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Who wrote Linux? I did! No, Harry did! Or was it the monkey?

Now that there's money to be made from Linux, creators of the Linux kernel's code are showing up faster than long-lost relatives at a billionaire's funeral. First, SCO said that a bunch of Linux code belongs to them. Now, some folks are saying that Linus Torvalds stole Minix code to create Linux, and Linux really belongs to the Prentice Hall publishing house which now owns Minix.

Of course, Linus denies all those claims, as well he should. He and I both know that he stole that code from me. Oh yeah, it's true. I've kept it quiet because Linus turned out to be a fine fellow. He chose a penguin as the Linux mascot and made Linux free, too. Gotta love him.

Just to keep all the scalawags from taking Linux, I started telling my story. I didn't do it to stake my claim to the fortune. (I'm going to make my million on "Survivor," just you wait and see.) But, darned if the folks I told didn't try to jump my claim. So, here's what I said and they said.

My side of the story

Let's travel back in time to 1991 and in space to Hesperia Park in Helsinki. I'd come to Finland on a bird-watching adventure and identified and listed 310 bird species, including Bohemian Waxwings and the Common Crane. I'd taken a day off from the grueling dawn-to-darkness Wings Over Eurasia van tour in order to explore Helsinki. To make a long story short, my rental car broke down near Helsinki's Hesperia Park. A young fellow -- who turned out to be Linus -- gave me a ride to a street close to my hotel.

An hour later, I discovered that I'd left my field guide in the fellow's car. Not only did the guide contain my bird list, it had some sheets of paper with a bit of code I was playing around with. Well, I was devastated...about losing my list, not about the code. Heck, I doodled that stuff while waiting for the goosander to return to her nest. But I didn't know how to find that nice kid, didn't even know his name, and he didn't know how to find me. So I let bygones be bygones. It's just synchronicity, as they say here in Berkeley, that I ended up editing a Linux site.

When Harry meets Mike

Well, no sooner did I tell my story than a couple of my listeners said, "Just hold your goosanders, Stafford." They had their own sides of the story. Here's what one of them said:

"Here is the true story of how Linux was originally conceived," said IT pro Mike Cresswell. Seems he was working late one evening, when Harry -- the building maintenance guy -- stopped by his office. Harry asked Mike why he was working so late, and Mike wearily explained that he was working overtime on a tight-deadline project.

That's when Harry dropped some hints about the "secret code" he'd written. "Intrigued by Harry's announcement and being the humanitarian that I am, I asked Harry if he would mind showing me his secret code," Mike said.

Gullible Harry didn't mind at all. So, Mike opened a text editor and gave Harry control of the keyboard. Harry quickly pounded out "a mountain of code," Mike recalled. "To my surprise it appeared as though Harry had coded a sleek new operating system like no one had ever seen before. Here's a snippet: { sadfv98sdklj5134l5kud987sdf;lih45=?. .{."

With his fingers crossed behind his back, Mike told Harry that his "secret code" was just a bunch of meaningless random characters with no real value or IP rights. Harry just laughed and went back to emptying trashcans.

"Being the opportunist that I am, I printed a hard copy and placed it on my desk," Mike confessed. "I closed Harry's work out without saving it and went back to work to finish my project." Mike completed his work and made copies. He put the copies in an envelope, "inadvertently" placing the copy of Harry's secret code in the package, too. Then, Mike sent his package to its predestined final destination: Helsinki, Finland.

"And the rest is history," said Mike. "And that's how Linux was born!"

Now, I'm not one to cast stones, but I doubt that Mike's confession was made as altruistically as mine was. He added a postscript that said: "Harry the building maintenance guy is a fictional character." Any money that might come from the publication of this story "should be forwarded straight to my desk," he added.

Welcome to the monkey house

The second "I-wrote-Linux" story I was told was very convincing, due to its surprise ending. Authored by the mysterious A36Pilot, it began thusly: "I actually created Linux. Well, to tell the truth I didn't really create it. I caused it to be created."

Years ago, A36 worked at the monkey house in the San Diego zoo. He became worried when his charges became listless from boredom. So, he dragged an old IBM keypunch machine into their enclosure. The curious creatures immediately examined it, climbed all over it and started punching out cards.

At this point in his story, A36 seemed to come to his senses. "Wait! I got confused," he said. "That's not how Linux was created. That's how Windows came into being. Don't you wish they had been smarter monkeys?"

Now you have to admit, gentle readers, that that story rings true.

What? You say that you created Linux? Well, Dr. Tuxenstein, let's hear your story. Tell me how, when, where and why you created Linux. The best story I receive-- as judged by an impartial jury of editors -- will win a $50 gift certificate. The runner-up will receive an excellent IT book from – you guessed it -- Prentice Hall. Send your entries to

Of course, everyone's story will be better than SCO's.

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