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Nikolai Bezroukov. Portraits of Open Source Pioneers
For readers with high sensitivity to grammar errors access to this page is not recommended :-)
TechNetCast - Linux BOF at USENIX 1999
Linus Torvalds At USENIX, Part 1 (25:00) PLAY
Linus Torvalds At USENIX, Part 2 (25:00) PLAY
Linus Torvalds At USENIX, Part 3 (25:00) PLAY
more programs from USENIX 1999 () PLAY
Whenever I talk, I either talk about completely strange, random things -and that happens when I go to places like Berkeley or something where I need to talk about like philosophy to fit into the group- or I talk about the Linux kernel. And when it comes to USENIX, I always talk about Linux kernel. So [today] I'll start off with just a few short words on the state of the kernel and then [cover some of] what we are working on right now and then [throw in] a few short sentences about what the bigger plan [is]. Then I'll just finish off with asking you all to come to grips with your gripes with Linux or with life in general and we'll just take it from there. If you have no gripes at all with Linux, I'll be really happy and this is really going to be a short talk. So that's the plan.
So what is the current state of Linux? How many of you are actually Linux users? [Most hands in audience raise] Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry [laughter]. How many of you are not Linux users and just came to watch the zoo? Okay, a few of you┘ We'll beat you up afterwards. The 2.2 kernel has been out for a few months. It's still in the stabilization phase meaning that there's always a period when patches keep coming out and we seem to have passed that [phase] to some degree. We've almost reached the slowdown phase where nobody is really interested in it anymore. There aren't any major showstopper problems that warrant a new patch and a month has passed probably since the last one. I'm readying a new patch set just to fix a few ugly things. I essentially hope that 2.2 will then really be almost dead in the same sense that 2.0 has been dead for the last year. There will be people who follow on bug track and fix the worst ones. There will be people who backport drivers, for example, from the development tree into the stable tree just because drivers are always needed. But 2.2 certainly seems not get much active development anymore and we opened up the 2.3 tree about a month ago and this is where all the development is going. But before I go into that I'll just mention a few basic facts about 2.2.
There had been a long time since 2.0. More than two-and-half years. So obviously we just needed a stable kernel but also we wanted to [work on] infrastructureFor example, 2.2 has the infrastructure [required] for doing SMP really well. Notice that I say that it has "the infrastructure to do SMP really well". That implies that it doesn't actually do SMP really well -because a lot of legacy codes still kind of relies on the one kernel lock. You all know the basic way SMP kernels always start off. So, for example, networking filesystems can avoid the kernel lock because now we actually have the infrastructure for doing fine-grain stuff but nobody has wrotten code [for this yet]. So 2.2 in some sense is SMP-ready but obviously nobody will claim that it scales all that much better than 2.0 although some paths have been cleaned up. Basic process handling, stuff like that has been cleaned up a lot. So it is more scaleable but certainly not anywhere close to where we want to be.
Another big change in 2.2 has [involved] making the filesystem infrastructure at least look the way I wanted it to be. There's all the new caching stuff is in place. The page cache has been improved to the point where it is actually possible to do write-through page caching too, although right only a few filesystems now use that feature. NFS, for example, does write-through page caching. But the other disk-based filesystems still use the old buffer cache to do writes, even though the new page cache is there to really handle all the rest of the I/0.
So you get the idea about 2.2. All the basics are in place --but we now need to take full advantage of the work that we've completed over the last two-and-a-half years. And that brings us to what we want to do and what we're working on right now.
There are fairly obvious deficiencies when it comes to the kernel. One of them is simply device support. One thing that comes up fairly often in the PC world right now is USB and we're working on items like that. FireWire is also being investigated. At a less frantic pace, but it is still being looked at. The other issue is scalability. We've had some interesting troubles with certain large companies. They made us look really bad by selecting exactly the right benchmark for us┘ [The results were] interesting. But it also got a lot of people motivated to do the things that they knew they had to do anyway. So our long-range plans [to be completed] "in a year" suddenly turned into "next week". Right now, for example, the current 2.3 series already contains the fully threaded networking code, but it's really not turned on yet because a lot of it is still behind the one kernel lock. But it's there and people are testing the waters by turning off the kernel lock for all the filesystem code and doing stuff like this. The same is true of filesystems. We actually have patches to turn off the kernel lock for basically all the interesting paths through the filesystem. The patches are so ugly at this point that you really don't want to look at them too much because you'd go blind┘
That's [an overview of] what is going on when it comes to the kernel. Obviously a lot of the really interesting stuff is also going on in user mode and that's actually where most of the excitement has been coming from in the last year (with the Oracle and Lotus Domino announcements, for example --but I'm not even going to go into those issues unless I'm asked).
Then there are the non-technical issues. I'll just mention [these in passing] because it's not what I'm [involved in], but obviously things are going on with Linux. Companies are filing with the SEC. That's kind of exciting for those companies, and I wish I had more stock options... But the most interesting story happened a few months ago when Microsoft suddenly woke up and started really doing a PR campaign for Linux. For a few weeks I really could relate to Scott McNealy. I could understand why the guy hates Microsoft. I was like "oh, yes. Scott is my best buddy" and that was something really new. It's not that I have been unfriendly with Scott, it's just that I never was never all that interested in Microsoft. Suddenly I could understand what Scott was all about┘ There's a teaching there and I'll call it "the Sun disease" but it's true of others too. You start really hating your competition to the point that instead of doing the right thing for your customers, you try to screw over your competitors any which way you can┘ and then you come up with bad licenses for your new programming languages... Completely hypothetical example [laughter and clapping]. I was almost in a situation where I was thinking, "Okay, how can I screw Microsoft?" You start not thinking clearly.
Microsoft essentially paid for a benchmark and we really sucked at the benchmark compared to NT. Everybody was really stunned because it was the first time this had ever happened. People just thought that the numbers were basically made up and couldn't be true. It turns out that yes, they did do a few fairly ugly things and they did select the hardware to really show off NT and really show off just how bad Linux was. But it turns out that most of [the results] were actually true. They just found the benchmark for which NT had been optimized for during the last few years and for which Linux hadn't been optimized for at all. And that made me feel personally really, really bad and we spent a few weeks in an extensive PR fix-up campaign trying to educate people about lies, damn lies, statistics and benchmarks. You probably all know that benchmarks can prove just about anything if you get to select the benchmark. But it's kind of interesting having to be in the position to have to explain this to some people that actually wanted to be convinced of this. One of our advantages was that the press was very open to trying to understand the Linux viewpoint. I felt bad for a while. Then a guy from Australia sent me the same benchmark and also pointed out "how can we fix this". I realized that Microsoft wasn't the enemy at all. They were actually doing a good thing. They were pointing out that, hey, we suck at some things. Now I consider the anti-Linux group at Microsoft to be just a Linux user in disguise. They're trying to find the really bad problems in Linux. They haven't produced much so far but I expect that we'll get some really good bug reports from them... Bug reports are good. The only problem is that they don't go through the normal channels... If you look at it that way it's not that bad. You get to read about these bugs in the "Wall Street Journal" instead of getting them in personal e-mails. But eventually you get the information and the bugs can be fixed. So I'm fairly optimistic.
So what is the plan right now? There were obviously a lot of things we did wrong in the 2.2 series. The most strikingly big mistake was that [the project took] two-and-a-half years. The excuse was that as Linux grew and grew more complex more [development] time was needed. Developers don't want to be in a code freeze all the time. You want to have a long development cycle. A few things just brought this to a head, and we are now looking at these excuses and trying to find out if they actually make sense. Particularly [the excuse that] as things get more complex and larger they take longer to mature. Well, that excuse really sucks.
It turns out that what you actually want to do as things get larger and more complex is make many small incremental changes so that you don't go on for two-and-a-half years until a release goes public. Right now the plan is to actually try to fix the problems we are aware of and that we had planned to fix anyway and just fix them as quickly as we can and make a 2.4 release this year. I don't know if that is actually a workable plan but that's the plan. The deadline is October. I always miss my deadlines so maybe we'll have it by Christmas. But the plan is to just fix those things we know we suck at and get the release out and be really proud of how well we do. And then somebody will find how we suck at something else and we're back to square one --but not quite because at least we'll have a new stable base to work from. But this new release is not all about fixing problems. There's a lot of excitement in the new stuff. But you don't have to take that into account [in the same way] because people actually want to do the new and exciting stuff and never have lacked the time to do that.
So, I've given you the past, the now and the future and now we move on to the "Linux gripes" session and see where that gets us...
CNET.com - News - Enterprise Computing - Defining the limits of open source
Linux creator Linus Torvalds may be the best-known success of the open source programming movement, but he believes proprietary software still has a place.
"There's a lot of power in combining the notion of having open source and having traditional proprietary software and letting everybody live the way they want to live," Torvalds said during a panel discussion yesterday at the LinuxWorld Expo here.
"Getting into whether you're proprietary or not is a waste of time."
With open source software, anyone is free to modify and redistribute the original programming code without worrying about things like signing patent licensing agreements. Hundreds of voluntary programmers across the Internet, led by Torvalds, have been collectively responsible for the development of Linux, an operating system now being embraced by big-name computing companies.
Speaking before an audience packed with open source advocates, Torvalds said he releases all his Linux software as open source. "But at the same time, I enjoy working at a commercial company, and the work I do is going to be very much a commercial software that nobody plays around with," he said. Torvalds is an employee at Transmeta, a highly secretive Silicon Valley company.
However, not everyone on the panel concurred with Torvalds' acceptance of proprietary technology. In particular, Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU effort to create a free version of Unix--free in the sense of being unshackled by proprietary restraints. Stallman also is founder of the Free Software Foundation.
Because of industry secrets and patents, it may not be possible in five years to run a computer with the GNU/Linux operating system, Stallman said. He also expressed concern that the major Linux distributors all include "non-free software."
The core code of Linux is distributed under the GNU general public license, which guarantees programmers the right to modify and redistribute the software however they want, so long as their changes also are distributed under the general public license.
Stallman and Torvalds came somewhat closer to agreement in their mutual desire for changes to loosen patent law in the United States.
Existing patent law is a problem both for the open source movement and for proprietary companies as well, Torvalds said. "Something should be done to try to make changes to the patent system," perhaps by not granting them in the first place or by allowing other companies to use the information despite the patents, he said.
The remarks are intriguing in light of the fact that the first public glimpse of Torvalds' company, Transmeta, came in November, when the company was awarded a patent for combination chip-software technology that would enable high-speed emulation of other chips.
Other open source luminaries in the discussion were Larry Wall, creator of the Perl programming language, Guido van Rossum, creator of the Python programming language, and moderator Eric Raymond, author of the open source manifesto " The Cathedral and the Bazaar".
The panel discussion often took on moral tones. Though Stallman sometimes elicited groans from the audience with his contentious tone, he received a standing ovation from the audience after panel moderator Raymond remarked, "If it weren't for Richard Stallman, probably none of us would be here today."
Torvalds adopted the moral high ground himself. "Anybody who tries to force his views on anybody else is not being ethical," he said. "You don't want to get in an argument. You want to show them the better way and they will follow."
Life After Linux Holds New Set of Challenges For Its Proud Creator -- note the last two questions
Q: After creating Linux, which has become such an icon of the movement to create free, open software, how does it feel to work for such a secretive company?
A: For me, open source hasn't been a philosophy per se. It hasn't been a goal in itself. I think that open source is a very solid means to reach other goals. There is an ideological point to it as well, but that is . . . an added bonus. I'm an engineer who really likes the notion of open source. But I never had any philosophical problems with working with a company that is very tight-lipped. Linux is what I do for fun. It's what I do because I think it's important. It's what I do because I just love working on computers. When I do something for fun, I think it's important to share with others and make that part of the fun. At the same time, when I do something for work, that's my work. I think open source is a very good medium for doing certain things. At the same time, it's very clear that it's sometimes easier to do things in a closed area. So you kind of have to balance the advantages of open source versus the advantages of being closed. I'm actually hoping that a lot of what Transmeta is doing will eventually be sent back to the open-source community.
Q: How much time do you spend on Linux now?
A: A lot of time. I tend to work fairly long hours. Just reading e-mail basically takes three hours a day. I mean that's just reading e-mail. And then, if you actually want to do something about that e-mail, then the time is just unbounded!
Q: Have you financially benefited from the success of Linux?
A: Not really. Some of the early [Linux] vendors actually sent me some checks just to show their gratitude and someone calculated that I had an hourly wage of about 5 cents an hour. Even though I didn't benefit financially from Linux itself, the kind of indirect benefits were good. I mean how many people fresh out of school can basically select what place they go to work? I [also] got some stock options from some companies. It's noticeable, but it's not that much. It's just at the point where we're finally considering buying a house. In Silicon Valley, that's actually a big deal.
Q: Do you regret making Linux open source?
A: The fact is that if I hadn't made it open source, if I hadn't done it like I did, Linux wouldn't be where it is today and so I wouldn't be rich anyway! I would probably be very upset if it wasn't for the fact that I get more credit than I probably deserve, right? There's been thousands of people working on Linux, and I get credit for a lot of it.
[Nov. 11, 1999] IHT TribTech 11-18-99
Q. What kind of college student writes an operating system?
A. A computer-science student. I used to be this math nerd, sort of way back when. I was the nerd of the class, in a positive way. That is how I got in touch with Unix in the first place. Face it, if you did not learn it in computer science, you would never have seen Unix five years ago
well, 10 years ago. How time flies.
Q. What would make a consumer want Linux?
A. Very few people are going to change their operating systems. I have used the term ''it's like doing brain surgery on yourself.''
What is the point of having Linux in the first place? The point of having Linux in the first place even in that kind of market is because you want to avoid the kind of excesses that Microsoft has gone to. If the technology is solid, the user is going to be enjoying the experience a lot more.
Q. But it is a chicken-and-egg question. Consumers will not use it if they cannot get programs, and programmers will not write for it if consumers do not use it.
A. Oh, yes, I agree. Regardless of all these new Internet appliances, in the near future Microsoft does have a monopoly on the desktop. Do I let that discourage me? No, I don't care.
[Aug 12, 1999] ZDNet: Torvalds spells out what's ahead for Linux
... He said the 2.2.11 kernel, the current stable kernel, was finished as of Monday. It included mainly security fixes and some driver updates.
Now his attention turns to moving to a 2.4 kernel. Originally, Torvalds said, he wanted to make the jump from 2.2 to 3.0, but decided against it for fear of an upgrade cycle that dragged on too long.
"The 2.2 kernel took two-and-a-half years, and that's too long," he said. "So instead of aiming for the sky, we wanted to refine the existing features in 2.2 and put them to their best use."
That means symmetric multiprocessing support will be fine-tuned, and support for USB (Universal Serial Bus), plug and play and PCMCIA will all find their way into the 2.4 kernel.
The 2.4 kernel will also fix those out-of-memory characteristics that made the OS choose bad processes to kill in order to preserve memory, Torvalds said.
Torvalds also spent a good amount of time talking about what didn't make it into 2.4.
For example, a journaling file system and advanced clustering will take longer to develop, so they will not make the 2.4 release, he said.
... ... ...
He sounded as if he liked the shorter, tighter development cycle, which earlier in the day he said added much-needed discipline to the development process.
... ... ...
And Torvalds did not want to seem exclusionary. When asked what non-technical users interested in Linux could do to contribute to "the movement," he encouraged that user base to get involved.
"That's not to say non-kernel developers are low-lifes," he said. "I've been saying for some time that a lot of the exciting work on Linux is outside the kernel. It's not even the program development, it's in deployment."
... ... ...
Asked at one point about adoption of Linux and related deployment issues, he said, "This is too far in user land and I'm too kernel-oriented."
[June 19, 1999] Linus Torvalds -- The father of Linux talks about the OS' heritage and future -- the father of Linux again ;-)
What is Linux's road map for the future?
There's never really been a road map. In the sense that the Linux user base has been changing fairly rapidly, making a five-year plan just would not work. A year ago the main user for this was still on a kind of technical workstation, a small scale Web server. And suddenly the enterprise-like large-scale computing came. It wasn't something that Linux had really been used in but it meant that suddenly a lot of new user interest was in a completely new area. So we're moving on to doing better and better things and it's not really planned. It's more of a reaction to what people need.
In your opinion, is it a problem that all the principal kernel developers of Linux, except for you, work for Red Hat? How will this affect future versions of Linux?
Not all of them work for Red Hat. I think that Red Hat has been very good. They were the first with a serious amount of funding, which helped them snap up people in the early days when few other Linux vendors could do that. They've also been very flexible and they've been very good at, especially here in the [United States], making their name well known. A lot of Linux developers are actually working for either independent companies like me or other Linux distributors. But yeah, Red Hat does have some very high-profile people but it certainly isn't at the point where things are very unbalanced.
[June 17, 1999]Torvalds Pledges Speedier Linux Upgrades -- Linus changed his position -- kernel upgrades will nbe faster not slower as he preached before.
Speaking to 350 Linux enthusiasts crammed into a San Francisco Chinatown restaurant Tuesday night, the father of Linux, Linus Torvalds, pledged to curtail the time between Linux kernel upgrades.
Citing the need for smaller, more incremental upgrades to the open- source operating system, Torvalds says he is trying to roll out the next major Linux release, version 2.4, by this fall.
This would be significantly faster than version 2.2, which came two-and-a-half years following the previous major release. Linux 2.0 also came 18 months after the release of version 1.2.
"We need to make the release cycle shorter... two-and-a-half years was way too long," says the bespectacled Torvalds, who keynoted last night's banquet benefiting the Linux Debian project.
Part of the solution, says Torvalds, will be scaling back changes made with each release. While he won't call it a feature freeze, Torvalds hints that enhancements angling for version 2.4 could see a final decision within the next month. Features considered too ambitious or distant could be postponed for the following release.
This could spell easier upgrades for open-source enthusiasts. "[Version] 2.2 was a big deal for some people to upgrade... It should be a small, incremental step," Torvalds says.
[June 17, 1999] Kernel fragmentation issues surfaced on a talk in San Francisco
....Linux progress on the desktop eyed by OS founder (InfoWorld)
Speaking at a meeting of the Bay Area Linux User Group, Torvalds said Release 2.4 of the Linux
kernel is due this fall, featuring USB high-speed peripherals support and ensuring scalability to four
CPUs in a multiprocessor system, with an eye toward eight CPUs.
Torvalds also said he plans shorter intervals between releases of the OS. The release date for
Version 2.2, a predecessor to Version 2.4, slipped by a year as the growing popularity of Linux
prompted developers to take more time to write code, Torvalds said.
Torvalds also predicted that the next version of the Linux kernel would be out by the fall, though he said the date could slip. He also said that Linux versions would include USB support and the ability to scale to a larger number of processors.
One attendee asked Torvalds whether he was worried about the kernel fragmenting. Torvalds predicted various distributions of Linux would differentiate themselves by running better on different devices, but he said it wouldn't splinter in the same way that Unix has.
A fragmented Linux will emerge, albeit not as severe as what has plagued the Unix OS, Torvalds said.
"Do I see fragmentation for the Linux kernel? There is certainly going to be some of that," Torvalds said.
Some devices will require different levels of the OS, he said. "You shouldn't even try to enforce a single [kernel] on everybody," he said.
[May 5, 1999] ABCNEWS.com Transcript of Chat With Linus Torvalds
PC Week: Give us the short history of Linux's development.
Torvalds: Basically, I invented it eight years ago, almost exactly eight years ago. It started small, not even an operating system. It was just a personal project. I just was doing something fun with my new machine. It kind of evolved through luck and happenstance into an OS, simply because there was very much a void where there wasn't much choice for someone like me. I couldn't afford some of the commercial OSes and I didn't want to run DOS or Windows -- I don't even know, did Windows really exist then?
About seven years ago I made the first very, very raw version of Linux available and some people wanted to look at it and play with it.
PC Week: All OSes will co-exist, but much has been made of the "Linux threat" to Microsoft Corp. Are you comfortable with that?
Torvalds: I'm comfortable with the "Microsoft killer" idea. It's kind of fun to see how people position it, because that wasn't the reason and still isn't the reason I developed Linux. I think Microsoft has been doing a really bad job on their OS, and obviously it's an interesting dynamic to people.
PC Week: How have they done a bad job with Windows?
Torvalds: Well, they've handled it well from a marketing standpoint. But from a technical standpoint, they have not done so well. Still, they are extremely successful. I just think there are a lot of people who want an alternative.
PC Week: You could have copyrighted Linux and made a fortune. Why did you make it an open source code operating system, and will that model work in the future as Linux acceptance grows?
Torvalds: It started out as a personal belief that, yes, open source was needed. Then, when it got large enough, I encouraged people to license their own development, their own parts. Now there are multiple owners sharing all these licenses.
I did it partly because I didn't want to have the paperwork to deal with that. In another way, I tied everybody's hands behind their backs. Nobody can fundamentally change it now because they'd have to coordinate everybody who owns these pieces.
That makes people trust Linux more. Take Red Hat. They're not afraid of my competing with them, because they know I can't, but I wouldn't want to. The whole open-source model has worked out extremely well. It would be stupid to try and change it.
[April 30, 1999] CNET News.com - Linux creator We will crush Microsoft (Comdex Spring/Windows World trade show)
CHICAGO--Bill Gates may think Linux has limited appeal, but the operating system's creator had no trouble packing the house here today with fervent supporters.
Linux inventor Linus Torvalds rallied his troops and took shots at operating system rival Microsoft at a press conference held at Comdex Spring/Windows World trade show.
Fresh on the heels of Microsoft CEO Bill Gates's keynote just down the hall in the same building, Torvalds outlined the success of Linux, welcomed growing industry support and confidently presented a sunny market outlook for his open source operating system.
Torvalds said Linux will reach success because Windows is "just not good enough."
A big reason for Linux's early acceptance is that "what was out there was not good enough. Microsoft does a lot of pretty good programs and they really suck at other things," Torvalds said to a cheering audience, made up mainly of Linux supporters.
Torvalds said in 1991 there was just one user of Linux--him. Currently there are more than 7 million users, and he said he expects it to "take over Windows as the most popular" operating system, which caused an even louder eruption of cheers from the audience packed into a conference room at Chicago's McCormick Place exhibition hall.
The story of the Linux kernel -- an interesting opinion about microkernel
In fact, this made me think that the microkernel approach was essentially a dishonest approach aimed at receiving more dollars for research. I don't necessarily think these researchers were knowingly dishonest. Perhaps they were simply stupid. Or deluded. I mean this in a very real sense. The dishonesty comes from the intense pressure in the research community at that time to pursue the microkernel topic. In a computer science research lab, you were studying microkernels or you weren't studying kernels at all. So everyone was pressured into this dishonesty, even the people designing Windows NT. While the NT team knew the final result wouldn't approach a microkernel, they knew they had to pay lip service to the idea
Linux Magazine Spring 1999 FEATURES The Linux Interview
Linux Magazine May 1999 Copyright Linux Magazine ©1999>FEATURES It's Linus' World, We Just Live In It.
ALL PHOTOS © GARY WAGNER
You probably know Linus Torvalds as the moving force behind the operating system that is reshaping the computing industry. But did you also know that he owns a four-wheel drive, orders steak and beer when given the chance, and that these days, he worries less about symmetrical multi-processing support in Linux 2.2 than he does about being away from his wife and two kids?
Linux Magazine had the unique opportunity to sit down with Linus Torvalds over dinner, near the headquarters of Transmeta -- the mystery-shrouded Santa Clara, California company that employs him. On hand was Adam Goodman, editor of Linux Magazine, Matt Welsh, author of O'Reilly's Running Linux and senior editor of LM, and Lee Gomes, who covers technology for the Wall Street Journal.
We met Torvalds at the Transmeta headquarters and as expected, we were not allowed beyond the lobby; he also refused to answer any questions about what the company is actually up to. (Our best guess is that it is working on a chip that will compete with Intel.) From the lobby, we adjourned to a nearby restaurant, where Torvalds -- despite his wife having pleaded with him not to miss dinner at home to do yet another interview -- spent an obliging two hours answering questions. Topics ranged from Microsoft's software design philosophy to Torvalds' family tree to the differences between life in Helsinki and life in Silicon Valley. (Turns out Silicon Valley isn't nearly as high-tech as everyone thinks.)
Throughout it all, Torvalds was alternatingly insightful, sarcastic, expansive and funny, and the evening served as a great introduction to the World According to Linus. An edited transcript of our dinner-time chat follows; we hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed having it.
LINUX MAGAZINE: What was your reaction to the part of the internal "Halloween" documents from Microsoft which implied that Microsoft believes that Linux skims the cream of the crop of ideas, and that the company was investigating the idea of using legal tactics against Linux?
Linus Torvalds: I would love for that to happen. It would show people just how sleazy the other side is. And who would they sue? Would they sue me? Because it's very obvious in Linux how the code was developed, unlike with a lot of commercial companies. And you can actually follow it backwards from the origins. You actually have a historical record. You can say, "OK, that was how the code looked at that point. Two weeks later it looked different." You can prove the code was developed through evolution and not through stealing someone's idea.
LM: But why would it be sleazy if they sued?
Torvalds: It's not sleazy per se to sue, although I think the United States does it too much. I think that the sleazy part would be the motivation for suing. It would be very obvious that they would have been searching for any other way besides the straightforward technical or marketing approach to try to trample the underdog. But I don't think it will happen. They might have done something two years ago, but it's too late now because Linux is too high profile. It would make the front pages. The Halloween documents called Linux "Best of Breed" and said it stole a lot of ideas from other operating systems. I freely admit to stealing ideas. That's what evolution is all about. Stealing ideas. Of course, you shouldn't steal other people's work. UNIX is obviously the mother of Linux in that sense, in that we stole all the basics. But a lot of ideas come from a small operating system called Plan 9 that was done by a lot of the same guys who did UNIX in the first place. Plan 9 is not something that a normal person would like to use, but it had a lot of nice ideas. So we stole some of them. NT has a "send file" system call, so we did that too, because we could do it so easily and it is actually a reasonably useful thing to have. It copies a file from the kernel space directly on to a socket, for example. It's what you want to use if you are an FTPserver or a Webserver.
LM: Is there anything about Microsoft you like or admire?
Torvalds: I like a lot of their applications. I used to use PowerPoint to make my slides. I still think PowerPoint is a perfectly good application. It's not a great application, but it's one of the better ones out there. I just think that Microsoft is very marketing driven, and that results in some good decisions but it also results in bad decisions. And I think that in the long run, especially for technical areas, it results in really bad decisions. You see that with DOS and Windows and Windows NT. And they haven't stopped making the bad decisions.
LM: So what are the bad decisions they are making?
Torvalds: Well, decisions that I consider bad aren't necessarily decisions that a Microsoft shareholder would consider bad.
LM: But don't you think that ultimately, it's the quality of the technology that matters in the long run?
Torvalds: I think it actually does. But I think it's really in the long run. And you can always make the argument that you can mess it up in the short run and then start over. That's what Microsoft tried to do with NT. The first versions of NT didn't run all that many Windows programs, and they had to make a lot of changes to make it run more. And all of those changes were exactly the kind of changes they wanted to get away from in the first place! One problem is that when you have a large company like Microsoft, you tend to use the "Mythical Man-Month" approach, in which you add people to a project. But the sad part about that is that in a complex technical area -- and an OS is one of the more complex technical areas there is -- when you add people, you dilute the knowledge. You have people who know their subsystems, but you don't have people who know how they work together. And when you do that over a few years, you end up with a system that doesn't work well internally. You have 30 development teams that each do one feature, and then when you try to put the features together, you notice that hey, they don't actually fit. They make assumptions that the other team broke.
Linux Magazine May 1999
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