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Torvalds' Secret Sauce For Linux: Willing To Be Wrong (ieee.org) 273

An anonymous reader writes: Linux turns 25 this year(!!). To mark the event, IEEE Spectrum has a piece on the history of Linux and why it succeeded where others failed. In an accompanying question and answer with Linus Torvalds, Torvalds explains the combination of youthful chutzpah, openness to other's ideas, and a willingness to unwind technical decisions that he thinks were critical to the OS's development: "I credit the fact that I didn't know what the hell I was setting myself up for for a lot of the success of Linux. [...] The thing about bad technical decisions is that you can always undo them. [...] I'd rather make a decision that turns out to be wrong later than waffle about possible alternatives for too long."
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Torvalds' Secret Sauce For Linux: Willing To Be Wrong

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  • He's too modest. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by religionofpeas ( 4511805 ) on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @12:50AM (#51805511)

    I'd rather make a decision that turns out to be wrong later than waffle about possible alternatives for too long

    Linux was successful because most of his decisions turned out to be right. The guy is a genius.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Or maybe he's not that brilliant, just a bloody good engineer, but he simply has no tonnes of useless management and marketeers with No Clue pulling him back and forcing him to implement great viral ideas like internet in things or database file system (yes, i am referencing windows future file system) ;)

    • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @07:05AM (#51806421) Homepage

      Linux was successful because most of his decisions turned out to be right. The guy is a genius.

      I'm not sure decision-making is really his big thing. The first reason Linux was successful is that he's a doer, there's plenty of flag-wavers that want to lead other people but who couldn't get a kernel project off the ground if their life depended on it. Linus is more like the first soldier charging, everyone else coming up from behind. Git is another fine example of this, if you know exactly what you want then just do it yourself. You don't wait around for someone else to write it for you. Obviously this is also a bit of luck with timing, but it's still not a common quality.

      The second reason is that he managed to let go, so many people when they create something it's their baby and they want to control everything about it. I'm sure he was as opinionated as ever, but he wanted patches and mailing list discussions. That's why he got talked into using the GPL, it would have been easier to just sit in a corner and say I'm working on it, leave me be. And it never would have become more than a little hobby project by a CS student that'd die when he got a job or girlfriend and couldn't commit the time.

      The third reason and maybe biggest is that he never started getting into business or politics, I remember him saying something like that he's building the best kernel he can make and if that'd dethrone Windows it'd be a wholly unintentional side effect. Which means that he's not taking guidance from marketing and sales on making an ABI so you can have proprietary blobs so you can increase revenue or go off evangelizing like RMS, to him the kernel is the ends not simply a means to an end.

      Also I'm sure he could have become a CxO somewhere if that's what he'd wanted, but he never wanted the suit. Now many engineers don't want that, but a lot of us would do it anyway if it came with a fat paycheck. As far as I know he's not anyone's boss, the only authority he's got is final say on what goes into the Linux kernel tree. And he's always focused on having a vendor-neutral position, you don't get to hire him and tell him what to do next.

      The fourth reason is that he managed to delegate, I've seen people stretch themselves thinner and thinner as the project grew and just burned themselves out. It might come naturally to a manager whose main job is delegating anyway, but it's always hard for a person who likes to know the details to accept that you can't be everywhere in every discussion reviewing every line of code. I think trust comes hard to Linus, he's erred on the side of caution and found conservative maintainers that are in it for the long run though he might have lost some good but impatient talent along the way.

      He's always come across to me as a very pragmatic kind of smart, I think "street smart" would be undervaluing it but not the kind of academic 150+ IQ kind of smart. Just a fairly straight forward engineer who will dead-end discussions he won't have or arguments he won't accept in a blunt and occassionally rude way. I'm not sure his decisions are the best, but he's pretty good at cutting through the fluff and getting to the core of the issue. I wish I could do that in my job, no one hour meetings to "discuss" things. Give me the 30 second elevator pitch and I'll tell you if it's worth bothering with. Sigh, a man can dream...

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I'm not sure decision-making is really his big thing.

        This was the money quote:

        I'd rather make a decision that turns out to be wrong later than waffle about possible alternatives for too long."

        All of the great leaders I have worked with have had this capability. Most of the great developers I have worked with have been like me - always wanting one more fact, one more bit of information. I'll mull over a difficult decision for a long time trying desperately to make the perfect decision.

        I worked with a CEO

  • openness to other's ideas

    I see what you did there, timothy. I bet you don't.

  • I'd rather make a decision that turns out to be wrong later than waffle about possible alternatives for too long.

    Lovely... That's how we get major changes of things like the audio subsystem; default schedulers that (suck, and) keep changing and getting more tweaks; spinning through one just-slightly-better file system after another; breaking binary compatibility over and over again; constant incompatible changes to better suit some random person's idea of what minor feature is worth completely upending dec

  • Willing To Be Wrong

    It goes without saying, but it's ok to be willing to be wrong provided you have some skills and a clue of the issues you need to deal with. Otherwise, you are just a morbidly fat walrus flapping on dry land.

  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Wednesday March 30, 2016 @09:27AM (#51807209)
    Considering he's never been wiling to admit when he's wrong.
  • The Victor Hugo quote about nothing being more powerful than an idea whose time has come is, to me, the story of Linux.

    In the '90s we had the beginnings of the internet, so people could collaborate in ways they had never done before. We had commodity PC hardware that could do interesting OS things. More.

    My first Linux system was a 486/66 with Slackware 96 back in 1997. It worked fine. I use Slackware to this day on my own computers. The standard at work is CentOS. So be it.

    ...laura

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. -- Thomas Edison

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