Interview with Linus Torvalds -- "On Being Linus" (page 6)

Interview with Linus Torvalds

Apr 9, 2001

Q: When you look at Linux as it is now, obviously it's a major part of the infrastructure for companies. There's an industry that's grown up around it. Do you feel that it's still your baby? Or do you feel more like that you're the father of the bride who has just given his daughter away?

A: Some of both. For example when I go to a big Linux conference, say LinuxWorld or something, I don't feel like, hey, I did this. [LAUGHTER] Quite frankly when you walk on the floor it's so far off from anything I did. At that point I feel like hmm, okay, that was my baby and it grew up. But at the same time when it comes to the technology, the kernel itself, that part is still mine. Not all of it because I've always tried to not get in the position where people get irritated at me for being in the way. I control some parts of the kernel and for other parts there are other people who are better at it than I am, then they're maintainers of that part. But certainly the core functionality of the kernel itself is still my baby.

Q: One impression I have, even though you have all these journalists coming by to interview you, is that you really like to value your privacy. Have you ever regretted giving the name Linux to the operating system?

A: No. That was a good thing. That may not have been planned either. I had a plan for calling it Freax. As in "freaks" but also in "free." And I thought I'd call it Freax just because I thought Linux was a bit too egotistical. However, the name Linux stuck. I have a few people I can blame on that. [LAUGHTER] But I'm really happy it stuck because it's a good name. It's a lot better name than Freax which would have been hard to accept in a commercial setting. I think it made things easier from a PR standpoint, especially two years ago when people were talking about Linux versus Microsoft. It made it so much easier to personify Linux as me, Microsoft as Bill Gates. Good against Evil kind of thing. Which made it much easier to write stories. Which shouldn't really matter, but it does, for journalists. The only part I've ever disliked about Linux, is I'm not very good at giving talks. That's the only part that I'm kind of actively trying to get out of. It's not that I try to keep my privacy. It's more that I try to do the things that I find interesting and most of them tend to be staring at the computer for 10 hours a day which kind of implies that I don't want to be that public a person.

Q: Now that Open Source has really become an accepted software development style, looking at the next five to 10 years, how do you see the future of it?

A: The future won't be all Open Source. That's clear. I think it's going to be one accepted way of doing things, and it will take over in certain niches, especially in niche markets where you don't have a lot of economics of scale. I mean developing software is really expensive. It is only cheap to copy. So if you want to make money on software, you have to sell millions and millions. That's obviously what Microsoft does. And so in small projects, in niche markets, I think Open Source has the best leg-up, and then what tends to happen is that once you've found one niche, it kind of tends to spread just because it can. And I think that's going to be the pattern in most areas. I personally think that the only really hard market to break into is the desktop. And that's partly because of Microsoft and being such a good position from the marketing standpoint. But I think equally because the desktop inherently is a very hard market to enter. Because you have a lot of people who don't even like computers and they've already learned this one system and they don't want to change. They may hate the system and the computer, but they would hate it even more to have to learn something else. So that's one reason why the desktop market is always the hardest. Apple has shown it and IBM has shown with OS2 that it's usually easier to enter just about any other market. And that's true of Open Source too. I think that the big advantage that Open Source has and the thing that makes it different from OS2 and Apple, is basically that competition happens on a different level. When you try to go face-to-face with Microsoft on a commercial battleground, you're going to lose. There is no question about that. So you have to change the rules and do something different in order to not lose. And Open Source does that. I'm not saying that Open Source will win. I think it will actually, but it's going to take a long time, just because the market is hard.