Linus Torvalds interviewed by Slashdot readers

Linus Torvalds interviewed by Slashdot readers

Summary: Linus "Linux" Torvalds was interviewed by Slashdot readers with interesting results.

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Linus Torvalds responded to Slashdot readers' question with characteristically interesting results.

Slashdot, the 15-year old popular technology discussion site, recently had their readers come up with a list of their top questions to ask Linus Torvalds, Linux's creator. The results were interesting.

For example, the first question presumed that Torvalds was anti-patent and copyright. Eh... no, he's never really been either. As Torvalds explained, "I like copyrights, and even on patents I'm not necessarily in the 'Patents are completely evil. camp. When I rant about patents or copyrights, I rant against the *excesses* and the bad policies, not about them existing in the first place."

And, as for copyright, "I don't understand why people were that surprised, but I understand even *less* why people then thought that 'copyrights have problems' would imply 'copyright protection should be abolished.' The second doesn't follow at all."

What Torvalds does have problems with are, "I was talking about things like 'life of author+70 years' and the corporate 95-year version. That's *ridiculous*. Couple that with the difficulty of judging fair use etc, and it really hinders things like archival of material, making of documentaries, yadda yadda..."

He was also asked the ever popular question of "What would you have done differently with Linux?" Torvalds replied, "I get asked this quite often, and I really don't see how I could possibly have done anything better. And I'm not claiming some kind of great forethought - it's just that with 20:20 hindsight, I really did choose the right big things. I still love the GPLv2, and absolutely think that making Linux open source was the greatest thing ever.

He finished, "Have I made mistakes? Sure. But on the whole, I think Linux has done incredibly well, and I've made the right decisions around it." If you think about it, it's hard to disagree with him. In Linux's 20+ years, the operating system has become the dominant operating systems on the Web; smartphones, thanks to Android; supercomputers; and on and on. Linux has turned out pretty darn good for something that started out as "just a hobby."

Gallery: The 20 most significant events in Linux's 20-year history

Some operating system architectural questions just won't go away and so someone asked for perhaps the 2012th time if there was any time he'd ever thought about going with the "Hurd-style micro-kernel route?"

As always, Torvalds answer was No! "I think microkernels are stupid. They push the problem space into *communication*, which is actually a much bigger and fundamental problem than the small problem they are purporting to fix. They also lead to horrible extra complexity as you then have to fight the microkernel model, and make up new ways to avoid the extra communication latencies etc. Hurd is a great example of this kind of suckiness, where people made up whole new memory mapping models just because the normal "just make a quick system call within the same context" model had been broken by the microkernel model."

He continued: "Btw, it's not just microkernels. Any time you have 'one overriding idea,' and push your idea as a superior ideology, you're going to be wrong. Microkernels had one such ideology, there have been others. It's all BS. The fact is, reality is complicated, and not amenable to the 'one large idea' model of problem solving. The only way that problems get solved in real life is with a lot of hard work on getting the details right. Not by some over-arching ideology that somehow magically makes things work."

As anyone who's followed Torvalds and his method of development over the years knows, Torvalds believes in the Thomas Edison quote, "Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration."

Next, someone asked about how Linux has managed to avoid the Unix fragmentation wars of the 80s and 90s. These lead Unix to losing its grip on servers first to NetWare and Windows in the office and eventually to its decline in data centers and Web servers to Linux.

Torvalds replied, "I really do think that encouraging merging is the most important part for a license for me. And having a license like the GPLv2 that basically *requires* everybody to have the right to merge back useful code is a great thing, and avoids the worry of forking."

Indeed, not is forking not "bad. Forking is absolutely *required*, because easy forking is how development gets done. In fact, one of the design principles behind git was to make forking easy, and not have any technical barrier (like a "more central repository") that held back forking. Forking is important, and forking needs to happen any time there is a developer who thinks that they can do a better job in some area. Go wild, fork the project, and prove your point. Show everybody that you can make improvements.

If there was no good way to merge things back then forks would be bad. And in Linux, it's not been just about the license. Sure, the license means that legally we can always merge back the forks if they prove to be good forks. But we have also had a culture of encouraging forking and making forking be something that isn't acrimonious. Basically *all* the Linux distributions have had their own "forks" of the kernel, and it's not been seen as something bad, it's been seen as something natural and good."

As for actually coding, alas, Torvalds doesn't get to do that much of it anymore. "You do realize that I don't get all that close to the code any more? I spend my time not coding, but reading emails, and merging stuff others wrote. And when I *do* get involved with the code, it's not because it's 'cool,' it's because it broke, and you'll find me cursing the people who wrote it, and questioning their parentage and that of their pets."

That said, Torvalds wished more programmers "understood the really core low-level kind of coding. Not big, complex stuff like the lockless name lookup, but simply good use of pointers-to-pointers etc. For example, I've seen too many people who delete a singly-linked list entry by keeping track of the "prev" entry, and then to delete the entry. … Whenever I see code like that, I just go 'This person doesn't understand pointers.' And it's sadly quite common."

Even though he doesn't get his hands dirty that much with programming these days, Torvalds is in no danger of burning out. That's because, "I really enjoy what I do. And I actually enjoy arguing too, and while I may swear a lot and appear like a grumpy angry old man at times, I am also pretty good at just letting things go. So I can be very passionate about some things, but at the same time I don't tend to really hold on to some particular issue for too long, and I think that helps avoid burn-out."

So it is he doesn't see himself retiring anytime soon. And, come the day he does, he's not worried about it.

As he's said before to the "What if Linus gets hit by a bus?" question, "We've got several 'top lieutenants' that could take over, and I'd worry much more about many other open-source projects that don't have nearly the same kind of big development community that the kernel does. That said, I've been doing this for over twenty years now, and I don't really see myself stopping. I still do like what I'm doing, and I'd just be bored out of my gourd without the kernel to hack on."

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Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Patents, Software Development

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  • Linus Torvalds interviewed by Slashdot readers

    Kudos Linus Torvalds
    daikon
    • Yes, kudos to Linus

      Linus always struck me as the brilliant one who should have gotten all the respect that was inappropriately given to steve jobs. I like that he is a realist, making things work for real people in the real world. Contrast that with stalman who is a psycho nut job completely separated from reality.

      While I choose not to use Linux on my desktop, tablet, or smartphone (ain't choice grand?) I admire and respect Linus.
      toddbottom3
      • Nut job or not

        Richard Stallman did create the GPL license which is used for the Linux kernel. Quoted from Linus Torvalds in the article: "I still love the GPLv2, and absolutely think that making Linux open source was the greatest thing ever."

        Linus could have chosen a BSD-style license for the Linux kernel. How many forks of the Linux kernel would we have today had he selected a BSD-style license? Stated another way, would there be just one mainline kernel as there is today? And would Linux be as successful as it is today with a BSD-style license?
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • add Stallman's GNU project

          the complier and tools essential for Linux success.

          Yes Hurd has failed to get tracton (Linus' criticisms accurate).

          Many poeple have contributed to Linux success in many different ways. Steve Jobs was critical to Apple's success.
          Richard Flude
      • Agree, brilliant and hard working person

        The whole ecosystem started with this single person, so absolute respect for him.

        SJVN should stick to writing about Linux, he spends 99% time talking about Windows which he has nothing to do with.
        ninjacut
        • Not quite

          Richard Stallman gets most of the credit for creating the ecosystem that made Linux possible. Linus created the kernel and the first distro and deserves the credit he gets, but he would have had a much harder time doing it without RMS and his GNU project.
          John L. Ries
      • Thumbs up

        "While I choose not to use Linux on my desktop, tablet, or smartphone..."
        It is OK, noone is perfect ;-).
        kirovs@...
      • That's your loss...

        Linus Torvalds is an engineer. Steve Jobs wasn't an engineer. Trying to compare the two seems pointless.

        I know you have no respect for Steve Jobs or his contribution but consider this;

        While the Apple II circuits were created by Steve Wozniak (the genius of digital engineering) it was Jobs who insisted on the case design. It is this aspect that makes the Apple II the first "modern PC". By which I mean if you showed a child a picture of an Apple II they'd recognise it was a personal computer - show them something earlier and they'd not recognise it as a personal computer. To be fair, it needed Microsoft to make the BASIC for it (replacing the Integer Basic created for it originally) before it could be really useful.

        Many say Jobs "stole" the ideas from Xerox PARC ("stole" is the wrong word - "gained" is a better word). However, the management at Xerox had seen exactly what Jobs was shown, none of them had the insight to create a product like the Lisa (and latterly the Mac). We look backward through the lens of history and it seems "obvious", clearly it wasn't "obvious" to anyone creating products at Xerox. It is also worth looking at how different the Lisa was to what Jobs was shown, clearly the Lisa was inspired by what Jobs saw at PARC, but it was far from a "slavish copy". When Xerox created a product from the PARC research they created the Xerox Star - it is VERY "un-Mac-like", it is worth seeing the demonstrations on YouTube to see just how different to the Mac this actually was (and indeed how much Windows built on ideas from the Mac, and not the original PARC research).

        I have said that; "Steve Jobs never said anything that wasn't obvious, but it was only obvious after he said it". It was this ability that made great products (like the Pixar movies) spring up around Steve Jobs, a rare talent. This doesn't (and shouldn't) diminish the contributions of others (such as Linus Torvalds).
        jeremychappell
        • +1 Interesting

          That's very thoughtful, thank you.
          Han CNX
        • Actually

          The engineers who created SmallTalk at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) knew exactly what they had. It was their managers that allowed Jobs and crew in for "visitation" where most of the concepts were.... "borrowed". Apple paid for three in-depth visits, it did NOT license the technology, it did not pay for software. It did hire some of the SmallTalk engineers, but all in all, it was a steal. The entire process and the end result is something that Apple has litigated against since the early days of Lisa and Macintosh.
          benched42
          • Didn't I say that?

            Sure the engineers knew their research was special - but the management has seen it, and didn't understand how to productise it. Jobs understood this instantly. The resulting product was different and I defy anyone to say Apple's UI wasn't an improvement.

            It is also worth noting Xerox showed Apple (a rival) this software, without trying to protect it. Yes they litigated later, but Xerox hadn't taken out a patent on the underlying ideas (which are actually built on older research). Apple were given access to PARC without preconditions.

            When you think about how Xerox allowed Apple access to their research, and the lack of preconditions, then consider that Apple refined the ideas considerably before releasing a product - I think it seems rather different. Where Xerox stupid to allow Apple access to this research without any conditions? Yes, very. Apple did exactly what anyone would have expected. I do think it was a little "late in the day" to complain about Apple "stealing" their ideas only after Apple had created a successful product.

            But the point is really, Jobs knew this was an approach that could be productised, and how to do it - something nobody at Xerox had figured out.
            jeremychappell
          • Or one could read an account of the Apple Xerox PARC visits here

            "The Xerox PARC Visit
            http://www-sul.stanford.edu/mac/parc.html

            Enjoy!
            Rabid Howler Monkey
      • Let us praise Steve Jobs

        No he wasn't an engineer, but he was a first class designer and promoter; and probably the greatest entrepreneur of his generation. I don't appreciate the control freakishness or the litigiousness, but let's give the man his due.
        John L. Ries
      • Hehe. Come one give credit when due!!

        1) Stalman (RMS) did created GPL.
        2) Stalman created GNU Compiler Colections. FIRST american C compiler :P
        3) Stalman created all those tools used to create Linux kernel.

        So if Stalman didn't created for real word developers, than Linus is not real world developer. :P
        przemoli
  • Linus great job

    Continue developing the Linux Kernel.....
    RickLively
  • This is the best...

    article by SJVN. Too bad it's just a copy and paste job from another website. Keep on trollin'.
    kstap
  • Linus Torvalds interviewed by Slashdot readers

    Did they ask Linus why he always has a temper tantrum when companies willingly decide not to use his OS?

    The he goes on with this quote just to show how out of touch he and the linux community really are:
    Torvalds replied, "I get asked this quite often, and I really don't see how I could possibly have done anything better."

    I really hope he is kidding. The linux OS is plagued with one problem after the other. Constant security holes and patching, compiling and recompiling. Even doing the most basic of things like playing multimedia on a linux box has been a chore. And then Linus has the balls to try to tell us he couldn't have done anything better. There is so much more he could have done but refused to. Worst is that the linux community didn't step up either to fix the many linux problems.

    Linux: the OS you that forgets about the user.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Loverock time to go back under the bridge like the good little

      troll that you are. Haven't you ever wondered why you have such a hard time grasping anything related to Linux. Its obvious to most posters here that you have a diminished learning capacity when it comes to a OS that requires just a little higher though process. It must really bug you that can't quite grasp Linux. Maybe some day you'll find your way and than again, maybe not.
      Over and Out
    • Err...

      Do you know what a Kernel is?

      Okay, now go back a reread what you wrote - how much of that is actually about the Kernel?

      The "compiling" thing, you say this a lot, for "normal" users this doesn't happen. Most Linux distributions don't install the compiler tools by default (just like Windows doesn't come with Visual Studio). Users don't compile things, they don't need to. When you "patch" the Kernel the user "installs" the patch in the same way as they do for Windows - there is no difference. What's different with Linux is you CAN get the source to the Kernel, for most users (not all) that's not true with Windows.

      Like Windows security flaws in the Linux Kernel are quite rare, most issues are higher up the software stack (as I say; like Windows).

      Multimedia - you're talking DRM and Codecs aren't you? Here this varies between distributions, "pure" ones that use only open source code unencumbered by patent issues will always find this "a problem". Plenty of distributions take a "less pure" approach.

      Linus doesn't have temper tantrums over people choosing to not use Linux (he saves them for other issues). Don't forget it doesn't cost him anything if you choose a "non-Linux" solution. I think you must be thinking of someone else.
      jeremychappell
      • jeremychappell don't waste your time with making a logical reply to

        Lovverock Davidson. He knows that everything he post is antiquated or a irrelevant bunch of BS, he is a pro Microsoft troll who's posts are only geared to disrupt any pro Linux discussion. You will notice after time that he never engages in any type of technical discussions because he has NO basis to bring anything factual to any discussions. His only objective is to disrupt the discussions and in this way he seems to get his jollies.

        I only hope he cleans up after he gets off.
        Over and Out