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Linus Torvalds Will Answer Your Questions 460

Posted by samzenpus
from the ask-away dept.
Linus Torvalds was (and still is) the primary force behind the development of the Linux kernel, and since you are reading Slashdot, you already knew that. Mr. Torvalds has agreed to answer any questions you may have about the direction of software, his thoughts on politics, winning the Millenial Technology Prize, or anything else. Ask as many questions as you'd like, but please keep them to one per post. We'll send the best to Linus, and post his answers when we get them back. Remember to keep an eye out for the rest of our upcoming special interviews this month.
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Linus Torvalds Will Answer Your Questions

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  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:33AM (#41586685) Journal
    Recently you spoke out about software patents and the patent process [muktware.com]. But I was interested in what you said about how "nasty" copyright issues could get. You use SCO as the obvious nightmare case but what about violations against open source licenses like the GPLv3 [slashdot.org]? Would you care if someone forked the Linux kernel and made major modifications to it and started selling it without releasing the code to the customers? What does your ideal situation look like for open source and commercial closed source? Would you just copy the Finnish model and aren't you afraid American experts are just as daft as American juries?
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:34AM (#41586707) Journal
    In 2007 [gmane.org] you made some rather polarizing remarks about C++. Coincidentally, Slashdot absolutely loves language wars and I seem to only find evidence that you use C based on the lack of malice and contempt I can find you publicizing on it. Do you find anything terrible about C? Conversely, do you have anything nice to say bout C++, Java, Ruby, Perl, JavaScript, Lisp, Prolog, Microsoft's languages or any other language you feel particularly vehement about at the moment?
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:35AM (#41586731) Journal
    Despite your accomplishments and some of your public comments about the dire state of American politics, you remain a resident of the United States of America. Clearly you have the clout to live where you please, why do you continue to reside in the United States [siliconflorist.com]? Assuming your answer is simply "work", if there was one thing you could change in the United States what would it be and are you doing anything to move toward that accomplishment (aside from procreating and trying to help us out that way)?
  • by Art Popp (29075) * on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:35AM (#41586733)

    I spend some time designing things in Verilog and trying to read other people's source code at opencores.org, and I recall you did some work at Transmeta. For some time I've had a list of instructions that could be added to processsors that would be drastically speed up common functions, and SSE 4.2 includes some of my favorites, the dqword string comparision instructions. So...

    What are your ideas for instrructions that you've always thought should be handled by the processor, but never seen implemented?

  • Books, Books, Books (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:36AM (#41586743) Journal
    As a software developer, I have a coveted collection of books. A few of said tomes -- both fiction and non -- have fundamentally altered the course of my life. Assuming yours aren't just man pages and .txt files, what are they?
  • The End (Score:5, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:37AM (#41586769) Journal
    Describe the end of the Linux kernel. Symbolically and/or literally, your choice.
  • by jasno (124830) on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:39AM (#41586797) Journal

    Hi Linus! Thanks for everything!

    How has getting older and raising a family changed the way you look at kernel work and programming in general? Do you see yourself still being involved in the kernel in 20 years? Do you ever just want to take a break for a few years, or do you feel like your time working on the kernel is a rest from the real world?

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:40AM (#41586817) Homepage

    Why do you think Linux has been able to (mostly) avoid the fragmentation that plagued the competing Unixes of the 1980's? What would you say helps keep Linux a unified project rather than more forked system like BSD?

  • by Type44Q (1233630) on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:41AM (#41586837)
    Linus, what are your thoughts re: the coming war on general-purpose computing?

    PS: Thank you for everything you've done, and continue to do (the world is actually full of heroes but the vast majority of them - at least in this day and age - have limited spheres of influence. You on the other hand...) ;)

  • steam (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:45AM (#41586895)

    How do you feel about steam coming to linux? one of my friends is actually the one working on porting it.

  • Frustrations (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bogtha (906264) on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:49AM (#41586973)

    What frustrates you most in the GNU/Linux ecosystem?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:52AM (#41587041)

    Hi, Linus. Thank you for your amazing work! I'm wondering what you think the big challenges will be in OS design for the next 20 years.

  • by Rob Kaper (5960) on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:52AM (#41587063) Homepage

    It's been over twenty years since the inception of Linux. With 20/20 hindsight, what you have done differently if you had had today's knowledge and experience back in the early days?

  • by davidwr (791652) on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:53AM (#41587079) Homepage Journal

    If you could give one piece of technical advice and one piece of non-technical advice to students seeking a technical career and/or early-career tech professionals, what would it be?

  • Favorite restaurant (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Nkwe (604125) on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:56AM (#41587133)
    Assuming that you are still living here in the Beaverton, OR area (or I guess even if you are not), what is your favorite restaurant?
  • by davidwr (791652) on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:56AM (#41587137) Homepage Journal

    Every registered with halfway decent karma should get several free mod points for Q&A threads like this.

  • Cooles (Score:5, Interesting)

    by needs2bfree (1256494) on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:57AM (#41587145)
    What is the coolest thing that you have heard of people doing with Linux recently?
  • by NoNeeeed (157503) <slash@@@paulleader...co...uk> on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:58AM (#41587179) Homepage

    Has there ever been a time in the development of the Linux Kernel where you've wished you'd gone the Hurd-style micro-kernel route espoused by the like of Tannenbaum, or do you feel that from an architectural standpoint Linux has benefitted from having a monolithic design?

    Linux has been massively more successful than Hurd, but I wonder how much of that is down to intrinsic technical superiority of its approach, and how much to the lack of a central driving force supported by a community of committed developers? It always seemed like the Hurd model should have allowed more people to be involved, but that has never seemed to be the case.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:58AM (#41587187)

    You've said many times that not having a specific direction or goal for Linux has been a huge advantage and is the main reason it's flexible enough to run on everything from smart phones to super computers. Do you believe that this is a philosophy suited to all projects or is it unique to the kernel? How do the requirements and design phases with formal planning fit into the open source model?

  • Joker question (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Coeurderoy (717228) on Monday October 08, 2012 @12:00PM (#41587209)

    What question was not asked or not transmitted to you and you'd really wish it was so that you can answer it ?

  • by Antipater (2053064) on Monday October 08, 2012 @12:06PM (#41587287)
    I feel it would be awesome to be married to a national-champion level karateka. What's the most badass thing you've ever seen your wife do?
  • GIT (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm (69642) on Monday October 08, 2012 @12:15PM (#41587431)

    If you had to do GIT over again, what, if anything, would you change?
    VERY closely related question, do you like the git-flow project and would you think about pulling that into mainline or not?

  • Android (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jacek Poplawski (223457) on Monday October 08, 2012 @12:16PM (#41587441)

    What is your current opinion on Android? Do you consider Android as a "Linux", "Linux type" or "Linux child"? Are you connected somehow with Android development?

  • by gQuigs (913879) on Monday October 08, 2012 @12:28PM (#41587625) Homepage

    I understand that you are completely fine with Tivoization (in that you don't want a license to restrict that), but the GPLv3 does do some other important things. As a user, I really like ending Tivoization, but I understand your position.

    More compatible with Apache and other licenses
    New ways to provide source (torrenting, the internet)
    Better path to compliance (if someone doesn't initially)
    Much stronger patent language

    More here: http://www.gnu.org/licenses/quick-guide-gplv3.html [gnu.org]

  • favorite hack (Score:5, Interesting)

    by vlm (69642) on Monday October 08, 2012 @12:31PM (#41587681)

    I asked a bunch of hard architecture questions, now for a softball Q. Your favorite hack WRT kernel internals and kernel programming in general. drivers, innards, I don't care which. The kind of thing where you took a look at the code and go 'holy cow thats cool' or whatever. You define favorite, hack, and kernel. Just wanting to kick back and hear a story about cool code.

  • BK & Git (Score:5, Interesting)

    by A.K.A_Magnet (860822) on Monday October 08, 2012 @12:32PM (#41587699) Homepage

    You were 'forced' to start working on Git as a result of Jeremy Allison's reverse engineering of the BitKeeper protocol and Larry McVoy's hostile reaction.

    At first you weren't too enchanted about the waste of time having to write your own DVSC system from scratch for lack of acceptable alternatives. I remember you complaining about that work preventing you to progress on the kernel.

    Now Git is becoming the de-facto tool for source control management in most F/OSS communities and inside companies. That's another very successful project you fathered, and while I guess Mercurial or other projects would have existed anyway, the usage of Git on the kernel has demonstrated its reliability and its performance and traction have made DVCS'es gain visibility and market in no time.

    Here come the questions:

    * Are there any features you still miss from BK?
    * As a happy Git user, I thank Jeremy Allison for his refusal to accept compromise and his tentative to create a Free BK client and I thank you for your refusal to accept a technically inferior/ill-suited solution like SVN. How do you reflect on this?

  • by copb.phoenix (1976866) <copb.phoenix@gmail.com> on Monday October 08, 2012 @12:33PM (#41587743)
    What do you believe it would take to make Linux a mainstream OS on the conventional consumer desktop? We've already seen broad enough server adoption to not have to worry about being seen there and mobile is good with Android (albeit often not realized by consumers)... So how do we get desktops finally claimed? ... Or have we missed that boat long, long ago?
  • by Vellmont (569020) on Monday October 08, 2012 @12:42PM (#41587897) Homepage

    The Linux kernel has now been developed for more than 20 years, and is in ways now part of "the establishment" since it now runs on everything from consumer televisions to mass-marketed phones.

    If you could start something entirely new, or go back and do it all over again, what would you do? You've made comments in the past about disliking visualization, since getting close to the hardware was what attracted you to the kernel. So this question is largely about what you see as the next radical change at the kernel level might happen over the next 20 years, if anything.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2012 @12:48PM (#41588007)

    This site you link to is mostly gibberish. Linus is more concise and a much better writer.

    This author views it as a logical fallacy for Linus to say that C++ is terrible because terrible programmers use it. I think to call that a "logical fallacy" misses the point - the point that in practice, it's actually true.

    The idea that criticism of common practice in the C++ community comes from ignorance is also kind of amusing. I'm no stranger to C++ personally, there are things that are great about it. I dig that templates can generate good machine code while still allowing generics at the source code level (much better performance than doing generics with function pointers and void*, like libc's qsort for example). I think RAII is great and it's interesting that the technique replicates some of the practices I already do in my C code, but with less room for programmer error. That's all good. I'm a fan of some of what C++11 brings to the table, lambdas are nice, it's good to have the whole "move semantics" to fix those annoying issues with copy constructors getting called more than they ought to.

    At the same time in my career I haven't worked with any programmers who understand these points and what they mean. I mean, I know that the "good" C++ programmers are somewhere, I see them occasionally make intelligent points on forums or hear them give talks about C++11. But I never seem to work with these people. Instead what I get are either (1) people writing C++ with a Java accent, or (2) people writing C++ with a C accent. In both cases they tend to do this poorly. The results are pretty crap to work with.

    Yes there is bad C code out there, like there is bad code in every language. The mplayer example is fair. But I don't think that's as fundamental to the language as inefficient use of STL is. How many times have you seen a programmer introduce tons of heap allocations or copies without realizing it, due to un-careful use of STL? That's a problem that C has a lot less of. Sticking to a simple language to avoid those issues doesn't seem that unreasonable to me, especially in a development model where people contribute from all over, and being able to quickly audit for bad practices is important.

  • Simple: Microsoft (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Monday October 08, 2012 @12:50PM (#41588043)
    Tell me how can we defeat UEFI and 'Windows Only' ARM devices?
  • Re:The End (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Narnie (1349029) on Monday October 08, 2012 @01:12PM (#41588353)

    Speaking of ends, one day you'll pass on your duties. How do you envision the kernel and the Linux ecosystem after passing your reigns?

  • by kallisti5 (1321143) on Monday October 08, 2012 @01:58PM (#41588945)
    You must of been burned out on Linux kernel development multiple-times over by now... how do you deal with it?
  • That sounds like a question more for Perens than for Torvalds.

    My question for Torvalds would be thus: Now that all mainstream OSes other than yours, BSD, Solaris, OSX, Windows, have a stable ABI to help make sure that drivers continue to work why do you think your way is better than all those other OSes? How can the kernel devs do QA and QC for tens of thousands of drivers when there are so few of you, so many drivers, and such a hectic release schedule? Why is an ABI such a bad thing when it seems to work for everybody else? If it is because you hope to use lack of an ABI to force drivers to be open what do you say to the fact that the most stable graphics driver in Linux is Nvidia, who is closed?

    If you are gonna ask the man questions don't play pattycake and throw softballs, give him the hard ones. While I'm sure to be modded down for asking the hard questions and I doubt anybody would have had the guts to ask him I for one would have liked to have seen if he had a truly legitimate answer or if it would have boiled down to dogma or "If things are stable then i can't tweak all I want" instead of having a legitimate programming reason why he thinks his design is better than everyone else on the planet.

  • by void*p (899835) on Monday October 08, 2012 @03:24PM (#41589881)

    Kind of a political question: I've always wanted to ask if you think your life would have gone differently had you grown up in the U.S. with similar means. Are there things about life in Finland (politically, socially, economically) that you feel made it more or less possible for you to pursue your interests and eventually develop an O.S. kernel?

  • by fotoguzzi (230256) on Monday October 08, 2012 @05:20PM (#41591087)
    Hello, Linus, Do you know the time-of-day of your birth? This would fulfill a nerdly need to contemplate by how many seconds you predate the UNIX Epoch. Thanks.
  • by twistedcubic (577194) on Monday October 08, 2012 @06:24PM (#41591575)
    Do you keep a to-do list on paper, on a computer, or do something else?

If it happens once, it's a bug. If it happens twice, it's a feature. If it happens more than twice, it's a design philosophy.

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