Linus Torvalds snarls at openSUSE desktop Linux's security

Even Linus "Linux" Torvalds can have desktop Linux headaches.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Even Linus Torvalds can have have a bad Linux desktop day.

Even Linus Torvalds can have have a bad Linux desktop day.

Linus Torvalds was not a happy man. He's been using openSUSE Linux as his desktop Linux, he explained in a Google+ posting, "because it worked so well at install-time on the MacBook Air, but I have to say, I've had enough. There is no way in hell I can honestly suggest that to anybody else any more." What enraged Mr. Linux? OpenSUSE's demand that you use the root password to make what Torvalds thinks are trivial desktop setting changes.

Torvalds started by saying that "I don't think I can talk about "security" people without cursing, so you might want to avert your eyes now." A long time Fedora user, Torvalds recently switched to openSUSE [German link], because of his intense dislike for Fedora's GNOME 3.x desktop.

Sharing, as I do, his feelings about GNOME 3.x, I'm sure he still doesn't want to go back to Fedora with GNOME. But, he's sure not happy with openSUSE, which uses the KDE desktop by default, either.

Torvalds was enraged that it took weeks of "arguing on a Bugzilla that the security policy of requiring the root password for changing the time zone and adding a new wireless network was moronic and wrong. I think the wireless network thing finally did get fixed, but the time zone never did - it still asks for the admin password."

The final straw though was when Torvalds' young daughter "Daniela calls me from school, because she can't add the school printer without the admin password."

Then Torvalds really blew up, "Whoever moron thought that its "good security" to require the root password for everyday things like this is mentally diseased.

He concluded, "So here's a plea: if you have anything to do with security in a distro, and think that my kids (replace "my kids" with "sales people on the road" if you think your main customers are businesses) need to have the root password to access some wireless network, or to be able to print out a paper, or to change the date-and-time settings, please just kill yourself now. The world will be a better place. ... and now I need to find a new distro that actually works on the MacBook Air."

For what it's worth I suggest he give Linux Mint 12 with the Cinnamon GNOME fork. Getting Linux Mint to work on a MacBook Air is tricky, but it won't give Torvalds any problems.

However, Torvalds would find that while Mint doesn't ask for the root password to add a printer or to join a Wi-Fi network, but it does require it to change the time. This all dates back to the Linux's Unix ancestry. Unix was, and still is, primarily a multi-user operating system where you didn't want any Tom, Dick, or Harry changing fundamental system settings. Today, you still find traces of this server security mindset in most Linux desktop distributions. OpenSUSE is far from unique.

Andreas Jaeger, SUSE's program manager for openSUSE, told me, "There are cases where a password should not be needed and we'll fix those. But the tone of the rant didn't ring well with anybody."

The good thing about this philosophy is that it helps make Linux more secure. The bad thing is that, alas, it makes desktop Linux a little more trouble to use for some users, even Linus Torvalds himself some days.

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