Interview with Linus Torvalds

Richard Morris recently took some time out to interview the great Linus Torvalds, the founder and creator of our favorite operating system, Linux. The interview is very well put together with both great questions and answers.

Here are two of my favorite Q & A’s with Linus:

RM: ‘Do you think software patents are a good idea?’

LT: ‘Heh – definitely not. They’re a disaster. The whole point (and the original idea) behind patents in the US legal sense was to encourage innovation. If you actually look at the state of patents in the US today, they do no such thing. Certainly not in software, and very arguably not in many other areas either.

Quite the reverse – patents are very much used to stop competition, which is undeniably the most powerful way to encourage innovation. Anybody who argues for patents is basically arguing against open markets and competition, but they never put it in those terms.

So the very original basis for the patents is certainly not being fulfilled today, which should already tell you something. And that’s probably true in pretty much any area.

But the reason patents are especially bad for software is that software isn’t some single invention where you can point to a single new idea. Not at all. All relevant software is a hugely complex set of very detailed rules, and there are millions of small and mostly trivial ideas rather than some single clever idea that can be patented. The worth of the software is not in any of those single small decisions, but in the whole. It’s also distressing to see that people patent ‘ideas’. It’s not even a working “thing”; it’s just a small way of doing things that you try to patent, just to have a weapon in an economic fight. Sad. Patents have lost all redeeming value, if they ever had any. ‘

RM: ‘What part of an Operating system do you think is the most difficult to write?’

LT: That’s actually an interesting question, just because my answer is that it’s never any particular part. Yes, all the details tend to be complicated too, but the real job is to make it all work together. Compared to that, any particular detail you might want to point at may be a technical challenge, but ultimately not anything that really puts people off. For example, one area that we had a really hard time with (and that still causes problems, even if it’s gotten much better) is power management and the whole suspend/resume that people do on laptops. And it was hard not so much because any particular detail was really intractable, but because it touches every single subsystem in the whole kernel (and many out in user land too!), and that was really what ended up making it so challenging.

Read the full interview here.

Are Linux Users More Productive?

I’ve been wondering if using Linux actually makes me more productive.  I can think of a few reasons why a Linux user may be more productive but I can also counter those reasons with ways running Linux can make you unproductive.  Ultimately, I think it doesn’t really matter what operating system you’re running, your level of productivity mostly depends on your motivation and what you choose to do with your time.

Why Linux users may be more productive

Linux offers a variety of command line and desktop applications for just about anything you’re wanting to accomplish.  There are all kinds of reasons people may argue that using Linux allows them to be more productive.  Here are a few I can think of:

  • Less gaming distractions – Though it’s not necessarily a good thing that Linux has no native computer games worthy enough of distracting users and bringing productivity levels down, it is indeed a fact; using Linux will definitely allow you to be more productive without the distraction of your favorite computer game icon sitting on the desktop.
  • Highly customizable – The Linux desktop is completely customizable to your liking.  You’re able to place things wherever you want, run multiple desktops, easily create scripts that automate simple tasks for you, etc.  All of these things can indeed boost a users productivity if used correctly.
  • Viruses – In Windows, it’s safe to say that a considerable amount of time is spent either blocking, removing, or preventing viruses and spyware.  It’s like walking down a dark alley in a bad neighborhood all alone, you have to be on the defensive and make sure nobody is going to jump out and get you.  In Linux, you really don’t have to worry about catching viruses over the Internet.  The fact that Linux is not as highly targeted as Windows allows you to go about your business without being on that defensive, which in turn allows for more productivity.
  • System Maintenance – On a Linux desktop there really is not much system maintenance that needs to be performed on a regular basis.  With the exception of security updates and recommended application updates on a distribution like Ubuntu, you really have no required maintenance that you have to perform.  On an operating system like Windows XP or Vista, if you want your system to remain running seamlessly you’re forced to do things like defrag your hard drive.  If you have a large hard drive, you know that defraging completely halts all other productivity as you really can’t do anything else while the defrag is taking place.

Additionally, here are a few tools and applications in Linux that help productivity:

  • BASH
  • Tab completion
  • APT
  • GNU/Screen

Why Linux users may be less productive

Just as there are a lot of arguments as to why Linux users may be more productive, I can think of reasons why Linux users may produce less.  Lets take a look at a couple reasons Linux users may be less productive.

  • Tweaking and Customizing – Just as it can allow you more productivity, the ability to customize and tweak your Linux desktop can also work against you.  I can count how many people in the community I speak with that are obsessed with tweaking their desktop over and over.  This is a real productivity killer and can become an addicition for some.
  • Learning and exploring – Sometimes a new Linux user can find themselves getting lost in the exploration and learning process Linux.  Once you start understanding Linux you tend to want to know more and more about how everything little thing works.  A great example of this is that you are wanting to do some scientific research for a school project, so you install an application you found on the web, open it, but it crashes.  Now you’re in investigative mode and trying to find out why it is crashing.  Checking logs, checking mailing lists, searching forums, etc.  Eventually a few hours have gone by and you really haven’t accomplished what you set out to do even if you do indeed get the application up and running.

Overall, it’s my opinion that productivity comes from the user and not the operating system.  All operating systems and distributions have the tools and the ability for you to create a producitive work environment, it’s simply up to you to do so.

How To Explain Linux to a Windows User

Theres been a question I have seen on multiple occasions both on the “How do I explain Linux to a Windows user” end as well as the “What is Linux?” question. That got me thinking.. what is the best way to explain Linux to a normal Windows user who has never heard of Linux? Have you ever been using a laptop in a public place, or have someone over at your house, and you’re running Linux and someone asks you why it looks different? Do you take the easy way out and say “it’s Linux, it’s like Windows but different!” or do you actually explain what Linux is? Here are some ideas of getting the message across as easy and straightforward as possible.

Explaining Linux to a Windows user

Here are a few ideas you can put together to help you explain Linux:

  • Every computer has an Operating System. Windows is an Operating System. So is Linux.
  • Linux was written in the early nineties by a college student name Linus.
  • Linux is not owned by any one person.
  • Linux is free, unlike Windows. Most people pay the Windows fee when they buy the computer that comes “pre-installed” with Windows.
  • It’s fun to use.
  • You have complete control of all aspects of the operating system.
  • It’s “look and feel” is completely customizable. You can make it look like Windows or you can make it look unique.
  • You can’t use all of the same software applications that you use on Windows, but there are alternatives to windows programs.
  • If your computers primary use is for playing popular computer games, hold off on installing Linux.
  • Linux is secure and practically virus and spyware free.
  • It can be a lot faster than Windows with the right setup and configurations.

How do you explain Linux to a Windows user?