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Q&A: Linux founder Linus Torvalds talks about open-source identity

By Rodney Gedda
January 22, 2009 12:00 PM ET

A lot of what made Microsoft successful in the '90s is gone. There is a reason why people don't think they are successful anymore, but hey, I don't have a business model at all!

Another area where Linux is used extensively is in hosted software or "cloud computing," where users don't have access to the source code. Is this a good or bad thing? It is to some degree inevitable, as within certain classes of software it's the only model that makes sense. Look at Google Maps. It does not make sense to have it on a device. The whole idea is to have it on the cloud because the information is huge and "out there." If that means the user never sees the source code, it's not something you complain about. I'm happy with Linux being used for that.

Projects that are specifically designed for software as a service in the back end, and only the output of the project is what gets distributed, then use the Affero GPL. Linux is not that project.

One of the problems I had with GPL Version 3 was it was possible to add Affero-like extensions, and "license creep" happened, which can make future versions of software license incompatible with previous versions.

Another open-source project that underwent a big change was KDE with Version 4.0. They released a lot of fundamental architectural changes with 4.0, and it received some negative reviews. As a KDE user, how has this impacted you? I used to be a KDE user. I thought KDE 4.0 was such a disaster, I switched to GNOME. I hate the fact that my right button doesn't do what I want it to do. But the whole "break everything" model is painful for users, and they can choose to use something else.

I realize the reason for the 4.0 release, but I think they did it badly. They did so may changes, it was a half-baked release. It may turn out to be the right decision in the end, and I will retry KDE, but I suspect I'm not the only person they lost.

I got the update through Fedora, and there was a mismatch from KDE 3 to KDE 4.0. The desktop was not as functional, and it was just a bad experience for me. I'll revisit it when I reinstall the next machine, which tends to be every six to eight months.

The GNOME people are talking about doing major surgery, so it could also go the other way.

How is life at the moment? Are you enjoying work at the Linux Foundation in Portland, Ore.? I'm all happy with my life. The reason I come to Linux.conf.au is it is summer here and freezing in Portland. My job is the same, and I do the kernel and nobody tells me what to do and they pay me for it, which is just the way I like it.

Are you going to say 2009 is the year of the Linux desktop? I make controversial statements without thinking a lot. I'm not going to say it's the year of the Linux desktop, as it is a small encroachment process. But look at what Firefox has achieved and how it is creeping up on Windows. It is important projects like Firefox and OpenOffice.org are spreading the whole notion of open source wider. They work cross-platform, and the project shouldn't be tied to the platform. People will realize the lack of tie-in means you can chose a platform, and that is much healthier from the market standpoint than having to make a platform decision for an application.

In a fair market, Linux will have a much easier time competing.

Reprinted with permission from Computerworld Australia Story copyright 2012 Computerworld New Australia. All rights reserved.
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