Sunday, October 31, 2004

Was Linux forged in Mordor?

Was Linux created in the Land of Shadow? This episode in our series of Linux creation myths casts Linus Torvalds in a hobbit-like role. Check out more of these fractured fairy tales after you tuck into this one by Phillip A. Schrodt. – Jan Stafford, editor

The true origins of Linux lie in the waning years of the Second Age of Computing, the Age of Big Iron. Forged by coding-elves in the sunless sub-basements of MIT, Linux was the mightiest of the Utilities of Power.

Of the Utilities of Power, there were three dynasties. The Seven Utilities -- written in Algol and granted to the computer scientists -- have long been fading away. The original Nine -- written in COBOL and granted to business -- consumed the souls of those who used them and lurk now as invisible wraiths in legacy systems. Only the Three Utilities of Power -- written in C and entrusted to Unix -- survive unsullied: grep, make and yacc.

But what happened to the One Operating System? At the end of the Second Age, it disappeared following the climatic battle where IBM threw down Sperry Rand, Burroughs, Honeywell, Univac, Control Data and the others. A lone coder, pursued by a shrieking mob of grey-suited accountants, tossed the last remaining tape of the source code into the Charles River. Moments later he was captured, strangled with a polyester necktie and buried face down, nine-edge first.

The tape floated out to sea and remained there for decades, unseen, until it washed ashore on the cobbled beach of a fjord. It was found by the most unlikely of creatures: a Finn from Helsinki.

The story of the Finn's discovery reached Eric the Heavily Armed, High Scrivener of Unix, who journeyed far to confirm the discovery. Patching his laptop into the nine-track, reel-to-reel tape drive found in all Finn-Swedish households of that era, Eric showed the young Finn the source code for the One, glowing green on black.

"I cannot read the fiery letters." pleaded the Finn named Torvalds. "Let you, or another great wizard, such as Richard the Unkempt, take the code. I am not made for perilous quests. Why did it come to me?"

"Such questions cannot be answered," Eric replied. "But you have been chosen, and therefore you must use such strength and heart and wits as you have … for evil is stirring anew."

Eric explained that IBM, once the victor, has been overthrown by one entity even more powerful and all-consuming. Pouring out from behind the Western Mountains, IBM's certified minions -- with cunning and secret APIs of hideous complexity -- scour the planet, searching for the One Operating System that might challenge its control. There is no hiding for the young Finn, he warned, because now the enemies of the One have heard the names "Torvalds" and "Linux."

And on a distant mountain slope to the east, a lone accountant sits in a darkened corner office muttering into the pale moonlight: "Precious, my Precious ... nasty Finn, stole my Precious. He found it, and he said nothing, nothing. We hate Finns. Must take it back ... Darryl will bring lawsuits, won't he, Darryl?..."