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Softpanorama Linus Torvalds' Interviews Collection (2000)
(preserving Linus Torvalds interviews for humanity ;-)

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BW: On Linus Torvalds On Linux(Jun 28, 2000)
Far Eastern Economic Review: Interview: Linus Torvalds(Feb 17, 2000)

[Oct 2, 2000] famous letter "Because I'm a bastard, and proud of it! " from Kernel Traffic #87. At one point farther down in the thread, Linus Torvalds [*] finally got involved. He stated his position about kernel debuggers in the following way: 

I don't like debuggers. Never have, probably never will. I use gdb all the time, but I tend to use it not as a debugger, but as a disassembler on steroids that you can program.

None of the arguments for a kernel debugger has touched me in the least. And trust me, over the years I've heard quite a lot of them. In the end, they tend to boil down to basically:

And quite frankly, I don't care. I don't think kernel development should be "easy". I do not condone single-stepping through code to find the bug. I do not think that extra visibility into the system is necessarily a good thing.

Apparently, if you follow the arguments, not having a kernel debugger leads to various maladies:

And nobody has explained to me why these are _bad_ things.

To me, it's not a bug, it's a feature. Not only is it documented, but it's _good_, so it obviously cannot be a bug.

"Takes longer to create new features" - this one in particular is not a very strong argument for having a debugger. It's not as if lack of features or new code would be a problem for Linux, or, in fact, for the software industry as a whole. Quite the reverse. My biggest job is to say "no" to new features, not trying to find them.

Oh. And sure, when things crash and you fsck and you didn't even get a clue about what went wrong, you get frustrated. Tough. There are two kinds of reactions to that: you start being careful, or you start whining about a kernel debugger.

Quite frankly, I'd rather weed out the people who don't start being careful early rather than late. That sounds callous, and by God, it _is_ callous. But it's not the kind of "if you can't stand the heat, get out the the kitchen" kind of remark that some people take it for. No, it's something much more deeper: I'd rather not work with people who aren't careful. It's darwinism in software development.

It's a cold, callous argument that says that there are two kinds of people, and I'd rather not work with the second kind. Live with it.

I'm a bastard. I have absolutely no clue why people can ever think otherwise. Yet they do. People think I'm a nice guy, and the fact is that I'm a scheming, conniving bastard who doesn't care for any hurt feelings or lost hours of work if it just results in what I consider to be a better system.

And I'm not just saying that. I'm really not a very nice person. I can say "I don't care" with a straight face, and really mean it.

I happen to believe that not having a kernel debugger forces people to think about their problem on a different level than with a debugger. I think that without a debugger, you don't get into that mindset where you know how it behaves, and then you fix it from there. Without a debugger, you tend to think about problems another way. You want to understand things on a different _level_.

It's partly "source vs binary", but it's more than that. It's not that you have to look at the sources (of course you have to - and any good debugger will make that _easy_). It's that you have to look at the level _above_ sources. At the meaning of things. Without a debugger, you basically have to go the next step: understand what the program does. Not just that particular line.

And quite frankly, for most of the real problems (as opposed to the stupid bugs - of which there are many, as the latest crap with "truncate()" has shown us) a debugger doesn't much help. And the real problems are what I worry about. The rest is just details. It will get fixed eventually.

I do realize that others disagree. And I'm not your Mom. You can use a kernel debugger if you want to, and I won't give you the cold shoulder because you have "sullied" yourself. But I'm not going to help you use one, and I would frankly prefer people not to use kernel debuggers that much. So I don't make it part of the standard distribution, and if the existing debuggers aren't very well known I won't shed a tear over it.

Because I'm a bastard, and proud of it!

Interview Linus Torvalds -- February 24, 2000 -- Here he demonstrated some (superficial) understanding  of cost issues in developing countries and named Russia a third world country.

One of the things that I think is the most important about Linux is people get to do what they want with it. This is important, especially in Asia. Finally you can have real Asian software companies doing their own work.

I talked to some engineers from Malaysia and some from Korea. What kind of surprised me was these people were really excited about Linux. They said that they could finally actually control their own destiny and that made them feel much more proud about what they did. I find that to be very encouraging from both a social viewpoint and also obviously from an egotistical viewpoint.

I remember five years ago I would go to Japan and people would show me localized versions of Linux and it looked like nothing I was used to. I was pretty surprised. It's very easy to explain. The openness made it much easier for people who really cared about language issues. What usually happens is that when a software company grows larger, initially they cater to the U.S. and they don't care about the external market at all. When they're much, much larger, at that point it becomes, 'OK, we have to do it.' The Linux approach is anyone who wants to improve it can improve it. It can be any kind of localization. It doesn't have to be language.

On Linux as a tool to spur software development in China:

It certainly is a possibility. It's not a done deal and maybe something else comes along. But right now I think Linux is one of the strongest ways for countries like China to get their software industries up and running.

Right now there's not very much respect for copyright in general in China. You've got the same problem in Russia. There are certainly a lot of people who worry about that. At the same time my own personal viewpoint is that China doesn't care about copyright protection. They can't afford to. They have to build up their own infrastructure in order for copyright to really become meaningful. I'm fairly optimistic that Linux can help build up that infrastructure.

I used to think that cost was the major issue for a Third World country and then my Dad was stationed in Moscow for three years. He said that in Russia, cost is not an issue. Apparently, very few people buy licensed copies. I think a much bigger deal is people get to make their own modifications and feel like they're part of making things better.

[May 2, 2000] Boardwatch Linux Torvalds - Transmeta's Superstar

In part, it has to do with homesickness on the part of H. Peter Anvin - a legendary Linux developer in his own right and an early Transmeta employee. In late 1996, eager to see his family, Anvin returned to his native Sweden on vacation. Since Torvalds is a member of Finland's Swedish-speaking minority - and since he and Anvin knew each other well as members of the core group of key Linux kernel developers - Anvin was asked to hop a shuttle from Sweden to Finland to convey an invitation to Torvalds to visit the secretive Transmeta in Silicon Valley.

As Torvalds tells it, "The first day ... when they were giving me a feel for what went on at Transmeta. I went back to the hotel that evening and I thought, "These people are CRAZY!" This was more than three years ago, when Transmeta had not a single chip. The simulations ran at GLACIAL speed. Still, The next day, I basically decided that, if I am to go to work for a company, I want to go to work for a company that does something fun - something interesting. And the first, initial reaction that, 'These people are crazy!' is a positive reaction in that sense."

So why choose a chip company, when every Linux start-up in the world was after him? Torvalds explains, "I've obviously gotten a lot of job offers from Linux companies, but I didn?t want to polarize the Linux market. I'm really happy being an engineer at a company that is very interested in Linux, but is not seen as a Linux company. We?re a chip company where Linux is seen as part of a much larger strategy - and that's something I find very comfortable. Besides, Transmeta has been able to give me opportunities that I wouldn't otherwise have had. It's also a very cool vehicle for doing debugging, when you control the whole chip!"

And Torvalds? skill as a debugger is legendary around Transmeta.

"He's a god," says Dave Taylor, a co-developer of the original Quake who gave up being CEO of his own company to work for Transmeta. "He can look at a Linux display and somehow predict, just from the way it misbehaves, exactly where, in 100,000 lines of code, the problem is. And, nine times out of 10, he's right."

"The thing is," Taylor adds, "he isn't alone. There are a lot of god-like programmers at Transmeta. Compared to them, I'm just an amateur!"

And, although the sushi-loving Torvalds has apparently become an avid pool player, Taylor is less complimentary about his abilities as a Quake player. "He sucks," Taylor says cheerfully. "And he always will, until he learns to use a mouse."

Related Stories:
IT-Analysis: Chip wars heat up as Transmeta gets funding (Apr 26, 2000)
The Register: Intel's mobile underbelly targeted by Transmeta (Apr 25, 2000)
Techweb: Torvalds Pushes Mobile Linux (Feb 02, 2000)
EETimes: Transmeta roils mobile market with Crusoe chips (Jan 25, 2000)
Linux Journal: Studly Work: Talking Transmeta with Linus Torvalds (Jan 23, 2000)
WideOpenNews: Torvalds at Transmeta (Jan 20, 2000)
Fortune: People to Watch: Linus Torvalds (Dec 27, 1999)


[Feb. 4, 2000] Torvalds opens LinuxWorld Expo with keynote address  -- It looks like despite of  the threat of Be OS, broken promises and delays with 2.4 and other shattered schedules, the Linux front man still inspires loyalty bordering on a fetish.

The main new was sudden change of tune about Linux fragmentation: Linus managed to realized that what is good for Transmeta is good for Linux and thus  fragmentation can be good and bad. Good fragmentation is fragmentation blessed by Linus and useful for Transmeta, bad -- everything else ;-). Why blessed fragmentation is  good? It's easy. Because Transmeta needs it and Linux is great. Let's Pray.

Another miracle "He managed to nearly erase philosophical differences between open source and commerce, starting with the statement that he and the Linux community have nothing against commercialism. The revelation that might surprise ESR but he managed to get his shares and publish his book, so why should he care :-). moreover Linus now think that OSS is nothing special at all and is as very close to Microsoft as one can get:- "the good commercial companies have many of the same values that the Linux community holds dear.  ". 

Next he decided to teach us about  computer science: "Linux actually tries to move software from being a witchcraft to being a science. What happened in the dark ages, when science came to be, and actually in other cases, like in Greece and in Egypt, was that people started openly discussing ideas, and you didn't have this shamanistic company anymore that just told you what to do."  So reimplementation of Unix kernel is the biggest advance in computer science even seen. Microsoft PR probably died from envy after hearing that. 

The first question that Linus posed to himself was the spectre of Linux fragmentation, which he called the bogeyman of Linux. The issue of fragmentation, he said, was one that he has avoided until now, because the question itself seems so negative. But while he thought about it while preparing for this talk, he said, he realized that fragmentation is not all bad.

He described Linux's ability to meet the needs of a wide range of users and uses as a good type of fragmentation. As an example, he said that he had seen Linux being used on everything from supercomputers to a refrigerator.

...Linus used the classic example of Unix fragmentation, in which the vendors brought what he called gratuitous differences to market, as an example of bad fragmentation, and suggested that Java is suffering from this type of fragmentation today, as vendors do battle over Java standards.

Linus pointed out that, while bad fragmentation is certainly something everyone needs to be aware of and something that Linux needs to avoid, the good kind of fragmentation is part and parcel of the open source phenomena, and isn't something to be afraid of. Rather, he said, it's something to be embraced.

As long as Linux remains modular in design and in infrastructure, Linus asserted, it will continue to satisfy the needs of a diverse customer base without falling victim to bad fragmentation.

The clash of commercialism and Linux
The next question went straight to the heart of many in the audience: the issue of Linux and money, and the potential clash between commercialism and traditional Linux values. At the last LinuxWorld conference, Red Hat had just become the first Linux company to launch its IPO. Now that Linux has its share of IPO billionaires, Linus' second question couldn't have been more timely.

The way he answered this question shows his genius as ambassador. He managed to nearly erase philosophical differences between open source and commerce, starting with the statement that he and the Linux community have nothing against commercialism.

In fact, Linus said, the good commercial companies have many of the same values that the Linux community holds dear. They want to provide good products and make their customers happy, not "screw them over." He noted that many Linux values "work really well in a commercial setting," and added that he "didn't really think there was that much tension between the commercial side and the technical side of Linux."

He summed it up by saying, "The real point of Linux is not to be anticommercial. That is not what I started Linux to be. I know that is not what the people I know really care about. The real point of Linux has always been to make something that is nice to use and where people can actually control what they are using."

In contrasting Linux and open source with traditional software development, Linus said, "Linux actually tries to move software from being a witchcraft to being a science. What happened in the dark ages, when science came to be, and actually in other cases, like in Greece and in Egypt, was that people started openly discussing ideas, and you didn't have this shamanistic company anymore that just told you what to do."

...Another gentleman asked why Linux was doing so well compared to FreeBSD, a technically superior OS. Linus replied that luck and timing certainly had a hand in Linux's success relative to FreeBSD, but he added, "It's not just all about technology." He underscored the point that Linux has an active community behind it, not just a few people writing good software.

Although Linus looked as if he has aged a bit since August (perhaps the strain of the Transmeta rollout is showing), his genuine warmth and charismatic personality shone as brightly as ever. It was a cold morning in New York City, but the members of the Linux community warmly received their leader in their customary style. As I was getting ready to pack up my notes and recorder and make a mad dash back to the hotel to make deadline on this story, I noticed that Jon "Maddog" Hall was sitting on the floor in the aisle by the first row from the stage, playing with one of Linus' daughters as her famous father finished the opening keynote.

[Feb 2, 2000] Linux progenitor preaches balance -- Fragmentation of Linux is OK. Commercialism has been good for Linux. Everything is OK as long as money are here ;-). He also would like to avoid infighting between vendors :-)

Torvalds first tackled the issue of fragmentation, explaining to the throngs of Linux faithful that though fragmentation has been considered the "bogey man" of Unix, it is not an all together bad thing for the Linux community. 

"Most of the things about fragmentation I like, because in fragmentation you can address different markets," Torvalds said. "But we want to avoid the in-fighting between vendors." 

Torvalds blames the problems that Unix -- and more recently Java -- have encountered on the greed of vendors vying for dominance in the marketplace. By taking a modular approach, Torvalds believes Linux can succeed where other operating systems and platforms have failed. As an example, he pointed out that due to the modularity of the OS, Linux can be used in everything from a supercomputer to a refrigerator. 

"The solution to all of these problems is modularity. You don't try to solve every problem by making one huge operating system," Torvalds said. 

The next topic Torvalds tackled was the perceived chasm between the Linux development community and commercial interests in the fledgling OS. As he has in the past, Torvalds was clear that the two are not mutually exclusive. 

"Linux is often seen as being non-commercial," Torvalds said. "The real point was not to be anti-commercial but to make something that was nice to use. Technology is only as good as the user experience." 

Torvalds went on to say that the commercial element -- for example, companies such as Red Hat and IBM -- bring a balance to Linux, evolving the products and widening the user base. 

And finally, Torvalds addressed what was on everyone's mind in the long-awaited next version of the Linux kernel. He said he has been working on the new version for a year, and though the completion date had slipped, he expected the finished version to be available this summer.

ZDNet PC Week Torvalds covers the map in LinuxWorld address -- Fragmentation of Linux is OK. Commercialism has been good for Linux. Bash Java, praise Linux. What else can you expect from Transmeta front man ?  The open-source poster boy still consider himself to be a lead technical developer, but recent speeches prove that actually he is one of the top evangelists "...Fragmentation of Linux is okay. Commercialism has been good for Linux. The 2.4 Linux kernel is running just a little behind schedule".

"Fragmentation is the sort of bogeyman of Unix, but fragmentation is often good," he declared. "Most of the things about fragmentation I like. You want to have a market where everybody gets to do their own thing and where one entity doesn't control it."

Torvalds also distinguished between good and bad fragmentation, bemoaning heavily the fact that bad software fragmentation -- fueled by politics and needless feature differentiation -- still exists in the market.

"It's the same infighting, but it's over Java instead of Unix," Torvalds said. "They used to say Unix is dying, now they say Java is dying, and we want to avoid that with Linux."

Good fragmentation, on the other hand, makes it possible for Linux to run in both supercomputers and refrigerators, Torvalds said. "The key is modularity. You don't solve every problem with one huge operating system," he said, in one of many not-so-veiled references to Microsoft Corp. during the keynote.

Commercial interests help out

Torvalds also took time at the podium to celebrate the contributions of commercial interests in Linux.

"Linux is very often seen as non-commercial, having more highbrow, friendly values," he said. "And that's true, but quite frankly some companies have values. I don't see that much tension between the two.

"When I started Linux it wasn't really a good product, it was good technology, but commercial interests have been very important in bringing that balance, in making it a good product as well."

..."The point of Linux has always been to make something nice that the user can control," Torvalds said. "And frankly that's what consumer companies should strive for. ... Open source tries to move software from a witchcraft to a science. People start discussing ideas [in open-source development], and suddenly you don't have shamanistic companies telling you how it is."

Open source, Torvalds added, empowers its users: "The ability to change the way you work without having to beg for it from some unnamed company is how it should be."

...Torvalds still downplays his role in the Linux phenomenon, labeling himself lead technical developer on a project involving many developers. But he also seems to be acceding to his role in Linux' growth.

"I've been kind of forced into being the Linux poster boy, even the open-source poster boy, though I had nothing to do with that -- that was probably Richard Stallman," he said, referring to the founder of the Free Software Foundation.

But more so than in previous interviews and keynotes, Torvalds sounded prepared to take on that poster boy role. He enthusiastically addressed the big questions -- those about software development, the concept of standards in a competitive market, commercial interests and vendor politics, among other topics.

...He attributed Linux's rapid (and rabid) success compared with other projects like Free BSD to "timing, luck, a mistake, not planning," but he also said its design is perfect for the future.

"We've learned computers are just too damned hard to use," he said, talking up appliances and non-PC devices as the future.

"I think Linux is going to be big, but, hey, who am I to say?" said Torvalds. "I never saw Linux coming the way it did."


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