Linus: Partying hard over Linux 2.4
By Mary Foley
January 5, 2001
It takes guts to request comments from a developer who self-admittedly bares his teeth and "hisse(s) at reporters, most of which suddenly remembered that they'd rather cover 'Home and Gardening' than the IT industry anyway."
But here's what the father of Linux and owner of the Linux trademark, Linus Torvalds, emailed back when interrupted in the midst of his celebrations following his release of the long-awaited Linux 2.4.0 kernel on Thursday evening. (His comments have been edited slightly.)
Q: With 2.4, is Linux an even more viable contender to Unix and Windows 2000? What does Linux 2.4 have that these operating systems don't, in your opinion?
Torvalds: With questions like that, how are you ever going to write an interesting article? 'Is Linux an even more viable contender ... ?' What do you expect me to say? Give you the standard boring press-release about how we're changing the world, how we've innovated more things than those ancient Chinese dynasties with their gunpowder thing, and how everybody and their pets are going to live happily ever after thanks to the new release?
Face it, "Home and Garden" is probably more interesting. You could write about how January is a good time to plant tulips, or something (but you'd better check that fact from somebody else first--otherwise you'd probably be hit by a class-action suit from tulip-growers everywhere after they all die).
The big things that Linux brings, regardless of version, is the fact that you can tailor it to your needs, you're not bound by any particular vendor, and you can rest safe in the knowledge that there are no backdoors etc. For those big kinds of things, the new release doesn't matter one whit.
Where it matters is obviously the technology, and there's a lot of updates. Somebody has made a list of what changed since 2.2.x, but as I haven't used a 2.2.x kernel in a long time, I forget myself. Much of the 2.4.x features are just improving the infrastructure: memory management is much improved, and as a result you'll see Linux scaling better both up and down. PCi infrastructure, PnP (Plug and Play), hotplug (which covers stuff like cardbus, USB and hotplug PCI--they all share much of the same infrastructure).
Things like that are what matters to me personally: making sure that Linux continues to improve as a strong base to build on for others. There's a lot of other details, of course, like improved drivers etc, but the infrastructure stuff is what I personally care about.
Q: Are you sick to death of being the keeper of the Linux kernel flame? Any thoughts of passing the Linux kernel torch to Alan Cox (Torvalds' right-hand man who maintains and helps develop the Linux kernel) or others for a while?
Torvalds: This comes up every once in a while. Usually because somebody thinks my self-ironic postings are a sign of me being mentally depressed and constantly thinking about jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge, or something. Yes, it happened with the 2.4.0 release too (it's kind of amusing seeing the posts on Slashdot (The Linux enthusiast Web site Slashdot.org) that worry about my release posting being "a bit down"--getting a release out is anything but depressing.
But the fact is that while people don't seem to follow my humor (I know, I should really take the hint and stop), I really do like doing Linux. That doesn't mean I enjoy every single aspect of it, or that I'm constantly slap-happy about it, but it's who I am, and it's what I do.
Part of the reason I enjoy it is that I've never had any trouble letting go of the stuff I don't find enjoyable. So others handle stable release maintenance, and others handle even large portions of the development kernel maintenance--the parts that I personally don't care that strongly about.
And I'll certainly continue to 'farm things out'--having others maintain the things that I don't have the heart for. I think that a lot of the talk about the 'succession' is due to this--people see the project growing, and see other people having a large impact, and don't realize that it's already long since grown past being just 'Linus.'
For example, I didn't make a press release. I made something quotable instead, and I'll leave the real press releases to the companies and other interested parties. Maybe we'll even see a journalist that makes a story that isn't based on a press-release, but on his or her own digging and ruminations.
I hope that in another few years, people will still remember me, but they'll also consider me more of a traditional 'technical lead' person and 'senior architect,' rather than 'Mr Linux.' At that point, the worry about succession will have died out--not because it happened, but because people got over that notion of me being all that special.
THAT's what I'm aiming for. The ability to be 'just' the technical guy some day. I'm in no real hurry, and I'm convinced it will happen, so I'm not worrying. You'll just have to find the next quotable wŁnder-kid to spice up your stories ;)
Q: What are you going to do for an encore--first, to celebrate, and second, to move Linux ahead even further?
Torvalds: We'll probably have a delayed house-warming-party (yeah, it's just eight months since we moved--kernel releases aren't the only thing that are delayed at the Torvalds residence ;) with a beer- and pool-party. The 'hit the white ball with a stick' kind, not the 'swim' kind.
On a Linux front, for the first few months I will just have to try to delay the inevitable flood of pent-up patches. People want to start doing wild and crazy things immediately, when the reality is that for a few months we just need to take it calm and make sure that everything is in its place. I don't even want to plan 2.5.x or 3.0 at this point yet.
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