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Interview: Linus Torvalds discusses Linux

Torvalds discusses Microsoft and open-source future

And the thing is the commercial concerns from the very beginning, even when they were small, were really very important. The commercial distributions were what drove a lot of the nice installers, and pushed people to improve usability etcetera, and I think commercial users of Linux have been very important in actually improving the product. I think all the technical people who have been involved have been hugely important, but I think that the kind of commercial use that you can get with the GPLv2 is also important - you need a balance between pure technology, and the kinds of pressures you get from users through the market.

So I don't think marketing can drive that particular thing: if you have a purely marketing (or customer) driven approach, you end up with crap technology in the end. But I think that something that is purely driven by technical people will also end up as crap technology in the end, and you really need a balance here. So a lot of the really rabid 'Free Software' people seem to often think that it's all about the developers, and that commercial interests are evil. I think that's just stupid. It's not just about the individual developers; it's about all the different kinds of interests all being able to work on things together.

Lots of researchers made millions with new computer technologies, but you preferred to keep developing Linux. Don't you feel you missed the chance of a lifetime by not creating a proprietary Linux?

No, really. First off, I'm actually perfectly well off. I live in a good-sized house, with a nice yard, with deer occasionally showing up and eating the roses (my wife likes the roses more, I like the deer more, so we don't really mind). I've got three kids, and I know I can pay for their education. What more do I need?

The thing is, being a good programmer actually pays pretty well; being acknowledged as being world-class pays even better. I simply didn't need to start a commercial company. And it's just about the least interesting thing I can even imagine. I absolutely hate paperwork. I couldn't take care of employees if I tried. A company that I started would never have succeeded -- it's simply not what I'm interested in! So instead, I have a very good life, doing something that I think is really interesting, and something that I think actually matters for people, not just me. And that makes me feel good.

So I think I would have missed the opportunity of my lifetime if I had not made Linux widely available. If I had tried to make it commercial, it would never have worked as well, it would never have been as relevant, and I'd probably be stressed out. So I'm really happy with my choices in life. I do what I care about, and feel like I'm making a difference.

Didn't you fear you would lose intellectual property when you released Linux?

I didn't think in those terms (and still don't). It was never about intellectual property, it was about all the effort I had put in, and it was about the project being something personal. But yes, I was a bit worried that as a totally unknown developer in Finland, somebody would decide to just ignore my license, and just use my code and not give back his changes. So it worried me a bit. On the other hand, what did I really have to lose?


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