Maddog on Linux and ruling the world

At the age of four Jon Maddog Hall stuck the wires from a rabbit-ear television antenna into an electric socket which sent him flying across the room. Acknowledging the power of technology, Hall went on to forge a career and life based around it. He has been a software engineer, systems administrator, product manager, marketing manager and professional educator. Hall has been the executive director of Linux International since 1995, the first four years as a volunteer. He has been employed by VA Linux systems, Compaq Computer in the Digital Unix marketing group and Bell Laboratories among other companies.

He will be speaking at this year's Linux World Conference to be held in Sydney March 28 to 30. Even though Hall wishes he could have 50 hours in a day and use Star Trek transporters instead of planes to save time, he managed to take the time to speak with Computerworld about his life, open source, Linux International and the upcoming conference.

How did you get your nick name?

Let's just say it came from a time when I had less control over my temper.

Do you bite?

Depends on who it is and what they have done.

What is your first memory of technology impacting your life?

That would be when I was trying to make a Jacob's ladder out of a set of TV "rabbit ear" antenna at the age of four by sticking the wires in the electric outlet. I flew about four feet through the air. It left a real impression.

I also helped my father put together toys for a toy store when I was growing up, and I studied electronics when I was in high school.

When did you start using Linux or open source?

I was using Free Open Source Software (FOSS) in 1969, but we did not call it that at the time. We called it "software".

Back then, most, if not all, software came in source code form. At that time software development was definitely more of a service model of software than a product model. Then in 1977, when shrink-wrapped programs began to appear on the shelves, source code distribution started to go away.

Digital Equipment Corporation Users' Society (DECUS) had a library of 'Free Software', which allowed me to study software as an impoverished student in 1969. I could not afford US$100,000 for a compiler. So I got compilers from DECUS.

Later on, DECUS helped me again when I was teaching college. We could not afford proprietary software for our computers, so DECUS came through.

Still later, when working at Digital, I helped bring FSF's GNU software, and other software, to our customers. They wanted it and needed it, to the chagrin of our other product managers.

Finally, in 1994, I was introduced to Linus Torvalds, and my life was changed forever. I came back from that meeting and told my fellow workers "Linux is inevitable". I even put that message in a slide presentation, in 1994.

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