly (in commercials). After all, Jobs and Gates were friends first then rivals. Who the heck is Torvalds anyway? And who ever heard of the Dynamic Trio? In the final analysis, if you look at the circumstances from which Linux came to life, it is a pretty miraculous story with events that are as intriguing as the Jobs and Gates story. But the real thing is the results that are seen and experienced on the desktop, what the user sees. If you are not totally blinded by the Jobs and Gates story, you might enjoy the inclusion of the Torvalds story. And you might even enjoy the fruits of his initial labor. It seems that Jobs and Gates are admired for their business savvy which have driven the production of the products we see on the desktop today. We don't seem to acknowledge Torvalds who has driven Linux to the same desktop result by a different set of rules. This story is far from over, stay tuned.

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