March 20, 2001, 5:18 PM —
Linus Torvalds's BOF (birds of a feather) session on Linux at USENIX in
San Diego this year was unlike any other speech I have seen him give. For one thing, he spoke to a partially hostile crowd; ordinarily, he speaks before crowds that adore him. Also, this wasn't a keynote address on opening day, but a BOF session at 8:15 p.m. on the next-to-last day of the conference. One constant, however, was Torvalds's ability to calmly address touchy "red button" issues, which he did time and again.
FreeBSD dominated the FREENIX track at USENIX. Ill will between fans of the two free Unix siblings (Linux and FreeBSD) was evident in the room. I sat in the second row of the audience and watched the room slowly fill up. Two BSD supporters sat down in front of me, less than 20 feet from the small platform where Torvalds would be speaking. The first thing they did after getting settled was mime blowing darts at the platform. Actually, mime is not the right word --they also added the "phhhhhhhhhft. . . thud!" sound effects.
Torvalds started to ease such animosity before his talk even began. Just before Torvalds's speech, a BSD supporter offered him, almost as a challenge, a pair of red BSDaemon horns, which were seen in abundance at the show. Much to the delight of many BSD users in the crowd, Torvalds smiled and put the horns on his head, where they remained for the entire session.