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Is Linus Torvalds Speaking for Linux Anymore? 417

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the try-not-to-have-an-aneurysm dept.
An anonymous reader writes to tell us CNET is currently running a story asking 'Is Linus Torvalds even speaking for Linux anymore?' It examines both Torvalds' recent public statements on other operating systems and his current approach towards Linux. The author wonders if his utopian view of how an operating system should be viewed and used is just too alien from what the majority of users are really looking for. "if it were up to Torvalds, beauty and intuition would take a backseat to functionality. But when you look at distributions like Ubuntu or OpenSuse, it looks like no one is paying attention. 'An OS should never have been something that people (in general) really care about: it should be completely invisible and nobody should give a flying [expletive] about it except the technical people.' Sure, that statement makes some sense, but in the grand scheme of things, it's the design and usability factor that makes the operating system much easier to use. And while both Mac OS X and Windows have their issues, for the average person, it makes more sense to use those than Linux."
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Is Linus Torvalds Speaking for Linux Anymore?

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  • FUD alert (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Captain Splendid (673276) * <capsplendid@gm3.1415926ail.com minus pi> on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:38PM (#22352718) Homepage Journal
    One of the replies [cnet.com] in the comment thread of TFA sums up the response we'll see in this thread rather well IMO:

    No, the truth of the matter is that Linux was originally developed because some kid in Finland wanted a better Unix clone on the 386 than Minix could provide. The "counter-culture" happened because he wasn't alone in that desire and so people joined in on Linux. Linux quickly gained popularity because at the time BSD was embroiled in a legal battle with AT&T and the FSF/GNU were completely unable to get their Hurd kernel out the door.

    No one person in the open source community speaks for the entire community - most everyone speaks for themselves. There are a few people who can speak for individual projects (such as Linus and the Kernel) but no one can speak on behalf of everything. A few people have claimed that they speak for everyone, but they're just being deluded (and I say this on behalf of everyone in the open source community :-).

    More CNET FUD if you ask me. Although I'd probably do the same thing in their position. After all, their business is closely tied to the PC and, to a lesser extent, the Windows OS, so for every bit of ground gained by Linux, they can either risk losing relevance or have to expend time and money keeping up.
    • by d34thm0nk3y (653414) on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:44PM (#22352828)
      From the summary:
      'An OS should never have been something that people (in general) really care about: it should be completely invisible and nobody should give a flying [expletive] about it except the technical people.'

      It sounds like this Linus guy should focus his energy on the Linux kernel then huh?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ShieldW0lf (601553)
        'An OS should never have been something that people (in general) really care about: it should be completely invisible and nobody should give a flying [expletive] about it except the technical people.'

        That may be true, but until someone writes open source psychic device drivers, they will continue to be obliged to do so. It's still necessary to tell your OS how to interact with your hardware, and the tools you use to do so are just as important as the kernel.

        • Re:FUD alert (Score:5, Insightful)

          by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday February 08, 2008 @08:05PM (#22356004) Homepage Journal

          I think the point is that the only things the user should ever have to see are the task switcher, task launcher, and their programs. We don't have this kind of thing today because... hell I don't know. Too many proprietary standards? Too much greed, leading to them? Too many idiots spoiling good things? A combination of all these and more, I guess. I don't think there's any conspiracy. But we have had some great stuff, like on the Amiga computers where you had great autoconfiguration, a fast (compared to the CPUs of the time) bus and a flat memory model. Drivers in controller rom, and a microkernel-based OS where it was easy to load them. Or on the OpenFirmware (and earlier relatives) based systems, where you have forth-based drivers in controller ROM, good enough to get the system up and running anyway. Very classy. Unfortunately the PC won, the least advanced platform in pretty much every way. I'm not getting into CISC vs. RISC because as we all know you can argue that one either way, all day, and every mainstream x86-ish processor since the AMD K5 has been RISC or at least fairly RISCy anyway... but I think most can agree that the x86 ISA is ugly, the legacy PC hardware is ugly, the PC BIOS is ugly, and the PC is just now beginning to leave those things behind with EFI gaining steam, the ISA buses having dropped completely out of most systems, and so on.

          *Whew* Anyway look at the pattern in computing today, it's away from computers which are even convenient to change the hardware in! Sooner or later we won't even have replaceable parts any more, you'll just throw the whole computer away when it fails. Well, there really is no "away", really it will just be recycled. The whole system including the main storage will be in one big integrated circuit, probably inkjet-printed onto a piece of plastic, and with a battery glued on. The user won't even be able to change hardware, aside from adding on USB (well, hopefully it won't be USB any more) dongles and whatnot. There will probably be precious little of that as well, with most or all peripherals communicating wirelessly. So the user isn't going to ever think about drivers - the peripherals will communicate via standard protocols and won't even have their own drivers. And more and more people are excited about PDA-type devices since Apple finally delivered one that people want to use, and you generally just run one program at a time on such devices. The user of an iPhone or a PDA doesn't care what OS is beneath it as long as they can do the things they want to do. And most users of an iPhone in particular will never feel the lack of any application not delivered to them directly through the menus or a website. So why do they care about the OS?

          The job of the operating system is to permit the user to do work (whether that work is actual work, or having fun, whatever.) The more the user has to interact with the OS itself, the less the OS is doing its job, and the more the OS is asking the user to do the job. I should never have to think about emptying the trash, for example. I should just be able to delete things, and the OS figures out which ones to remove and when. What fucking year is it anyway? Is there ANY operating system that behaves that way? I don't mean prompting me when I'm about to run out of disk space and I have stuff in the trash, either.

    • Re:FUD alert (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Annirak (181684) on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:47PM (#22352886)
      On top of the FUD above, CNET has likely confused the Window Manager with the OS. Beauty and intuition absolutely should take a back seat to functionality in an OS. Not so in a Window Manager, there it is important for beauty, intuition and usability to come to the forefront, which is what projects like compiz-fusion are all about.
      • Re:FUD alert (Score:5, Insightful)

        by X0563511 (793323) on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:52PM (#22352992) Homepage Journal
        Mod up insightful!

        The operating system itself should almost never be touched directly by the average user. The look/feel of the system however is not a part of the operating system itself, the "beauty and intuitiveness" is the responsibility of the GUI system (in linux, Xorg + Gnome/KDE/XFCE/etc)
        • by mcubed (556032)
          So you're implying that "Ubuntu" or "Fedora" are not "operating systems," in that they shouldn't be "touched directly by the average user"? Aren't you confusing "operating system" with "kernel"?

          If I use Ubuntu, am I not using an "operating system"? Shouldn't I, as an average user, be able to customize the look, feel, and functionality of said operating system?

          If not, it's no wonder that Linux has made very little progress on the desktop.

          • Re:FUD alert (Score:4, Insightful)

            by X0563511 (793323) on Friday February 08, 2008 @05:01PM (#22353944) Homepage Journal
            That really depends on your definition of "Operating System".

            I'm inclined to agree with this definition [reference.com].

            operating system
            -noun Computers.
            the collection of software that directs a computer's operations, controlling and scheduling the execution of other programs, and managing storage, input/output, and communication resources. Abbreviation: OS
            [Origin: 1960-65]
            Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
            Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.


            In other words, the software that lets other software use the hardware. So, unless one was troubleshooting, programming, or engineering, I fail to see why the average user would be working directly with the Operating System.

            My personal view is that Microsoft/Apple have poisoned the term "Operating System" to mean something entirely different: The distribution of programs with an operating system. For example: Windows, Ubuntu, Fedora, and MacOSX are all collections of programs bundled with the operating system.
      • On the other hand, a perfectly intuitive OS in a sense IS a completely invisible one.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by cheater512 (783349)
          Tech support phone call:

          "Hello? I can't see my operating system. I think its invisible. Can you help me?"
      • Re:FUD alert (Score:5, Insightful)

        by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Friday February 08, 2008 @04:17PM (#22353362) Homepage Journal
        Where the confusion comes in is that, at one time, 'operating system' referred to what we generally think of as a 'kernel' today, and 'operating environment' is what we applied to desktop GUIs. Then, one day, some stupid company named 'Microsoft' comes around and releases a product called 'Windows', making ludicrous claims that the 'operating system' and the 'GUI' were the same thing!

        Unfortunately, this misnaming kinda stuck and Apple renamed its 'system' software to 'MacOS' and IBM and Microsoft released something that, together, they called 'OS/2'.

        So now people think of 'Linux' as being an 'operating system' including things like what would come with 'Ubuntu': Gnome, X11, etc. Thing is Linux is the 'operating system' in the sense that it is a kernel. 'K/X/Ubuntu' is a complete package, containing an 'operating system', some 'system software' (GNU stuff, etc.) and an 'operating environment' consisting of one of [ Gnome | KDE | XFCE ].

        This is what 'Windows' is, but Microsoft calls it an 'operating system'.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by siride (974284)
          It's been a long time since an OS has been just a kernel. You have to remember all the kernel threads, system libraries and system daemons that are practically required for the system to run at all. Windows has a number of processes and libraries that are core parts of the system and cannot really be removed (ntdll.dll, csrss.exe, lsass.exe, etc). Mac OS X is the same. None of this includes the GUI, which really should be considered part of the OS. The only reason Unix people don't like that is for his
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by spitzak (4019)
            After all, in Unix, terminals and other IO devices are a part of the core OS

            Oddly enough, this is one of the worst aspects of Unix design and easily disproves your whole argument. In fact the Unix tty interface is the perfect argument why gui should *not* be in the system!

            An intelligent system would have made the tty driver deliver the bytes unchanged directly as the user typed them to the application. Line editing and echo and so on would be done by the process.

            On Unix it is an incredible pain to get the t
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Exactly! Windows and OSX are not OSes, they are both software distributions around an OS. Ubuntu is a user-friendly software distribution around a Linux Kernel + GNU OS facilities. The CNET guy either does not know what an OS is or worse, plays with the fact of Linus talking about the mere OS and extrapolating his words to the whole software distribution package, which is insane.

        The only thing I can agree in this sense is that recent distros like Ubuntu (but not only), have attracted some people who don't
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mikechant (729173)
          I've been a Linux user since RedHat 4.1, and even then, distros made a hard effort in order to be user-friendly. The trend has never changed. The results have **improved a lot**, just because this is what Open Source is about: no regressions are imposed, software just can get better.

          I started at RH9 and found it interesting but no substitute for Windows in even a primitive multimedia way.
          I persisted with FC2 and it was a bit of a disappointment - still poor hardware support and multimedia support was not ac
      • by DancesWithBlowTorch (809750) on Friday February 08, 2008 @04:44PM (#22353736)
        Sorry, but it's not FUD. FUD is short for "fear, uncertainty and doubt". None of the three is being spread by CNET in this case.

        Come on guys, English is not my first language. Try and keep it consistent for people like me. Call it "CNET is writing rubbish", or something more vigorous.
        • by happyfrogcow (708359) on Friday February 08, 2008 @07:14PM (#22355560)
          Come on guys, English is not my first language. Try and keep it consistent for people like me. Call it "CNET is writing rubbish", or something more vigorous.

          I propose an acronym for this behavior, much like FUD... that is "CNET". and it stands for "CNET: Nothing Except Trash". Phoenetically, you can say it as "Seen'it, nothing except trash." making it more suitable for things outside of CNET.

          kthxbai
      • by jd (1658)
        They've confused the kernel with the distribution (Linus has never cared about distributions much), the window manager and the GUI with the OS, the applications with the supporting mechanisms, the I/O with the internals, the implementation with the specification, the client-side with the server-side. This makes playing Operations II: Geek Surgery far harder than necessary and raises questions as to whether they can sing "Dem Bones" correctly.

        There are many things I think should be improved, from the kerne

  • Hey Don Reisinger (Score:4, Informative)

    by FudRucker (866063) on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:40PM (#22352750)
    STFU, you don't know a damn thing about the politics & semantics of FOSS & Linux & Linus Torvalds...
  • by SoupGuru (723634) on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:41PM (#22352776)
    It's too bad this Linus guy's direction becomes set in stone and we're stuck with a very rigid product that can't be modified to suit our individual needs.
    • You can grab a copy of the kernel repository, history and all, and take his place in a SoupGurunix fork.

      If you think that is not going to work well, you might want to thik why?

  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:41PM (#22352778)
    They choose the OS to run the apps they want on the hardware they want.

    So Linus seems to still be completely accurate in his opinion.
    • by Jugalator (259273) on Friday February 08, 2008 @05:42PM (#22354474) Journal

      They choose the OS to run the apps they want on the hardware they want.
      So Linus seems to still be completely accurate in his opinion.
      I agree, and I think one way to turn their argument "if it were up to Torvalds, beauty and intuition would take a backseat to functionality" on its head is to ask oneself -- where would Linux be today if Linus had the opposite stance? I think it would be much more like Windows, with GUI components in the kernel for cheap graphic performance at the cost of a piss poor design that can and likely will lead to security holes and instability.

      One contributing reason to why Linux looks and functions as well as it does today is because the kernel/OS designers have focused on the actual OS, and the graphic designers and GUI developers have focused on their thing. Linus is perhaps not a good GUI designer. Why not let him do the thing he enjoys most? This is an open source OS. Linus doesn't even need worry about the GUI, because there's very little of that tied into the Linux kernel. If Linux becomes popular enough, it'll attract the human-computer interface designers that enjoy doing that sort of development as much as Linus enjoys working on the kernel.
  • by jon3k (691256) on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:41PM (#22352780)
    " Sure, that statement makes some sense, but in the grand scheme of things, it's the design and usability factor that makes the operating system much easier to use."

    No.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Correct. If you want to talk about design and usability, go talk to the GNOME people, the KDE people and the FreeDesktop.org people. That's their department. Linus is just in charge of the kernel, a tiny subset of a complete operating system distribution that end users never see and never directly interact with.
    • by BobMcD (601576)

      " Sure, that statement makes some sense, but in the grand scheme of things, it's the design and usability factor that makes the operating system much easier to use."

      No.

      Um, YES! For the LOVE OF GOD "YES"!!!

      If you have even an inkling of trying to convince my boss, my wife, or my grandmother that they have to select their operating systems and GUI's independently, please do me a favor and STFU.

      Certainly to any computer-nerd-extraordinaire, Richard Stallman, and a handful of others, there is a difference. To most everyone else, there is not.

      Unless you'd like to see Linux doomed to back-end purposes forever, please keep your semantics to yourself. Once it goes mainstream,

      • by jon3k (691256)
        Whether or not you can grasp the difference doesn't change a thing. Not understanding nuclear physics won't make it cease to exist.
        • by BobMcD (601576) on Friday February 08, 2008 @04:30PM (#22353546)
          That's true. This is also true: Requiring end-users to know nuclear physics will absolutely ensure that your customer-base consists entirely of nuclear physicists...

          • by jon3k (691256)
            I'm sorry I must of missed the part where I insisted they be able to distinguish between the two. Maybe you could point it out for me?

            I'm just here to shoot down ill-informed "journalists". I'll be in the back if you need me again.
  • Wtf? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:42PM (#22352800)
    Torvalds never said anything about what anyone 'should' view operating systems. He talked about how he views them, and talked about how he appreciated how people use it in new ways. What's wrong with you people?
    • Re:Wtf? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by zappepcs (820751) on Friday February 08, 2008 @04:08PM (#22353246) Journal
      the same thing that is wrong with the article's author, and many other people. They believe that the OS/kernel **IS** the whole thing. Many cannot differentiate applications from the Windows OS if they had to. They simply do not remember when Window was a DOS APPLICATION and not sold complete with an OS bundled inside it.

      Linus speaks about the kernel, and well he should.

      Now, go talk with the Gnome developers or KDE developers about their piece...

      OS? Yes, all the stuff that lies between the desktop and the kernel...

      Thanks to MS not many people can imagine having to install an OS, then a windowing system, then a browser, then a ..... you get the picture
  • "The truth of the matter is Linux was originally developed to abandon the idea that beauty and "hand-holding" was necessary to create a great operating system and it became somewhat of a counter-culture."

    There is a difference between great (as in good) and great (as in popular). The two are not always synonymous. The world is full of examples where the best, or good choice wasn't alway the popular choice due to a number of circumstances. Linux needs to find a way to be both if it wants to become dominant.
  • by nweaver (113078) on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:44PM (#22352838) Homepage
    Please remember, Linus is primarily a kernel maintainer. He's responsible for the under-the-line stuff that makes it such a great server OS.

    But the user experience is largely the purvue of the Distros, their window managers, application suites, etc. And Linus is right, these are a disaster.

    But saying he's divorced is silly, its never been his area of expertise or the area where he works.
    • They are not a disaster. They surely could be better, but you can say that of any piece of software. But they are certainly not a disaster.
    • by Chemisor (97276)
      > "Beauty" and "Intution" are not in Linus's hands

      They are! Except that Linus is not talking about applications. If you look at the quotes in the article you'll see that he is talking about the superiority of the Linux programming environment, not anything an average Joe is thinking about. As a programmer, I certainly agree that he is right; Linux is a far better development platform than Windows and MacOS. No, I'm not talking about KDE; I'm talking about the OS interface, the UNIX way, the filesystem AP
  • He spoke for Linus. That is fine Linux is FOSS so anyone can take a copy of the source and make it into anything they want as long as they keep the GPL.
    Ubuntu is different from Openfiler is different from DSL, which is different from RHEL... Yet they are all Linux.
  • Linus writes/maintains the kernel last I checked. It's not the kernel that makes an OS easy to use, as the Mach Kernel isn't drastically different from an API standpoint, but OSX is much easier to use.

    If we think Linux is hard to use, why not blame the people who write the higher level utilities rather than the kernel itself?
    • by jbeaupre (752124)
      The simple answer is people people who have heard of linux are more likely to have heard of Linus Torvalds than anybody else. You get your name associated like that, you get blamed for the whole thing. Dig deeper and you learn he's not controlling the whole thing. But who wants to bother learning who wrote the snippet of code in the window manager contributed in 2002 that is causing your headache. So Linus still becomes the lightning rod / scapegoat / spokesperson for everything.
  • by riley (36484) on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:46PM (#22352864)
    I don't think the term "Operating System" mean the same things to all people.

    Linus was talking about the things that truly are invisible to the average user: the API, the filesystem, etc. Not the user interface. When you are speaking about operating systems with someone who has written one, it must be realized that all the terminology is not the same. Ubuntu is a distribution of linux, with a lot of work put into the UI. That is a good thing, but it is not the same thing as talking about device drivers.

    OS X is, at that level, a BSD operating system, with a really good UI and a sort of half-assed filesystem (no flames, I use OS X boxes, and they work well, but the filesystem is really from an earlier era).

    There is nothing that keeps the functionality of the low level OS from the elegance of a well crafted UI.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by aneviltrend (1153431)

      I agree with the parent. Too many people confuse the idea of an OS with the standard suite of applications that are shipped with it. When users say that they like the Windows OS or the Mac OS, what 99% of them mean is that they like the applications shipped with it. These applications include the window manager, mail software, file explorer, and others.

      Linus is stating that the OS itself should take a back seat and be invisible to the user. And, ironically, this is why many people choose to use Windows an

    • don't think the term "Operating System" mean the same things to all people.

      Linus was talking about the things that truly are invisible to the average user: the API, the filesystem, etc.

      Filesystems? I use a microkernel you insensitive clod!.

      I do agree with you, OS X's filesystem is archaic at best. I dropped OS X after it decided to outsmart me on defragging my drives. Thanks for hosing my backup drive when the power went out because you thought it was a good idea to be defragging. Well done.

  • by wile_e_wonka (934864) on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:46PM (#22352866)
    My understanding of Linus' comment was that the operating system (Linux) should be invisible--he didn not say that distributions shouldn't have a UI.

    In other words, Ubuntu, for example, is trying to make Linux appealing to an average person. They aren't, therefore, going to distribute the Os without a UI. The operating system in Ubuntu should be (and mostly is) invisible, and the user is interacting with Gnome or KDE or XFCE or whatever.

    Ubuntu, then, I would say, is not departing from Linus' philosophy--they give you several choices of user interfaces through which you can do what you want with your computer, while the OS does the work invisibly.

    What am I missing here. Computer World MUST know more about this than me.
  • by corsec67 (627446) on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:46PM (#22352876) Homepage Journal
    Linux is just the kernel, right? GNU/Linux would be an operating system.

    Ubuntu is an Operating System, that uses the Linux Kernel.
    So is Gentoo, RedHat, CentOS, Mandrake, etc...

    Is Linux From Scratch [linuxfromscratch.org] easy to use? I would say "not really"
    How about Ubuntu [ubuntu.com]? (Ubuntu, in the live disc, was able to recognize and use the wifi card and odd screen resolution on my laptop [slashdot.org], so it very much gets my vote for "easy to use")

    Does Linus speak for Red Hat, Novel, and SuSe? I wouldn't think so, unless he has invested enough in those companies to have a large enough share of the stocks.

    Of course Linus speaks for Linux, since he is in charge of which patches get accepted into the stock kernel.
  • Someone far more friendly and flexible should speak for Linux. Someone like Richard Stallman, known far and wide for his friendliness and flexibility.

    (Do I really need to add the

    </sarcasm>
    tag?)

  • 2 words (Score:3, Informative)

    by watzinaneihm (627119) on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:49PM (#22352938) Journal
    Dear CNET Kernel!=OS
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:50PM (#22352964) Homepage Journal
    Of course Torvalds speaks for Linux - the kernel. That's all he controls, with his trademark on "Linux" and his undisputed control of what is released in the kernel. So when he speaks, he speaks for that with authority.

    He doesn't speak for any distro, never did, never claimed to. But that's part of the problem with calling, say, Ubuntu "Linux". Most of Ubuntu, or Red Hat, or aN4rCHi$tOS, or any other distro, is not the kernel. It's a lot of other software that's compatible with a Linux kernel it relies on. Most of which is usually GNU software, with its own spokespeople - who often disagree fundamentally with Torvalds. The people running those distro projects speak for them. And therefore they speak for what people call "Linux" more than Torvalds does.

    And when they don't speak for someone who disagrees, that person is free to make their own "Linux" and speak for it.

    I know the corporate mass media can't understand that kind of community ownership and independence. But Slashdotters should be able to tell the difference.
  • by SlashdotOgre (739181) on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:53PM (#22353018) Journal
    The author seems to not be making a distinction between the Linux kernel (which Linus obviously can and should speak for) and the GNU/Linux distributions. While Linus' influence on the way major distributions package the OS may be minimal, he has a direct impact on the guts of them as long as he remains head of the kernel. He has direct control over how and when major changes (eg. udev, KVM, sysfs, ABI changes, etc.) get implemented into the 2.6 kernel which has a direct impact on the distributions. Personally I've disagreed with some of his opinions and I'm definitely not alone (eg. Con Kolivas), but to see his opinion doesn't matter for Linux is completely naïve and short sighted.
  • Makes sense (Score:2, Troll)

    by Bombula (670389)
    Seems like what Torvald is saying is that the OS should be distinct from the interface - GUI or otherwise. That makes good sense in principle, but whether that's a practical marketing goal or not is questionable.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jugalator (259273)
      I think it's a good marketing goal. It has made it comparably easy to give the users the choice of desktop environment, and if they don't care, they can just pick Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS or some newbie friendly distro and not care about it.
  • the OS isn't seen by them, they're looking at applications running on top of the OS. User interface isn't the same thing as OS.
  • by cats2ndlife (995125) on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:54PM (#22353030)
    Linus Torvalds and others have said time and time again that the operating system he and the tech people speak of is the kernel of a distribution that end-users really shouldn't care about. Ubuntu, OS X, Windows are just "distributions" of a mixture of applications on top of a kernel (i.e OS). End-users are shielded from all the applications' (Gnome, KDE, OO.o, FF) abstractions built on top of kernel. It is in this sense that Linus believes that users shouldn't care about the OS (read as kernel) because it is expected to "just work". I think this pretty much wraps up the debate here. Go home now, nothing to see here.
  • I think most people hate their computers a lot of the time - spyware, rootkits, viruses, crashing apps, etc.

    Linux isn't taking shortcuts for usability, but rather building the desktop the right way, on a solid secure foundation without compromises. It's the long hard path, but when it gets there, I think it will win out in the end.
  • Infrastructure (Score:2, Informative)

    by SkipF (1139911)
    Linux is a kernel, not an operating systems. Tack on GNU and you have some pretty good functionality. Add X or xorg and you get pretty pictures. Rip the fabric off your couch and you find a great deal of comfort has been sacrificed for functionality. You can also find $2.73 in loose change and some old peanuts. Ubuntu isn't Linux, it's the pretty fabric stretched across a framework of functionality. -Skip
  • Linus is right. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pathway (2111) <pathway@google.com> on Friday February 08, 2008 @03:58PM (#22353112)
    Linus is right. Linux (The kernel) should be invisible to the end user. Gnome and KDE should be concerned about what the user sees.

    --Pathway
  • by cfulmer (3166) on Friday February 08, 2008 @04:01PM (#22353142) Homepage Journal
    Unfortunately, the world has been corrupted by Microsoft's bizarre definition of an "Operating System." The following are applications, not part of the OS:

    1. Freecell
    2. The web-browser
    3. Media player Player
    4. e-mail client

    Because MS has distributed these things with its operating system and, with a straight face, asked why the web browser wasn't part of the OS***, people now have a kitchen-sink view of the OS. I think Linus takes a minimalist view to the OS.

    *** Many of the Windows/IE security issues can be traced back to the integration of IE into the operating system.

    • by imsabbel (611519)
      Actually, i think you got it backwards:

      Isnt it the typical Linux distribution (i.e. kitchen-sink style) that creates the image that everything from kwrite over amorak to to gnumerik somehow belongs to the Linux-"OS"?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by fonik (776566)
        To the end user, the OS is all the stuff that came in the OS retail box. Applications are things that they have to purchase in a store or download off a website. Now, Linux distros come with package managers. The user doesn't ever have to download an install file or purchase another cd. It's not surprising that new *nix users assume that the whole kitchen sink is "Linux".
    • Unfortunately, the world has been corrupted by Redhat/Ubuntu/Novell's bizarre definition of an "Operating System." The following are applications, not part of the OS:

      1. GNU chess
      2. Firefox
      3. Totem
      4. Evolution

      Because Redhat/Ubuntu/Novell has distributed these things with its operating system and, with a straight face, asked why the web browser wasn't part of the OS***, people now have a kitchen-sink view of the OS. I think Bill Gates takes a minimalist view to the OS.

      *** Many of the Linux/Gnome security issu
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by n0dna (939092)

      Yet on a clean install of Ubuntu, there will be instances of Gaim, Epiphany, and a handful of media players that cannot be removed with the Add/Remove tools provided by Gnome.

      The same situation occurs with Kubuntu with mainstream obvious changes in the default unremovable software.

      These can be removed with apt at the CLI, however doing so also removes the entire desktop environment.

      While technically these aren't pieces of the "Linux OS" any more than Freecell and IE are part of Windows, they're still

  • by PPH (736903) on Friday February 08, 2008 @04:06PM (#22353220)

    Perhaps the writer of TFA doesn't understand the s/w business in general or the Linux business in particular.

    Linus (should) speak to his customers, the "technical people" who build the distros or some other product where they need to get down into the nuts and bolts of the O/S.

    Each of these "technical people", the creators of Ubuntu, OpenSuse, or some product with embedded Linux needs to speak to their customers in turn. That's the beauty of Linux. Its a tool that can solve multiple problems without bothering the end user with the details of the underlying implementation.

    Off-topic bit starts here:
    That's why Google succeeds and Mic-Yah-ro-hoo-soft will fail. Microsoft expects all of its consumers to be immediately aware of the existence of the Microsoft brand name in all of their interactions with third party applications. Google, OTOH, does quite a bit of business with third parties, but in many cases, its difficult to tell unless you happen to watch the browser status bar when a Google domain name zips by, loading an ad. Most third party vendors don't want their market presence prefixed by a big, flashing banner Brought to You by Microsoft: and then their business name below that in small print.

    Its the same with the Linux kernel.

  • Define 'beauty' (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Zollui (1230734) on Friday February 08, 2008 @04:07PM (#22353242)
    The command line by itself has a classical, austere beauty.
  • by DarkBlackFox (643814) on Friday February 08, 2008 @04:09PM (#22353282)
    The author of TFA's assumption is that Linus is "The Big Cheese" (TM) of all things Linux, and as such has influence over everything carrying the name. The big thing the author doesn't get is that Linux isn't one entity- it's the sum of a bunch of smaller entities working together. The kernel is different from the boot loader (grub/lilo), which is different from the graphical server (X), which is different from the desktop manager (kde/gnome), which is different from all the other apps running on top. The people that package it all together into distributions make it a usable operating system- Ubuntu, Red Hat, Mandriva, etc.

    Linus doesn't really have any direct control over the distributions themselves, at least in terms of what features or programs they choose to bundle with the kernel to make usable. As such, there are distros specialized for just about every possible use- as a general desktop, server, embedded, small footprint, low power, etc. The versatility comes as a result of how the kernel was designed, even if it wasn't specifically designed for versatility.

    It's time the Linux community finally wakes up and decides which way it will turn -- towards its roots or towards the features that the general public really wants. Until then, we'll have the old guard spewing their ideals, while the momentum of the operating system carries it away from its very foundation.

    There are distributions going both ways- simple and complex. Look to something like Ubuntu/Kubuntu for a more windows-esque desktop experience out of the box. Look to something like Slackware to get "towards it's roots." The biggest strength of linux is that it isn't pinholed into one specific use or expectation, as the author asserts it is/was/should be. He doesn't "get it."
  • form or function (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PureCreditor (300490) on Friday February 08, 2008 @04:10PM (#22353288)
    Unix/Linux/BSD people wondered for years why the mainstream wouldn't adopt their OS, or open source for that matter. How would you expect a normal person to compile their own programs via command line input of a software they have to download at distribution sites? Heck, I have a masters in CS from a Top 10 compsci university in the US, and sometimes I wonder if i have all the library files I need to make the gcc work flawlessly. End-users dont have time for that. KDE and Gnome has been around much longer than MacOS X, and yet Mac's interface beats either of them hands them. Apple proved to us that given the right interface, people WILL embrace Unix. People are not anti-open source, but they're very much anti-command-line.

    Another good example is mobile devices. Palm and Microsoft had YEARS of experience on how to refine their mobile experience. They have barely made incremental UI changes since their first release. Apple managed to put Unix in a handheld and make it so easy to use that it doesn't even come with a manual.

    While I respect Torvalds to a great degree, he shouldn't engage in his form/functionality debate. He's the expert at making the OS internals flawless. Let other experts figure out how to turn his masterpiece into a usable design. Please don't try to mix filesystems designers with graphic designers.

    And on a final unrelated note, to counter Torvald's argument that HFS is crap, we've been reading for nearly a year that Apple is ready to adapt ZFS. Once MacOS defaults to ZFS, it'll trounce any existing form of ext3. He really should be comparing the merits of ext3 against ZFS, the future, not the past. Otherwise we might as well discuss the Minix one too =)
  • It is not Linus' fault that people think Operating System = GUI = window manager = kernel. This said, it is probably not CNET's fault that they think so as well, even though you would expect some better technical knowledge from them...
    • ...it is probably not CNET's fault that they think so as well, even though you would expect some better technical knowledge from them...
      Not really. They've been trained to think that browser DLL's and ActiveX components are somehow part of the operating system.

      Wait... You mean they are???
  • by earlymon (1116185) on Friday February 08, 2008 @04:15PM (#22353336) Homepage Journal
    Typical CNET logic: Proclaim Linus' preference that beauty and intuition would take a backseat to functionality - and the problem that they have with this - wait for it - that the design and usability factor (sic) are more important, therefore Win and OS X are better for people than Linux, and from this - or as if it is in support - we arrive at Linus possibly no longer speaking for Linux.

    Brilliant. Just brilliant.

    I didn't RTFA and I'm not going to RTFA. Whenever I hear logic like this, it makes me reach for my revolver.

    And while I'm in the mood, don't get me started on how CNET isn't really complaining about Linux, it's GNU part - you know, the part that seems to be always denied by not using the proper name, GNU/Linux, but always gets trundled out as a defense mechanism.

    I hate the smell of bad logic. I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

    And for anyone tempted to not get it - this post isn't flamebait. It's a retaliation against the slagging my intelligence was just given.

    Maybe I'd be in a better mood if the summary went, "An anonymous reader laughed his fucking ass off when he saw this crap, and thought - correctly - that any of us in a bad mood might find fun in slagging CNET. Here's their latest proof that journalist with IQs below 50 can get a job at CNET - because they know their market: ..."

    Yeah. That's the ticket.
  • But remember... (Score:2, Insightful)

    Torvalds created the movement (intentionally or not), exactly because he was doing something DIFFERENT. An alternative to the mainstream. If linux becomes mainstream, then who will be the rebel?

    Remember, the world is changed by rebels, not the folks in the mainstream.
  • ... please do not feed the troll?
  • Look, the idea is doomed to die once fulfilled (XP vs Vista, anyone? MS just in dead end). If Linus still sees obvious ways to improve his code and sees ways to improve for other ppls code, this becomes good driving force for innovation. Everyone benefit from this, when men like Linus want to scratch their itch.
    "Linus speaking for Linux" argument only can be in some half-blocked mind. Linus doesn't think in terms of Linux - he's the creator of Linux, he'd to think above this level and this is good, it's the
  • I don't think Mr. Torvalds is so much making statements regarding the importance on the various parts of the deliverable's "gestalt" as he is that an OS should be an independent layer. I think it's been demonstrated that a properly abstracted stack (hw, kernel, supporting o/s binaries, IPC, display manager, windows manager, desktop manager, etc) is a more sustainable model than a monolithic one over the long run. I'll leave it as a reader exercise to decide which OS's have done it right and which have learn
  • by kimvette (919543) on Friday February 08, 2008 @04:26PM (#22353482) Homepage Journal
    Ease of use is what makes me really love Linux.

    Note I did not say ease of configuration: I have run Linux off and on since it had to be installed from a 7-floppy image, and that was back in 1992 or 1992, downloading them using kermit (OUCH!) over a 1200 baud modem. It was HARD to use then - hardware support was lacking, etc.

    When the slackware CD distribution came out I ran that - I could get a very basic desktop running, but 8-bit only. By that time VLB was all the rage. and I had the infamous Diamond Stealth 32 VLB card. The ET4000 server would not run with this card because of some proprietary extensions to it, so I learned enough x86 assembly (I had come over to the PC from the C= and Amiga computers and programmed assembly on those) to write a utility which would probe the card's registers with various values, respond to keystrokes, and log the results. I finally figured out what needed to be set and I patched the X server to work - and had 24-bit color in X! I should have submitted that code and utility to the project but at the time I didn't know I could contribute to OSS projects.

    Anyway, it was a pain in the ass to configure. Once it was configured, it was a pain in the ass to use. I had to view images from the command line? Launch GUI programs from the command line? If I wanted a menu, I had to edit a slew of poorly-documented .rc files? I liked FVWM over the alternatives and considering the state of Linux at the time my desktop was pretty slick, but it was by no means easy to use. I learned a heck of a lot on that system. When Gnome came out I ran gnome, on Redhat (and later Caldera Linux - don't laugh, at the time Caldera Linux was pretty good, and Caldera had not morphed into SCO and become spawn of Satan yet) - and thought KDE sucked wind (at the time it did).

    Then, I went from a job which was 100% windows to one that was 150% windows - as in I worked in Windows at work for about 50-60 hours a week, then I had to do more work at home, on Windows (yes, I was a sucker working unpaid overtime for a dot-com, and got NOTHING from my stock options!). I had to dump Linux - but on the bright side my hardware worked! Well, I was on SMP systems (at home!) by then, so everything worked, well, except my Soundblaster Live! card because of the race condition Creative folks FINALLY admitted to only a few years ago when multi-core chips hit the market and SMP became mainstream.

    Well, between then and 2005, Linux went and growed up big and strong - I guess Tux drank milk or took steroids or something. Bleeding-edge chipsets still didn't work well, USB was a little flaky, SATA was weak, but less-than-bleeding-edge hardware worked better, more reliably than Windows. On top of that, KDE was usable. No, not just usable - damn good. The best desktop environment I've ever used - and this includes both CDE (hated it, but it was easy to use!) and SGI's Indigo Magic (loved it! At the time, mid-90s, it was fantastic).

    I dual booted Windows for a while. I used Windows about half the time, and Linux half the time. Then, KDE was updated (to 3.1 I think) - what a difference. On a dual Celeron with 1GB RAM, compared to Windows XP, performance was excellent. It was fast and responsive. I could open a SINGLE file browser and have multiple Windows - File Manager-like split views, Explorer-like tabbed views, multiple tree controls, PLUS I could seamlessly access FTP, SMB/CIFS, and SSH/Fish shares and drag and drop between them all! Not only that, with the customizable views, thumbnail views which were USABLE, and the various application preview plugins, Linux became more user-friendly than the Macintosh, more capable out of the box than Windows, and was actually supporting hardware pretty well.

    Then, SuSE upgraded to the 2.6 kernel. This made all the difference in the world. Not only was the desktop more capable and easy to use than Windows, OS X, or $foo, most current hardware out of the box worked - better than Windows. USB became more reliable than Windows,
  • by IGnatius T Foobar (4328) on Friday February 08, 2008 @04:40PM (#22353684) Homepage Journal
    Linux is bigger than Linus, and he's perfectly willing to admit that. FOSS is bigger than Linus Torvalds, or Richard Stallman, or any of the other luminaries whose names we hear bandied about from time to time. It's bigger than any of us, and that's the way it should be.

    Linus never claimed to be the standard-bearer of a new era of computing. He never claimed to be the successor to Richard Stallman (or to Bill Gates, for that matter). He never claimed to be the chief architect of an open source operating system. He's a kernel developer. And a damn good one, too -- but at the end of the day, that's all he is, and all he claims to be. And he's fine with that.

    And he knows that the job of a good piece of software is to get its job done without calling attention to itself. Linux does that admirably. It is unfortunately a lesson that Microsoft will never learn.
  • he never has been (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nguy (1207026) on Friday February 08, 2008 @04:43PM (#22353718)
    Linus is heading the Linux kernel development and he's doing a pretty good job at that. He does not, and has never, "spoken for" the Linux community as a whole.
  • by syousef (465911) on Friday February 08, 2008 @08:55PM (#22356408) Journal
    In the green corner weighing...maybe 45 pounds, its Linus and his team of loyal zealot fans
    In the red corner weighing....maybe 10% market share, it's MacOS and it's loyal zealot fans

    Who will win in the fight of the decade? Who's bugs will triumph. You too can gamble your future by becoming intimately familiar with one of these Operating Systems and ignoring the other (plus the other mainstream elephant in the kitchen!!!). Tickets are selling fast. Price is your loyal zealothood and your soul. Hurry in today!
  • Given the choice.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by moosesocks (264553) on Friday February 08, 2008 @11:12PM (#22357284) Homepage
    Given the choice, I'd pick Torvalds over RMS any day.

    Although the analogy's not perfect, Torvalds is the Steve Jobs of the OSS world, whilst RMS is Ballmer.

    (And please don't view this as 100% of a flame. RMS's contributions to the Open Source world have been vast. However, I don't think he's particularly good as a spokesman or to be "at the helm" of Open-Source development. He's also a bit too stubborn on his ideologies, as shown with the GPLv3 debacle.)
  • by jovetoo (629494) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @07:31AM (#22359002) Journal
    I do not understand why the poster of this sees Linus' behaviour as a problem. Afterall, when we talk about "Linux" we talk about a lot more than the kernel. Let Linus keep his head in the technical details... let him go for functionality. It'll get us a better kernel and improve whatever is above it. Let the Gnome and KDE people worry about the users.

Man must shape his tools lest they shape him. -- Arthur R. Miller

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