February 6, 2001

2.4 kernel: Stealing some time with kernel hacker Geert Uytterhoeven

Author: JT Smith

- by Julie Bresnick -

Geert Uytterhoeven is like a little Linux supplier in and of
himself. He has a number of downloads
available from his own Web site
and his contributions can be traced through conversations in the kernel
archive
page with hacker greats like Alan Cox and occasionally even with
Linus Torvalds
himself.It was in late 1994 when Uytterhoeven met Torvalds, who had come to Belgium to
deliver the word at a small conference.

"I even picked him up at the hotel with my parents' car," Uytterhoeven says. "At that time Linux was not well-known. Iguana
organized a very small conference near Brussels where people could get
an impression about it. Linus and Remy Card gave a talk. Alan Cox was there as well.
But so far I never met Linus again in real life. Our relationship is
strictly based on email (with more than 95% of the mails flowing into his
direction)."

In 1994 Uytterhoeven was 23 years old and had already been
programming on his own computer for about 10 years. It was a natural progression
from a kid who liked taking things apart and figuring out how they worked to
an adult who can make a computer do exactly what he wants it to. He
first learned programming by watching a Belgian TV show on Basic and
practicing on paper. Then came a Commodore 64, Assembler, then an Amiga 500 and
finally a Commodore Amiga 4000 which, he says, was his "entryway" into Linux.

He still uses that 4000. He calls her Cassandra and crafted a long
letter to the troops,
chronicling
her efforts, when he eventually moved her out of the university housing
in
which she had empowered the Kotnet
Project's landmark advances.

Kotnet was driven by a desire to get Internet access to the students
at
K.U. Leuven, the
oldest
Catholic University of Northern Europe and the largest Flemish one.
It's
from there that Uytterhoeven earned his Doctorate in Engineering. He started
working on his Ph.D. thesis titled, Wavelets: Software and
Applications
, in 1994 and presented it to a jury from the
university in April 1999. The one
picture
on his Web site was taken right after presenting it, or as
they say in academia, "defending" it. His caption says he's drinking hot
chocolate but if so, it's the strong stuff. He looks tired but wears a
satisfied grin detectable even through the glass of dark and milk-less
drink he holds to his lips. It looks like he's wearing some sort of GNU
T-shirt --perhaps that's the horned GNU giving a hoofed flex to display
its muscled arms.

Now Uytterhoeven works full time on embedded systems as a software
developer for
the Sony Software Development
Center Europe
(SDCE) in Brussels, Belgium. The center is perhaps best known for its
AIBO home
entertainment robot.

But that's just Uytterhoeven's "daytime activities." His list of
"nighttime activities" is short. It consists of two words, "hacking" and "Linux."
According to him, the new kernel release is the best "dot-zero" kernel
so far.

"The 2.4.0-test releases received a lot of testing. So far it worked
fine on all machines I installed it on. I'm particularly happy that we got
integrated most of the m68k (Amiga, Atari, Mac, Sun-3, ...) port. As
you probably know, Linux/m68k was the first port of Linux to a non-Intel
platform (yes, it's even older than the Alpha port). I find it a pity
that the PPC port updates didn't make it in 2.4.0. But this will be solved
in 2.4.1. Sometimes it's just very hard to get your stuff integrated in
Linus' tree..."

Each of his emails bears the same tag in which he quotes Torvalds: "In
personal conversations with technical people, I call myself a hacker.
But when I'm talking to journalists, I just say 'programmer' or something
like that." But if Uytterhoeven can help it, the future will bring change. If the
popularity of Open Source is indeed directly proportionate to the
popularity of the hacker ethic, the public will certainly become more familiar
with its true nature.

"These days many people have their computers connected to the
Internet. But time after time the users of closed-source software are struck by
security problems (viruses, worms, backdoors, ...) they can't solve.
The
Open Source movement shows that 'basic' software can be free (as in
beer and speech), and that the specifications for such software must be open for
interoperability and to avoid user lock-in. This all benefits consumers'
rights.

"I think in the ideal future commercial software will survive only
for very specialized and complex applications, where it doesn't make sense
to have the sources available for everyone. Even then, the software could
be Open Source. It already happens that companies pay people to write
software, and don't care what happens with it afterwards (Open Source it?), as
long as they can use what they paid for."

Born, raised, and currently living in Leuven, Belgium, the only other thing
Uytterhoeven tells me he likes to do besides hack is spend "a lot" of time with his
"wonderful" girlfriend. But between his full time job and all the
developing he does outside of it, I can't imagine that time amounts to
much. Let's just hope her name's not Cassandra.

About Geert Uytterhoeven

Priorities: Health and happiness.

Favorite TV show: Star Trek

Favorite music: Anything from the '70s and '80s (what was formerly called New Wave).

Favorite video game: Hextris

Favorite hack on the new 2.4 release: "I really enjoyed bringing Linux/m68k
more or less in sync with Linus' 2.4.0 release during my Christmas vacation. A few months ago, the difference between Linus' and our tree was nearly 3 MB large. For 2.4.0, it was reduced to a mere 300 kB. Of course I didn't do it all myself, much of the credit goes to the other Linux/m68k hackers."

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