“I decided I wanted to have Unix at home, and how hard could it be?”
Linus Torvalds, Linux inventor
Linux OS creator Linus Torvalds went candid at Finnish Aalto University recently, tossing Fbombs at NVidia, talking about Google and generally ranting on a variety issues with throngs of students, professors, developers and aspiring entrepreneurs and Linux geeks gathered there. Aalto University is partnered with Helsinki University and Torvalds was a Helsinki student when he accidentally created Linux.
If you’re reading aNewDomain.net, you may already have an idea on what Linux is and how it was developed. Those of you unfamiliar can note that Linux was created to be a free operating system openly developed by a community of developers. By this, it’s meant that if anyone wants to contribute to the kernel’s code, they can.
The rule is the source code cannot be sold for profit under the GPL license. Torvalds sincerely enjoyed the Unix operating system of old and as a computer programmer for over half of his life, he became curious on how he could make Unix better fit his needs. Thus spawned Linux. I previously mentioned he accidentally created Linux, by this I mean that Torvalds did not develop this OS to be something as big and widely used as it is now. It was a personal project that took on an organic life of its own.
By no means am I an uber geek when it comes to the Linux operating system, but I’m a huge fan of the OS — preferably the Ubuntu distribution. During the question and answer session of Torvalds’s visit to Aalto University, the Linux creator discussed how the OS was framed originally to be more of a hard core geek culture all the way down to the lowest level of the code. Torvalds even discussed how the original boot disks were paired to use one disk that was the binary version of the kernel for boot up, and then the second disk for the file system. “Init is too fancy. We only need a root shell and that’s it. That’s how real men do things,” says Torvalds in the Q/A session.
The session wasn’t just about how Linux and the development community’s birth, but it was about where is the Linux OS is going tomorrow. Several questions were asked regarding current and future state of the operating system and how it will be used more and more. Currently the Linux penetration has been primarily on the world’s web servers and enterprise internal servers. The operating system is free of charge therefore company margins are at an advantage. Linux is also doing very well on the world of Android smart phones. “I started Linux as a desktop operating system, and it’s the only area where Linux hasn’t taken over,” says Torvalds. He continued to speak on the topic stating jokingly, “You said it (Linux) had some success in the mobile operating system. Google’s last numbers were 900,000 new activations every day. That’s not some success.” The question is why isn’t the free operating system not dominating the desktop space?
This could lead to other questions. Is it because computer manufacturers are reluctant to offer Linux preinstalled on their merchandise? Is it because the manufacturers feel consumers don’t desire the operating system? Or is it because consumers are afraid of the user experience and have become used to the world of Microsoft’s Windows? Quite a few debates could be argued with the desktop computing issue. Today’s use of the computer isn’t the same as it was 20 to 30 years ago. At one time, the owners of personal computers knew the pc would not perform unless it was programmed to run commands. For example, I remember my first computer as a kid. It was the Mattel Aquarius personal computer. This computer was pretty much useless until I opened the program manual and typed in the commands to make it “do something.” If not, all I would have seen was a cyan-colored screen with a cursor on it. Can you imagine that type of home computing experience today? Consumers want things done now and sometimes faster than now. Programming is only done by professionals and hobbyists, not consumers.
Let’s hypothetically say the Linux operating system penetrates enterprise on the desktop level. Does this mean the enterprise feels it’s beneficial in margins to save money on software license costs and put more into training costs? I personally don’t feel this will happen for the Linux OS. As much as I love the OS’s usability, I can see where other users would have issues utilizing the prepackaged software for an enterprise environment. Software such as Libre Office and Open Office. Torvalds realizes there are challenges such as user acceptance hindering larger desktop penetration, but it’s not limited to just the user base. The enterprises as well as pc manufacturers have to work with the Linux development community also. Items regarding security and hardware compatibility have to be addressed. Proprietary drivers such as those found in audio cards and most importantly, graphics cards. Torvalds, being the seriously blunt person he is, “pointed his finger” squarely at the Nvidia corporation during the same Q/A session. “Nvidia has been one the worst trouble spots we’ve had with hardware manufacturers,” says Torvalds. As a Linux user that owns an Nvidia graphics card, I can feel Torvalds’s frustration. Getting the 3D graphics drivers to properly work was quite a challenge for me. Fortunately, forums and the Linux community were available to get my graphics card working properly. Granted, Nvidia isn’t the only manufacturer that has been challenging for the Linux development community, but Torvalds has now clearly documented which manufacturer is his biggest challenge.
Is Linux destined to be the OS of the web server and mobile device platforms only? Will super computers prefer the Linux kernel? What can the Linux community do to gain more ground in the desktop platform? I’m curious to know what non-geeks and other geeks think of this operating system and its use cases. Leave me a comment below with your thoughts and opinions. Will Cardwell’s interview with Linus Torvalds as well as the Q/A session can be seen in its entirety here.