Review of Just for Fun

Just for Fun
Linus Torvalds and David Diamond
Harper Business
2002 (paperback)

Reviewed by Nick Christenson,

June 17, 2003

One of the most remarkable success stories that has emerged from the Internet Revolution has been the rise of the Linux operating system. Begun as the hobby of a Finnish college student and expanded as a collaborative process by thousands of software developers across the Internet, Linux is arguably the second most popular computer operating system in the world today. Just for Fun is the story of how this came to pass from the person who started it all.

Just for Fun starts at the beginning, explaining the origins of the person who would create the underpinnings of this operating system. We learn a great deal about Torvalds' background, his upbringing, and his family. Linus gives us a pretty thorough and, it would seem, candid view of his pre-Linux life, and much of it isn't pretty.

It was during his University years when Linus created the Linux operating system, mostly, it would seem, due to the unintentional largesse of the Finnish taxpayer. We learn about the early days of Linux soon after its release, and how its author's hobby exploded into a world wide phenomenon. Beyond the point at which Linux has made its way into the wild we don't hear much about the OS itself, instead the book concentrates on Linus' take on events as Linux moves into the mainstream. We also hear his version of some of his more controversial moments, and we watch his evolution as a champion of his technology and as a human being. In many books these sorts of descriptions would be self-serving, but Linus seems to me to be very genuine in his explanation of events, so I'm inclined to accept his explanation of his intentions.

For me, one of the things I found surprising about this book is that there is much less of a focus on Torvalds the technologist than there is on Torvalds the person. While we do get a feel for Linus' philosophies regarding Linux development, Just for Fun is much more focused on the man than the software. Mostly Linus tells us his theory of life and about how few of the details of his childhood he remembers. Frankly, we learn more details about his life than I'd probably be willing to tell, but then again, I haven't achieved the level of adoration that Linus has.

The book was originally published in 1999, just at the height of the Internet economy. Consequently, the future it predicts seems a little more rosy than it might if the book were published today. Something I find interesting is that even though many of the companies that played such a big part in the emergence of Linux have fallen on much harder times since publication, if anything, Linux itself has flourished in the down market. This is no doubt due to the need many companies feel to reduce their costs. Unfortunately, due to the timing of the book's release, this aspect of Linux isn't covered.

Overall, Just for Fun paints quite a different picture of the creator of Linux than we usually get from the business and technology press. Consequently, this book is fascinating as a character study of the accidental leader of a revolution. We learn a great deal about what makes Torvalds tick, and we also watch him grow from a fairly one-dimensional computer nerd to much more well rounded family man of a computer nerd. Those looking for a deep analysis of the growth of Linux will be disappointed, but those who wish to understand what makes Linus Torvalds tick will probably find what they're looking for in this book.


Just for Fun is the story of Linux creator Linus Torvalds through the boom years of the late 90s. While some detailed information about the early creation of Linux is provided, the book is mainly a semi-technical study of the man who created it. Through this book, we watch Linus evolve into a more complete human being in parallel with his eponymous creation. Even those familiar with Linux history and development will almost certainly learn something unexpected from this story of the development of an accidental revolutionary.

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