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

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.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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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