"World Domination 101" 101
Joseph S. Barrera III
Mon, 21 Jan 2002 16:43:16 -0800
> > If anyone can find any reference to Linus saying differently, please
> > post it -- I searched quite earnestly when I was lobbying for kernel
> > documentation and could find no such reference. The closest I ever
> > found was a comment by his mother (about how Linux might aid
> > developing nations). I have found no such quote by Linus Torvalds.
> Unfortunately, google doesn't seem to have the original 'world
> domination' newsgroup post archived, but as early as 1997 Linus was
> giving speeches titled 'World Domination 101' at places like Stanford,
> so he wasn't exactly disputing the imagery.
Perceptions of world domination
The origin of the phrase 'world domination by 2003'
Discover the "etymology" of the phrase "world domination by 2003," the life
of the man who coined it, and what Joe Barr learned about the community
while probing the roots of the Linux lexicon. (1,600 words)
By Joe Barr
ne thing that both builds and reflects community is language. The Linux
community is no exception. Even though Linux is global in nature and its
users speak virtually every language on the planet, some words and phrases
that have become a part of Linuxese transcend the mother tongue.
Penguinista is a good example. Coined independently by at least two members
of the Linux community, Xavier Basora and Brent Toderash, it is becoming a
part of Linuxspeak. I used the word in a column last year after Xavier had
used it in an email, and other journalists are using penguinista, too. Kevin
Reichard used the word recently in a LinuxPlanet editorial, perhaps after
seeing it in a tagline.
The image that penguinista calls to mind is so vivid and apropos that its
use is spreading at Internet speed. I registered the penguinista domain name
a few months ago, but to put it to better use than simply squatting on it,
I've since turned it over to Brent and Xavier.
"World domination" is an earlier, better known example that also reflects
the spirit of the Linux community, from Linus Torvalds to the most recent
convert from the Realm of Darkness, and that's the one I want to write about
in this column. As ESR (Eric S. Raymond) wrote recently, "The way Linux
hackers use the phrase 'world domination' is what science-fiction fans call
I actually began this column last year after interviewing Dave Wittinger. He
mentioned that he had attended the 1997 Linux Expo, where he heard Greg
"Doc" Wettstein's keynote. "Dr. Greg Wettstein gave a fantastic talk at that
conference, where he outlined how Linux will succeed," Wittinger said. "His
war cry, 'World Domination by 2003,' instantly became a legend with the
community. I'm still looking forward to 2003."
My curiosity about the origins of such a well-used phrase got the best of
me, and I decided to locate Greg to see if I could learn more about it.
An old hand on the Internet long before the Web was part of it, Greg also
was one of the earliest Linux hackers. Based on his initial experiences, he
was probably the least likely person to attach the phrase "world domination"
to the fledgling kernel. He told me he had downloaded version .12 but never
got it to run because at that stage of its development, the kernel required
Minix to work, and he didn't have it. But he didn't give up on Linux by a
long shot. As a matter of fact, Greg went on to create what may have been
the first commercial Linux implementation.
In 1992 when Linux was at release .95A, Greg tried the OS again. This time
he finally got it to boot. When he saw the $ prompt appear for the first
time, he knew immediately that "this changes everything."
It certainly changed his life. And it is still doing so. Having earned a
doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences, in 1992 Greg worked at the Roger Maris
Cancer Center in Fargo, N.D. He and an M.D. named Paul Etzell implemented a
medical information support system based on freely distributable software.
They called the system Perceptions and, based on Linux .96c, it was the OS's
first major commercial implementation.
Greg describes the implementation as "a network of 32 Linux workstations and
servers that supported Perceptions, which was the open-source-based practice
management system that we developed in combination with the Linux
deployment." He adds that the importance of Perceptions was not so much its
size but rather that "there were significant dollars being managed by the
system ... if the system didn't function, our ability to handle our patient
flow was compromised.... In short, the system was mission critical." (See
the Resources section below for a link to a complete description of the
Greg remembers his keynote at the 1997 Linux Expo, of course, but he isn't
sure if that was the first time he used the phrase "world domination." He
thinks he used it initially at the first Free Software Foundation conference
in 1996. But we'll get back to the roots of the phrase later.
In 1997 Greg's path split from Linux and the march to world domination. A
corporate merger in 1996 had brought in a new CEO at the cancer center's
parent organization. With the new CEO came a new "management and governance
philosophy," Greg said, that "pretty much signaled that our solution
wouldn't be acceptable."
Rather than sit around helplessly watching his Linux creation needlessly
euthanized by new management, Greg left. At about the same time, a patient
with whom he had developed a close friendship passed away. And when members
of the patient's family learned that Greg had left the center, they offered
him a job moving dirt.
For the next year or two Greg could be found working with a construction
crew, moving dirt from where it wasn't wanted to where it was. The
construction work gave him tangible, concrete goals and results, winters off
to pursue his love of cross-country skiing, and the time to do some internal
One day as Greg was driving a dozer, building dikes to combat the massive
1997 flood, a caravan of cars drove onto the job site and wove its way among
the earth-moving equipment. The head of North Dakota State University's ITS
(Information Technology Services) had come to recruit Greg for a job. Greg
wasn't at all sure he wanted to trade places, but the promise of designing a
Linux solution, this time for the state's needs, was more than he could
NDSU ITS supports academic computing for the entire state of North Dakota,
and Greg is responsible for its server operations. According to Greg, he was
given a goal of consolidating and homogenizing the server infrastructure to
increase efficiency and reduce management costs. That was accomplished by
the heavy use of Linux and open source technology. "Our strategy involved
deploying SMP Linux servers wherever possible and integrating these with Sun
servers for supporting software that was not available for Linux," Greg
I had to ask. Forget about downloading release .12 or implementing the first
major commercial Linux solution with release .96c. Forget all the hype that
began to swell in the second half of the '90s and is still a part of the
Linux scene. Even given his on again, off again association with Linux, does
Greg think today that Linux is on the way to world domination by 2003? "I do
for servers," he replied, "provided that the open source community
recognizes the middleware threat posed by Win2000."
In my hunt for the origin of the phrase, I also asked several Linux
luminaries if they remembered when and where they had first heard it used.
Linus Torvalds wasn't sure. He said, "I thought I had used it as a title for
the 'number of users' slide as early as DECUS '94, but I actually went back
and checked, and my slide just said 'sales figures.'"
Alan Cox searched his mail archives and came up with a lead. He found an
email message from Jeff Uphoff dated May 6, 1995, which contained the
X-Quote-I-Like: "World domination. Fast" --Linus Torvalds.
After being given his email address at Transmeta, I queried Jeff about it.
He replied "Earliest reference I can find is from a December 1994 article on
comp.os.linux.announce: it's a write-up of the December 1 Linux conference
at FedUnix in D.C. I remember attending this and seeing Greg Greg give a
Jeff also provided the following snippet from that newsgroup post, Unix Sig
notes by Christopher J. Fearnley:
Finally, just in case you didn't see a copy of the January Linux Journal. I
should quote Linus' answer to Belinda Frazier's question "Do you have any
new hopes for Linux?" Linus responded: "I think my 'plan' says something
like 'World domination. Fast.' But we'll see."
That's as far back down the trail as I could go. Perhaps some readers out
there can provide even more detail or evidence of earlier use. As I've put
this column together, though, I've come to realize that I've learned a
couple of things that are more important than the origin of a phrase anyway.
The road behind us is interesting and informative, but in the Linux
community, when something was first said and by whom doesn't matter nearly
as much as what was done to advance us toward the goal. We're all pioneers,
and we're all surrounded by heroes.
About the author
Joe Barr is a contributing editor at LinuxWorld and a recovering programmer.
In addition to writing for LinuxWorld and The Dweebspeak Primer, he is
currently working with Nicholas Petreley on a Linux documentation project
called The Essential Linux Open Book. Visit Joe's Desktop Linux discussion
in the new Linux Forum, hosted on ITworld.com.
ESR on World Domination:
Kevin Reichard editorial:
Announcement of 1997 Linux Expo:
Description of 1996 FSF Conference:
Linux .95a Release Notes:
North Dakota State University ITS: