Linus Torvalds interview: Linux and the future of computing

By Graeme Burton
17 Dec 2012 View Comments
linus-torvalds

Q. What do you mean by timing?

Further reading

Just being in the right place at the right time. When Linux started, the internet was just getting to be widely enough deployed that you really could reach a lot of people, and at the same time cheap PC hardware had grown up just sufficiently that there was a real need for something like Linux.

As Linux grew more used and more powerful, the embedded market was also growing up and noticing that the CPUs they used were getting pretty powerful, and quite often being connected was a big deal - and where vendors had sometimes just built their own OS from scratch, people started noticing that they really needed a fully networked solution... Suddenly "just throwing something small and simple together" didn't work - you needed a full-fledged operating system.

So Linux has continued to find new areas where people noticed that they really needed something like it - and, hey, it's free, well known, and you can modify it for your own needs.

Q. How many Linux users are there in the world?

I can only point to some very high-level statistics...

On desktops, Linux has had a hard time cracking the 1 per cent mark, although some of the web analytics companies now put it at around 1.5 per cent. That's still a fair number of users, but it's definitely been the toughest market to get into.

In cellphones, Android is one of the dominant players. I don't know what the percentages are these days, but it's quite big. And in supercomputers, Linux last year was apparently running on 91 per cent of the computers on the Top 500 supercomputer list.

Q. How do you see the future for your invention and do you have any ambitions for it?

I've never been a "visionary" - I don't really worry too much about the future, the thing I tend to worry about is actual technical issues. My goal has always been to just make sure the technical side of Linux (and other projects I've been involved in) have been as solid as possible.

Of course, some of that involves trying to imagine what hardware and usage-scenarios will become, and a fair amount of it is about making sure that the technical underpinnings are flexible and maintainable enough that we won't have problems in the future. But it's really not the kind of "vision" for the future that I think you were thinking of. I really don't know what people are going to use Linux for, but I do know that we're doing our best to make sure that it all works very well technically.

Obviously, I do have high hopes and ambitions. I want Linux to be the obvious choice whenever somebody comes up with some new cool technical gadget, and are looking around for the core operating system to run on it. People used to make jokes about even toasters having computers in them in the future and while that still is something of a joke, if it ever happens, I hope that toaster will be running Linux.

Q. To what degree are you personally involved in driving these Linux ambitions forward?

It's still something I do every single day. I no longer spend all that much time actually writing code, but I'm what I'd call the main "technical lead" for the kernel. I spend a lot of time reading and writing emails, and merging the code that others have written. 

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