Chromebook's biggest fan: Linus Torvalds

Chromebooks are now on sale in more places around the world than ever. In part, that may be because Google's high-end Chromebook Pixel has a very well-known and enthusiastic fan: Linux's inventor, Linus Torvalds.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Google's already popular Chromebooks are getting more popular than ever.

Not only has HP recently joined in selling these Linux-based, lightweight netbooks, but now Acer, HP and Samsung Chromebooks are available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands. Part of the reason behind this broader availability may because the Chromebook, especially the high-end Chromebook Pixel, has a very well-known and enthusiastic fan: Linux's inventor, Linus Torvalds.

The Chromebook Pixel's biggest (or at least best-known) fan is Linux's inventor, Linus Torvalds.

Torvalds, who is as demanding of his hardware as he is of Linux software developers, wrote several Google+ posts praising the Pixel for its "beautiful screen." In his seconding posting, "Day two of Pixel porn", Torvalds started writing more about Chrome OS, the Chrome-book native, Linux-based operating system.

He wasn't that impressed by Chrome OS:

"So Chrome OS wasn't horrible, but running a native environment (currently still testing using a livecd just to see that it all works) really makes the screen come to its own. The Chrome OS browser decision to do scale things by double pixels is probably the right thing for introducing people to this screen, but it also holds you back from seeing just how nice the screen is."

"I think Chrome OS isn't necessarily a bad idea, but I think Google is being a bit too timid about it, and limiting things a bit too much. And that may make sense if your hardware is limited (ie slow Atom or ARM CPU, cheap 1366x768 panel), but on this machine it's really holding the hardware back."

Torvalds is right. Chrome OS, which is made up of the Chrome Web browser running on top of a Google customized Linux, is a lightweight, cloud-based operating system. That's why it can run well even on hardware as lightweight as Samsung's ARM-powered Chromebook with its Samsung Exynos 5 Dual (5250) system on a chip (SoC)and its a dual-core 1.7GHz Cortex CPU. The Pixel, with its 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 processor, is easily the fastest and most powerful Chromebook currently available.

So, what would one of the top operating system developers in the world do when faced with great hardware that he feels isn't being used to its full potential? Why, he'd replace the operating system, of course.

He didn't do it all by himself. Torvalds acknowledged that Linux Kernel networking maintainer and a Red Hat engineer David Miller's work on getting ordinary desktop Linux to work with the Pixel's hardware was a great help.

That said, there are still some problems with the Chromebook Pixel's suspend function and Linux. Duncan Laurie, a Google senior software engineer, has nailed down the problem and has issued a fix for it until such time as a future firmware fix removes the problem once and for all.

The only remaining problem, from where Torvalds sits, is the touchscreen. The touchscreen works now, it's just that while Torvalds like "the concept of touch-screens...with the kind of small detail I want, my fingers look like Godzilla-like sausages trampling all over Tokyo. No fine control."

That only leaves the 64-bit question: "Which Linux distribution is Torvalds running on his Pixel Chromebook?"

Torvalds told me "I tend to try to avoid that question, since I'd *like* to be distro-independent, but in practice I absolutely hate having multiple different distributions in my house, so I end up standardizing on one particular one, not so much for 'that's the superior distro' reasons, as simply because that way updates etc all work the same way. So I'm running F18 (Fedora 18) on my Pixel for that reason."

In other words, Torvalds is not saying that Fedora is the best Linux distro, he's just saying that it works for him as a common platform for his work. And, that as nice as the Chromebook Pixel is with Chrome OS, it's even better for him with a full-sized Linux desktop distribution running on it.

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