Andrew S. Tanenbaum

Andrew S. Tanenbaum

Computer scientist, Professor Andy Tanenbaum of Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
Born (1944-03-16) March 16, 1944
New York City, United States
Residence Amsterdam, Netherlands
Nationality American
Fields Distributed computing[1][2]
Operating systems[3][4]
Alma mater Massachusetts Institute of Technology
University of California, Berkeley
Thesis A Study of the Five Minute Oscillations, Supergranulation, and Related Phenomena in the Solar Atmosphere (1971)
Doctoral advisor John M. Wilcox
Doctoral students Henri Bal
Frans Kaashoek
Sape Mullender
Robbert van Renesse
Leendert van Doorn
Werner Vogels[5]
Known for MINIX

Andrew Stuart "Andy" Tanenbaum (sometimes referred to by the handle ast)[6] (born March 16, 1944) is an American computer scientist and professor emeritus of computer science at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands.[7][8][9][10]

He is best known as the author of MINIX, a free Unix-like operating system for teaching purposes, and for his computer science textbooks, regarded as standard texts in the field. He regards his teaching job as his most important work.[11] Since 2004 he has operated, a website dedicated to analysis of polling data in federal elections in the United States.


Tanenbaum was born in New York City and grew up in suburban White Plains, New York.

He received his bachelor of Science degree in Physics from MIT in 1965 and his Ph.D. degree in astrophysics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1971. Tanenbaum also served as a lobbyist for the Sierra Club.[12]

He moved to the Netherlands to live with his wife, who is Dutch, but he retains his United States citizenship. He teaches courses about Computer Organization and Operating Systems and supervises the work of Ph.D. candidates at the VU University Amsterdam. On 9 July 2014, he announced his retirement.[13]



Tanenbaum is well recognized for his textbooks on computer science. They include:

His book, Operating Systems: Design and Implementation and MINIX were Linus Torvalds' inspiration for the Linux kernel. In his autobiography Just for Fun, Torvalds describes it as "the book that launched me to new heights".

His books have been translated into many languages including Arabic, Basque, Bulgarian, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Macedonian, Mexican Spanish, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and Spanish.[17] They have appeared in over 175 editions and are used at universities around the world.[18]

Doctoral students

Tanenbaum has had a number of Ph.D. students who themselves have gone on to become widely known computer science researchers. These include:

Dean of the Advanced School for Computing and Imaging

In the early 1990s, the Dutch government began setting up a number of thematically oriented research schools that spanned multiple universities. These schools were intended to bring professors and Ph.D. students from different Dutch (and later, foreign) universities together to help them cooperate and enhance their research.

Tanenbaum was one of the cofounders and first Dean of the Advanced School for Computing and Imaging (ASCI). This school initially consisted of nearly 200 faculty members and Ph.D. students from the Vrije Universiteit, University of Amsterdam, Delft University of Technology, and Leiden University. They were especially working on problems in advanced computer systems such as parallel computing and image analysis and processing.

Tanenbaum remained dean for 12 years, until 2005, when he was awarded an Academy Professorship by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, at which time he became a full-time research professor. ASCI has since grown to include researchers from nearly a dozen universities in The Netherlands, Belgium, and France. ASCI offers Ph.D. level courses, has an annual conference, and runs various workshops every year.


Amsterdam Compiler Kit

The Amsterdam Compiler Kit is a toolkit for producing portable compilers. It was started sometime before 1981 and Andrew Tanenbaum was the architect from the start until version 5.5.[19]


In 1987, Tanenbaum wrote a clone of UNIX, called MINIX (MINi-unIX), for the IBM PC. It was targeted at students and others who wanted to learn how an operating system worked. Consequently, he wrote a book that listed the source code in an appendix and described it in detail in the text.[20] The source code itself was available on a set of floppy disks. Within three months, a Usenet newsgroup, comp.os.minix, had sprung up with over 40,000 subscribers discussing and improving the system. One of these subscribers was a Finnish student named Linus Torvalds who began adding new features to MINIX and tailoring it to his own needs. On October 5, 1991, Torvalds announced his own (POSIX like) kernel, called Linux, which originally used the MINIX file system, but it is not based on MINIX code.[21]

Although MINIX and Linux have diverged, MINIX continues to be developed, now as a production system as well as an educational one.[22] The focus is on building a highly modular, reliable, and secure, operating system. The system is based on a microkernel, with only 5000 lines of code running in kernel mode.[23] The rest of the operating system runs as a number of independent processes in user mode, including processes for the file system, process manager, and each device driver. The system continuously monitors each of these processes, and when a failure is detected is often capable of automatically replacing the failed process without a reboot, without disturbing running programs, and without the user even noticing. MINIX 3, as the current version is called, is available under the BSD license for free.

Research projects

Tanenbaum has also been involved in numerous other research projects in the areas of operating systems, distributed systems, and ubiquitous computing, often as supervisor of Ph.D. students or a postdoctoral researcher. These projects include:

In 2004, Tanenbaum created, a web site analyzing opinion polls for the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election, using them to project the outcome in the Electoral College. He stated that he created the site as an American who "knows first hand what the world thinks of America and it is not a pretty picture at the moment. I want people to think of America as the land of freedom and democracy, not the land of arrogance and blind revenge. I want to be proud of America again."[29] The site provided a color-coded map, updated each day with projections for each state's electoral votes. Through most of the campaign period Tanenbaum kept his identity secret, referring to himself as "the Votemaster" and acknowledging only that he personally preferred John Kerry. A libertarian who supports the Democrats, he revealed his identity on November 1, 2004, the day before the election, also stating his reasons and qualifications for running the website.[29]

Through the site he also covered the 2006 midterm elections, correctly predicting the winner of all 33 Senate races that year.

For the 2008 elections, he got every state right except for Indiana, which he said McCain would win by 2% (Obama won by 1%) and Missouri, which he said was too close to call (McCain won by 0.1%). He correctly predicted all the winners in the Senate except for Minnesota, where he predicted a 1% win by Norm Coleman over Al Franken. After 7 months of legal battling and recounts, Franken won by 312 votes (0.01%).

In 2010, he correctly projected 35 out of 37 Senate races in the Midterm elections on the website. The exceptions were Colorado and Nevada.

Tanenbaum–Torvalds debate

The Tanenbaum–Torvalds debate was a famous debate between Tanenbaum and Linus Torvalds regarding kernel design on Usenet in 1992.[30]


Honorary doctorates

Tanenbaum in Târgu Mureș
Tanenbaum is 4th from left

Keynote talks

Tanenbaum has been keynote speaker at numerous conferences, most recently


  1. Bal, H. E.; Steiner, J. G.; Tanenbaum, A. S. (1989). "Programming languages for distributed computing systems". ACM Computing Surveys. 21 (3): 261. doi:10.1145/72551.72552.
  2. 1 2 Steen, Maarten van; Tanenbaum, Andrew S. (2007). Distributed systems: principles and paradigms. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-239227-5.
  3. 1 2 Tanenbaum, Andrew S. (2008). Modern operating systems. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-600663-9.
  4. 1 2 Tanenbaum, Andrew S. (1995). Distributed operating systems. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-219908-4.
  5. 1 2 Vogels, Werner (2003). Scalable Cluster Technologies for Mission Critical Enterprise Computing (PhD thesis). Vrije Universiteit.
  6. A. S. Tanenbaum (1992-01-29). "LINUX is obsolete". Newsgroup: comp.os.minix. Usenet: Retrieved 2006-11-27.
  7. Works by Andrew S. Tanenbaum at Open Library
  8. Andrew S. Tanenbaum at DBLP Bibliography Server
  9. List of publications from Microsoft Academic Search
  10. Andrew S. Tanenbaum's publications indexed by Google Scholar
  11. 2004 article about Linux, the Usenet debate, and the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution
  12. "Man Comes Forward As Web Site Originator". Associated Press. November 1, 2004.
  13. Retirement of Prof. Andy Tanenbaum Archived July 12, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. David Wetherall; Tanenbaum, Andrew S. (2011). Computer networks. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-212695-8.
  15. Albert S Woodhull; Tanenbaum, Andrew S. (2006). Operating systems: design and implementation. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-142938-8.
  16. Tanenbaum, Andrew S. (2006). Structured computer organization. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-148521-0.
  17. Andrew S. Tanenbaum's FAQ
  18. Andrew S. Tanenbaum - Publications Archived May 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  19. Andrew S. Tanenbaum - Publications, Colloquia section Archived May 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  20. Operating Systems Design and Implementation (3rd Edition) (Prentice Hall Software Series): Andrew S Tanenbaum, Albert S Woodhull: Books
  21. Some notes on the "Who wrote Linux" Kerfuffle Archived September 11, 2010, at WebCite
  22. USENIX April 06
  23. Andrew S. Tanenbaum, Professor at the Vrije Universiteit
  24. Tanenbaum, A. S.; Van Renesse, R.; Van Staveren, H.; Sharp, G. J.; Mullender, S. J. (1990). "Experiences with the Amoeba distributed operating system". Communications of the ACM. 33 (12): 46. doi:10.1145/96267.96281.
  25. Van Steen, M.; Homburg, P.; Tanenbaum, A. S. (1999). "Globe: A wide area distributed system". IEEE Concurrency. 7: 70. doi:10.1109/4434.749137.
  26. Bal, H. E.; Kaashoek, M. F.; Tanenbaum, A. S. (1992). "Orca: A language for parallel programming of distributed systems". IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering. 18 (3): 190. doi:10.1109/32.126768.
  27. Van Doorn, L.; Homburg, P.; Tanenbaum, A. S. (1995). "Paramecium: an extensible object-based kernel". Proceedings 5th Workshop on Hot Topics in Operating Systems (HotOS-V). p. 86. doi:10.1109/HOTOS.1995.513460. ISBN 0-8186-7081-9.
  28. Mitrokotsa, A.; Rieback, M. R.; Tanenbaum, A. S. (2009). "Classifying RFID attacks and defenses". Information Systems Frontiers. 12 (5): 491. doi:10.1007/s10796-009-9210-z.
  29. 1 2 The Votemaster FAQ at the Wayback Machine (archived November 2, 2004)
  30. "LINUX is obsolete" Usenet Debate Text
  31. "Andrew Tanenbaum". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  32. USENIX Flame Award
  33. "IEEE James H. Mulligan, Jr. Education Medal Recipients" (PDF). IEEE. Retrieved November 24, 2010.

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