December 27, 2000

Linux and love; the Gerard Beekmans story

Author: JT Smith

- by Julie Bresnick -
Gerard Beekmans started Linux From
Scratch
, his guide to building a Linux Operating System from the bottom up,
for two reasons. First, because he didn't like the way existing distributions
dictated organization and ultimately had more control over his operating system
than he did. Second, because he had just moved from Holland to Toronto,
Canada, to marry the woman he fell in love with online. His working papers
hadn't come through yet so he had some extra time on his hands.
Though the Linux From Scratch (LFS) project is impressive, any warm blooded
being must be at least slightly more intrigued by the latter than the former,
no matter how Linux-obsessed they may be. Romance online is stirring in and of
itself, add the altar and throw in the international fare and we've got a
blockbuster. Or perhaps an after school special would be a more appropriate
demographic considering the protagonist was barely old enough to legally sip
champagne at his own wedding.

Now he is twenty-one and the honeymoon has come and gone. Linux From
Scratch drew the attention of BC Publishing,
and by the time permission to work in Canada was granted, he had a job waiting. Combined
with his wife Beverly's, his new income enabled them to move out of her
parent's house. One more move within the Toronto area and Gerard may finally
have the constancy for which he's been yearning since he moved out of his
mother's house. Whether remarrying or simply restless, Beekman's mother
relocated herself and her brood (eventually seven children) roughly twelve
times before her eldest, Gerard, went to college at seventeen. Which would
explain why he was so receptive to the idea of setting up his own home.

He says moving to Canada was the best thing he's done in a while. And the
look on his face in pictures from his wedding confirm the pleasure I could hear
in his voice. He is long and lean and will look different at thirty then he
does at twenty-one but he won't alter much after that. Once he fully matures
he will be one of those men who get increasingly svelte as they age.

Usually here in America we see someone looking so pleased and so young at
the altar and we call him or her naive. But maybe the Dutch are different. And
maybe a year of daily digital chat let Gerard and Bev explore each other so
thoroughly as to leave little doubt. Maybe his confidence professionally,
which most people don't achieve till later on in life, left room for him to
fall in love. He never had to say, I just want to wait till I'm more secure in
my job, because he was already such a strong programmer that he could choose
not to do it.

He was about 8 when he learned BASIC on his family's Commodore 64. And he
got his first computer job, technical support for an Internet service provider,
a few months before he started college, where he signed up to study
programming. After the first year not learning anything he hadn't already
taught himself, he was ready to start over in systems and network
administration. But all that time, during his first year, that he didn't have
to spend studying, he spent instead on IRC getting to know Bev. That fall they
realized they were interested in much more than just chatting and he planned a
trip for that December. When he returned, his course was clear. He would
concentrate on earning some money to facilitate the move and to fund the
celebration.

That year at college was a doozy. Not only did he meet his first love, but
his second too. He says there were a lot of geeks there and that they
introduced him to Linux. But that relationship didn't go quite as smoothly as
his first one did. When he got up to speed with the distributions, he
became less pleased.

"If you use Red Hat or any of those general distributions you're stuck with
the way they want you to work. Like the way the files are organized or the way
the programs are installed and the package management. I just want more freedom
and the distributions, they limited that and if I were to implement my own I
could really do everything exactly the way I wanted, organize everything
exactly the way I wanted to so I would know how everything was installed and
where to find everything. I want pure control over the system. I like knowing
what is where and what is happening behind my back."

To share what he learned from building his own, he set up Linux From
Scratch, a documentation/tutorial-type project, available in varying formats,
that leads readers through the process of building their own system right from
the start. The disclaimer in the introduction clearly suggests that home
brewing is not for beginners and continually encourages users to take
initiative.

"It gives example ways of doing things, how to set up certain configuration
files. But it does urge the user, the person installing it, to come up with his
own ways of what he likes. They can use my example or do their own. It does
stop in places where the user is supposed to do something himself. Like when it
comes to the boot scripts or the configuration files of some programs it just
doesn't install something it makes the user create something so the user
actually has to do something himself to get something to work. That's the best
way to learn what you're doing by doing it yourself and having to figure it
out. But it does come with a standard set of scripts and files so there's
something to base it on. The idea behind it is that you come up with your own
plans, your own idea."

BC Publishing pays him to work on LFS for two full days per work week and
the rest he is their Linux Network Administrator. But as LFS project leader he
finds himself tending to LFS about twenty-five to thirty hours a week which is
good because he prefers to program as a hobby and network administrate at work
because it means he can interact more with clients.

He started Linux From Scratch in the Spring of 1999, while anticipating his
big move. He didn't pick it up again until Bev suggested it might be a good
way to pass the time while she was at work and he was waiting for mail from
immigration. It was a smart suggestion. It didn't just attract an employer
and a burgeoning developer community, it has, just three months after joining
BC Publishing, attracted Big Blue.

"Brian [his boss] just got word from IBM that they might be interested in
the LFS project. Now we need to draw up a plan of ten reasons why IBM can
benefit from LFS. If things go right there could be some major funding coming
our way. There could be really big things happening for LFS if we do it right."

But whether IBM decides to throw their weight behind LFS or not, Gerard is
looking forward to getting the word out about the project in the new year.

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