June 22, 2021

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Linus Torvalds Reflects In New Interview on Linux’s Earliest Days

Linus Torvalds Reflects In New Interview on Linux’s Earliest Days

Linus Torvalds gave a long new email interview to Jeremy Andrews, founding partner/CEO of Tag1 (a global technology consulting firm and the second all-time leading contributor to Drupal). Torvalds discusses everything from the creation of Git, licenses, Apple’s ARM64 chips, and Rust drivers, to his own Fedora-based home work environment — and how proud he is of the pathname lookup in Linux’s virtual filesystem. (“Nothing else out there comes even close.”)

But with all that, early on Torvalds also reflects that Linux began as a personal project at the age of 21, “not out of some big dream to create a new operating system.” Instead it “literally grew kind of haphazardly from me initially just trying to learn the in-and-outs of my new PC hardware.

“So when I released the very first version, it was really more of a ‘look at what I did’, and sure, I was hoping that others would find it interesting, but it wasn’t a real serious and usable OS. It was more of a proof of concept, and just a personal project I had worked on for several months at that time…”

This year, in August, Linux will celebrate its 30th anniversary! That’s amazing, congratulations! At what point during this journey did you realize what you’d done, that Linux was so much more than “just a hobby”?

Linus Torvalds: This may sound a bit ridiculous, but that actually happened very early. Already by late ’91 (and certainly by early ’92) Linux had already become much bigger than I had expected.

And yeah, considering that by that point, there were probably just a few hundred users (and even “users” may be too strong — people were tinkering with it), it probably sounds odd considering how Linux then later ended up growing much bigger. But in many ways for me personally, the big inflection point was when I realized that other people are actually using it, and interested in it, and it started to have a life of its own. People started sending patches, and the system was actually starting to do much more than I had initially really envisioned….

That “anybody can maintain their own version” worried some people about the GPLv2, but I really think it’s a strength, not a weakness. Somewhat unintuitively, I think it’s actually what has caused Linux to avoid fragmenting: everybody can make their own fork of the project, and that’s OK. In fact, that was one of the core design principles of “Git” — every clone of the repository is its own little fork, and people (and companies) forking off their own version is how all development really gets done.

So forking isn’t a problem, as long as you can then merge back the good parts. And that’s where the GPLv2 comes in. The right to fork and do your own thing is important, but the other side of the coin is equally important — the right to then always join back together when a fork was shown to be successful…

I very much don’t regret the choice of license, because I really do think the GPLv2 is a huge part of why Linux has been successful.

Money really isn’t that great of a motivator. It doesn’t pull people together. Having a common project, and really feeling that you really can be a full partner in that project, that motivates people, I think.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.