Torvalds: I want to be the best

Feb 05, 2008

The Linux Foundation has published part 2 of its interview with Linus Torvalds. The Linux founder talks about patents, Microsoft, Sun, Linux on the desktop and the future of Linux without Linus.

If you ask Linus Torvalds, software patents are always a bad thing; something that major corporations use to threaten their competitors. Due to the complexity of the material with millions of lines of code, enterprises are still fairly reticent about litigation. They mainly deploy their arsenal of patents to protect themselves against claims by competitors, says Torvalds in the interview. But this is not the case with software trolls, who do not produce a single line of code themselves. Because they do not have products of their own, you can't strike back. "There are these individuals that don’t have anything to lose", Torvalds explains, going on to say that they typically go after the big money. Torvalds believes: "that breaks the whole cold war model and that seems to be one of the reasons that even big companies are now starting to realize that patents and software is a really bad idea."

Torvalds also views Microsoft's verbal attacks on the Open Source community as more of a threatening gesture: "I think that Microsoft really sees patents as a marketing thing." Asked if he thinks that Microsoft really takes its interoperability claims seriously, Torvalds didn't want to draw any conclusions saying that he believes that many Microsoft staff really want to improve interoperability, but that there was much opposition at the same time. "The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing", is his final judgment on the the behavior of large companies.

Linux Foundation's Jim Zemlin then turned to the subject of competition, with Linus Torvalds commenting: "I’m a huge believer in competition. I think it’s really important, as a way to motivate people. It’s certainly how I get motivated. I want to be the best." Torvalds then went on to qualify this statement saying that he did not seek to compete with other operating systems, but wanted to be the best in Linux. After the Linux inventor had clarified his stance, Zemlin asked Torvalds about Linux in the pos- Linus era. Torvalds laughs, "When I get Alzheimer’s? Are you saying that I’m already starting to lose it?", before going on to reassure the faithful: "I wouldn’t worry about me or Andrew [Morton] or Alan [Cox] or anybody else going away because if you have a wide developer base, there’s always somebody."

The interview is part two of a conversation that Linux Foundation boss Jim Zemlin had with Linus Torvalds. The talks are part of a series of interviews with Open Source personalities, published under "Open Voices" on the Linux Foundation Website.

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