Linus Torvalds doesn't want to be Microsoft's CEO and other Linuxcon ramblings

Linus Torvalds doesn't want to be Microsoft's CEO and other Linuxcon ramblings

Summary: In a free-wheeling Q&A session Linus Torvalds and other top Linux programmers, talked about Linux, scuba-diving, and other odds and ends of the developer life.


New Orleans: Early in the morning at LinuxCon, Linus Torvalds and the other top Linux developers talked to the Linux faithful about Linux, Microsoft, and other issues.

Linus Torvalds Microsoft CEO Linuxcon
The North American LinuxCon Linux Kernel panel.

Torvalds was joined by leading Linux programmers including Red Hat's Ric Wheeler and Tejun Heo; Greg Kroah-Hartman, the master of all things Linux driver related; and Sarah Sharp, Intel Linux kernel developer.

Linus opened by admitting that, "I don't do any work anymore. I manage people. I've turned to the dark side." The crowd forgave him.

The first question from the audience, noting that embedded developers are now contributing far more to Linux than they used to, concerned the balance between traditional server and desktop Linux development and these new programmers. Kroah-Hartman replied that it's all been good: Embedded developers led the way to improving power management, which led to cost-savings for power-hungry enterprise computing.

This was followed by a question about the difficulty (or lack thereof) of getting involved with Linux kernel development. Sharp said, "There needs to be a way to get new developers into Linux and open-source [developer] party" and this can be done by mentorship.

Kroah-Hartman added that students and interns are now contributing a significant number of real patches into the kernel and that, contrary to public opinion, "We're not scary."

That isn’t to say the prospect is not daunting to some would-be contributors. "In some ways, it's hard, It's big," said Torvalds. "On the other hand, there are so many things you can do: drivers, low-level CPU, etc. The Linux kernel has many more opportunities than many other open-source projects. Just look at the patches we have from 1,000 developers in the last year, while other open-source projects are struggling to get even five developers. It can't be that hard to get involved."

It's true. You don't have to be a rock-star developer to contribute to open-source projects. Many recent patches have been from students. 

Then someone asked if Linus would be interested in becoming  Microsoft's CEO. He just grinned in response. Still, I think Microsoft could do worse. (Cough) Elop (Cough).

On a more serious question, the panel was asked where they saw Linux beyond their lifetimes. Kroah-Harman said that he just wants to see Linux succeed and evolve. Torvalds added, "I can't argue with that."

"Linux usage keeps changing. Linux today is very different from even ten years ago,” Torvalds added. “I hope it will continue to meet new use cases."

Sharpe said she would like to see the community grow more inclusive of all people and embrace diversity. The audience greeted this with applause.

In the more short term, five- to ten-year time frame, Torvalds said, “We will come against some physical limits. People used to be talking about having thousands of cores on one die because it keeps shrinking, and those people clearly have no idea about physics because we won't be shrinking for much longer." Moore's law is coming to its end, Torvalds pointed out, requiring developers to not simply rely upon hardware growing fast enough to deal with performance problems.

It wouldn't be a discussion with Torvalds if he didn't show his famous ire at some subject. This time around it was with user-space developers. These are people who create end-user programs and desktops such as Gnome, with which Torvalds has a love-hate relationship.  Torvalds, to put it mildly, doesn't like a lot of their work.

Torvalds would like to see user-space programmers adopt more of the Linux kernel space culture. Or, in his words, "Christ, why do you people keep these mistakes!"

The question was also asked -- as you knew it would be -- if anyone in the U.S. government (e.g. the NSA) had approached Torvalds or anyone else on the panel about putting a backdoor into Linux. Torvalds said No... while nodding his head yes to the crowd's amusement.

The next question was, "What irritates the panelists the most about Linux development?"

Torvalds replied, "One of my main sources of stress--and I am looking at you James [Bottomley, a lead Linux kernel developer]--is last minute patches. I hate feeling hurried, feeling like I'm in a deadline. If a patch isn't ready in a timely manner wait until the next release to submit it."

Developers should "Tell me what this patch does and why I should care about it," Sharpe said. Torvalds replied, "I agree very much with Sarah. I hate drive-by patching. To be a useful kernel patch, it's not enough to write it. You have to tell me about it, you have to be ready to maintain the code, answer questions. [In the end] you're responsible for your code."

Hardware vendors who want Linux support should get involved early. Indeed, Torvalds said, they should start working with the Linux community before they even have silicon. Remember, even if everything goes perfectly it is six months before a submitted patch makes it from submission to inclusion in the kernel.

On an entirely different note, Torvalds admitted that he did have a life outside of Linux. Diving is his great passion outside of code. Of course, Linus being Linus, he's also written an open-source Subsurface dive-logging program. Torvalds would also like to see more Linux conferences in the Caribbean. Still, he said, "When you know dive boat captains around the world, life is really, really right."

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Topics: Linux, Open Source, Software Development

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  • "Still, I think Microsoft could do worse. (Cough) Elop (Cough)."

    Exactly, I hope they will do just that.
    • Torvalds would do better than Ballmer

      We know that Ballmer hates open-source software.

      Remember when Ballmer called Linux "a cancer"?

      Since then, every one of his competitors has used open-source software to out-smart Microsoft. Apple's iOS is based on BSD Unix. When Microsoft let Internet Explorer on Mac rot on the vine, Apple embraced the open-source WebKit to fast track a new browser to market.

      Android, of course, is based on Linus' Linux, and it is slaughtering Microsoft's failed Windows Phones and Surface Pads (that are not selling).

      If Microsoft had hired Torvalds ten years ago, Torvalds would have used open-source to get Microsoft's mobile efforts to market much quicker. Ballmer, trying to build a proprietary walled garden OS, took 4 years to bring Windows Phone 7 to market, then he had to scrap it, and rewrite it as Windows Phone 8 on a different kernel, by which time consumers had given up on Microsoft.
      • People forget

        that MS had as much as a decade head-start over Apple and Google for mobile devices (phones and tablets) and yet despite that huge lead MS still manages to develop the most undesirable and least purchased mobile devices.
      • Webkit

        I always thought it was Apple that forked KHTML and called it Webkit?
      • Right. Because Torvalds

        Has done such a great job of making Linux into this incredible mobile platform. Oh. Wait. He didn't.
      • A CEO's job ...

        ... is to increase shareholder value, revenue and profits.

        Please explain how Linus would have done this by open sourcing much of Microsoft's cod.
        • Typo!!!

          bitcrazed wrote:
          > Please explain how Linus would have done this by open sourcing much of Microsoft's cod.

          If you knew how to spell at all, you wouldn't have made the laughable mistake, "Microsoft's COD." A "cod" is a fish, for crying out loud.

          What you clearly MEANT to say was "Microsoft's CLOD."
          James Knox Polk
          • Re: Typo

            Maybe he meant to imply Microsoft's stuff was a load of old cod. ;-)
      • Open-Source and Linux are not interchanegable.

        Linux is an OS KERNEL, not a full OS. It is protected by the GNU Public License. GNU (GNU - Gnu is Not Unix - is a large suite of utilities which pre-date Linux by quite a few years.

        They all grew out of the days when AT&T provided UNIX code to universities and selectively chose utilities developed in that environment for inclusion into UNIX.

        When AT&T quit providing source-code to universities, Linus developed the Linux kernel so there would be a free UNIX-like kernel under which GNU utilities and applications would run.

        The various Linux distributions are comprised of various different GNU utilities - all of which are protected by the GPL.

        Open-Source is something quite different. Lot so vendors support Open Source development but many of them distribute their open-source software under a different license than the GPL.
        M Wagner
        • Open Source and Free Software

          The GNU programs are Free Software and hence are Open Source. The GNU General Public License is an example of a Free Software licence but is not the only one. Others are, for example, the MIT, BSD, Mozilla and Apache licences. One crucial difference is that the GPL protects software from being made non-free (when someone modifies it and publishes the changed version) whereas the others mentioned above don't.

          Open Source software may or may not be Free. For example, originally Open Office had a non-Free licence. Because developers were afraid that it would become non-free under Oracle, they created Libre Office.
      • Couldn't disagree more

        Hiring Torvalds as Microsoft CEO makes as much sense as a waterproof towel. Torvalds was a champion of open source. There's a reason why Linux is cheap/free. Microsoft is the complete antithesis of open source. Microsoft wants to squeeze every nickel and dime from their customers. Can you imagine Torvalds and Bill Gates in the same room debating the virtues of open source vs competitive pricing? I wouldn't want to be in that room, it would be very dangerous.
  • who even asked him

    Geez, what udder bovine excrement
    • I can see it now

      "OK everybody, We will give our software away now, so everyone will be working for free".
      William Farrel
      • Re Hat is a billion dollar company

        That make a very good profit from a "free" product.
        • Companies should pay

          so people can play. I just wish Red Hat invested more in the desktop.
        • I'll bet you don't even see the irony

          In a company making a billion dollars by offering support for an operating system that's supposed to be so simple and easy, your grandmother could use it.
          • .

            You can make the same argument about companies that offer Windows support. The fact is, company heads like the idea that if something goes wrong, they can pick up a phone and call someone to fix it.
          • Missing the point. Everyone talks about how Linux

            is so easy you don't NEED support.
          • another missed point

            Corporations are famous for paying for things they will never need. At Electronic Arts, when I worked there, we never engaged RedHat support, but the CIO insisted we have it for every server installed. The same thing at Oracle before they got tired of paying for support and cloned RedHat to create Oracle Linux. And the same is true at 3M, where I work now. We pay quite a bit of money for RedHat support, but I have never called them.

            And Redhat hasn't only made money from support, but from professional services such as training, certification, and consulting for customers who want someone to hold their hand as they make a move to Linux.

            As for Linux being simple enough for your grandmother to use, that really depends on who has to install and configure it. Just like Windows. If your grandmother had to install Windows herself instead of it coming on her computer pre-installed, there would be a lot of grandmas out there without working computers. And not only grandmas, but anyone else not technically inclined.

            It has been my experience that if you take a computer novice, sit them down at a pre-installed and configured Windows computer or a Linux computer or a Mac, show them how to do e-mail, browse the web, use a word processor, and print stuff, that the novice user will have no problems doing what most people do with computers.

            Power users and serious gamers are an altogether different beast and it is their pre-conceived notions of how something should work that makes them complain that
          • There is a difference between support and support.

            Redhats support isn't just customer support, it (just like commercial support from any other big software vendor for enterprise software) includes backporting patches for old(up to 10 years old) versions of their OS as well as patches for current versions. If you use the completely free CentOS instead you have to wait for the CentOS team to grab redhats code, build their own patches and deploy them and this takes time(up to 72 hours(allthough usually less than 24h), for security issues this delay can be very dangerous. Redhat also writes tons of code and prioritizes bugfixes that affect their paying customers.

            For enterprise grade software you always want support(either from the vendor or from a third party consultant), the only alternative is to have competent in-house developers support the software (and this is usually far more expensive)
            Simon Forsman