Linus Torvalds: On Nvidia, Google and Security (video)

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.

“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, 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.


    • Thank you for reading and commenting, James Van Damme.

      I agree with you there. But too many people are paying a LOT of money for licenses on software that can be a pain as well. MS server software is always having bad behavior with IIS in my opinion.

      -RAP, II

  • Great article Ant!

    I’ve worked in Enterprise IT for, well, longer then I care to admit :-)

    While techs like us have been trying to push Linux for years, Corporations just are not ready for it. I’ve found the main reason being that “open source” scares them a bit. Companies want some kind of guarantee that the software is secure, works, and will be productive. When it’s not, they need it to be fixed ASAP. Support agreements cover that. A high level exec wants to be able to pick up the phone and get a resolution right away and you can’t always do that with open source.
    However, since use of iPhones and Droids are becoming more common place in the office, I’m seeing more acceptance of solutions that are not 100% Microsoft based.

    • Hey there, Dan Phillips. Thanks for reading and your comment!

      Open source isn’t as fast as we’d like for it to be for sure. Even with folks on the Red Hat vers of Linux with support. But I gotta tell ya, I just laugh when our two admins have to reboot a Windows box versus a Linux box. The Linux box just comes right back up within minutes with Apache. Not so much on the Windows side with IIS. ;)

      -RAP, II

      • I totally agree. In a perfect world, you should never have to reboot the Linux server at all. In fact, all the admins that I’ve worked under have told me that a reboot should only be done as a last resort. 

        I am interested to see what Server 2012 will be like. It seems that during the install you have the option to run a Power Shell, or command line, version only. This really interests me because a GUI on a server is just not needed. I don’t want to think about how many times I’ve been trying to access Services but have to wait for some animated menu or wallpaper to load. 

    • If they buy their Linux either from SUSE or RH, then they are buying from a global corporation that’s accountable, that can provide 24X7 support and fix issues that come up – probably more so in the case of Novell/SUSE.  It’s really no different than buying from MS, say.

      • Hello Mr_Zarniwoop,
        Thanks for reading and your comment.
        So the expensive costs of RH support equates to MS licences in your opinion?  I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to call on RH for support. But their rates are astronomical for support. 
        -RAP, II

        • I’m not saying it directly equates. I’m just saying that those in IT management who feel insecure unless a large software corporation supplies them their software and support, can always go to RedHat or SUSE. So as far as that goes they really don’t have a good argument not to use Linux or other OpenSource software.

  • Hey there, Jay McKinsey.
    My question is, will it just continue to dominate there or will it ever have a shot at the desktop community?
    Thank you for reading and I appreciate your comment.

    -RAP, II

    • Classic. He said it around the 48 minute mark of the video.  He’s well-known for being a brutally honest and blunt guy.  Still funny to see someone of his tech stature saying something like that publicly. 

      -RAP, II

  • IMO the lag in hardware support is only part of the reason for the limited success of Linux on the desktop. The divergence between the application interfaces in different distros is real obstacle to wider adoption. It’s well beyond time that the file structures, application interfaces and install formats were harmonized between distros, so that you don’t get the current situation where for example, an app that say installs and runs on RH won’t on Ubuntu. At least not unless you’re pretty tech savvy at a deep level, enough to modify, recompile or rebuild the app/package. Yes, I know the complexities that need to be overcome, but given some willingness on all sides, they can indeed be overcome.