The Standards Blog

Spend Some Time with Linus: A Linux Foundation "Open Voices" Podcast

Open Source/Open Standards

Yesterday, the Linux Foundation posted the first in what will be an ongoing series of podcasts with open source leaders, visionaries and pioneers.  The interviews will each be conducted by LF Executive Director Jim Zemlin, and naturally, the first interview is with Linus Torvalds.  Appropriately, the series is called, "Open Voices."   In this first podcast, Linus shares his thoughts on Life the Open Source Universe, and Everything.  Here are a few samples (I'll add more later in this blog entry):

Regarding Linux on the desktop:  “The Linux desktop is why I got into Linux in the first place. I have never, ever cared about really anything but the Linux desktop… I don’t worry about the desktop on a technical level because I think that’s the first thing that most kernel developers will really put their efforts in.”

On patent trolls: “Yeah, they’re kind of like the terrorists that you can’t bomb because there’s nothing there to bomb. There are just these individuals that don’t have anything to lose. That breaks the whole cold war model and seems to be one of the reasons that even big companies are now starting to realize that patents and software are a really bad idea.”

Other topics include the Linux development process, including internationalization; the commodization of the desktop; cracking the code for Mobile Linux; GPL3; OpenSolaris,  the future of Linux, and much more.

The concept behind the podcast series is to spread the word more widely about what open source software is, and why it matters.  By providing access to the big thinkers, shakers and movers, we hope that people who are less familiar with the virtues and relevance of Linux in particular, and open source software in general, will begin to get more comfortable with it.

This follows naturally from LF's mission (disclosure: I'm legal counsel to LF, as well as a Board member and its Director of Legal Standards Strategy), which is to protect, promote and support the Linux ecosystem, and also from its unique position at the intersection of everything that goes on in the open source world.  First, of course, there are our many profit, non-profit and government members.  But we are also in constant contact with the leaders of all of the key community and supporting organizations, both in the US and abroad. 

As we are fairly well funded, we can also provide various types of support that the community needs, from providing Linus with a salary, so that he can do what he does best without being distracted by other concerns, to providing legal support to the kernel developers, to reimbursing travel expenses for key developers, so that they can participate first hand in activities around the world where code happens.

So the podcasts fit in rather naturally, as we have both access to the visionaries, as well as a bully pulpit from which they can share their views.  Or, as Jim Zemlin puts it in a press release issued last night:

The Linux Foundation is in a unique position – we have the privilege of talking to the leaders of the open source movement on a daily basis.  Why not share what we learn with everyone? This podcast will bring everyday people into the world of the technical and business open source luminaries we’re lucky enough to work with every day. We’re thrilled to have Linus participate in our debut podcast.

Future podcasts in the series will include interviews by Jim with Novell President and CEO Ron Hovsepian; Marten Mickos, CEO of MySQL; and Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of the Ubuntu Project, among others.

Due to its length, the Torvalds interview has been split into two parts, one of which is available now, together with a full  transcript.  The second half will be posted in two weeks.

Finally, here are a few more outtakes to whet your appetite until you have time to log in and download the entire podcast:

Jim Zemlin: Do you see Linux, the development of Linux as something of a greater cause?

Linus Torvalds: No. No, not to me; I mean, to other people it is. I mean, it’s actually one of the things I found to be interesting is how people use Linux in ways that I didn’t start out designing it for and sometimes use it for things that I really don’t care about personally that much.

And all the usage where people use Linux for third world countries and helping humanity, some people think that’s why I got into it and, no, that’s not why I got into it and the credit should go to projects like OLPC that use Linux to try to better the world in a bigger picture.

To me it’s being – I think it’s very interesting and, I mean, when I say it’s – what drives, motivates me is the fun part. I mean, part of being fun is that it should be difficult enough to not be trivial. So, fun doesn’t mean that it’s frivolous; it just means it’s interesting and exciting.

<snip>

Jim Zemlin: Let’s look a level deeper at the social interaction because open source is often described as this sort of democratizing process that, you know, everyone has a say, there’s this grand consensus, but at the end of the day, needs to be some sort of decisiveness when it comes to making decisions. How do you deal with that?

Linus Torvalds: Well, I mean, it’s really not a democracy at all and some people call it a meritocracy which is not necessarily correct either. It’s – I have a policy that he who does the code gets to decide, which basically boils down to there’s a – it’s very easy to complain and talk about issues and it’s also easy for me to say, ‘You should solve it this way.’

But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is actual code and the technology itself and the people who are not willing to step up and write that code, they can comment on it and they can say it should be done this way or that way or they won’t, but in the end their voice doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is code.

And it turns out people are lazy, so most people are much happier just arguing and quite often you only have one set of – one example code and there’s not a lot of real choice there. You – there’s not a lot of people who are competent enough to really do kernel programming and also not lazy enough that they actually get the job done.

So, occasionally it turns out that we have two pieces of code that actually do the same thing or similar things in different ways and then you get to the situation where somebody has to choose and quite often it’s me and that can cause some social issues with that too. It’s actually fairly unusual.

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Comments

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Well, we have a lot of corporations who (I think) are very nervous that a judge or other 'organ of state' might stop them from engaging in businesses that they would like to engage in.

For example, I don't think Microsoft's greatest fear is about money. I think it's about the possibility that they might be prevented from exporting from USA to Europe; or prevented from selling to small-and-medium businesses in Europe.

IBM might not want to sell Personal Computers or OS/2 any more; but that's a commercial choice IBM made (because it wasn't very profitable), not something that was forced on IBM by an external administrator.

"Access to markets" is important.