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Linus Torvalds: 'I Still Want the Desktop' 727

darthcamaro writes: Linux has clawed its way into lots of places these days. But at the LinuxCon conference in Chicago today Linus Torvalds was asked where Linux should go next. Torvalds didn't hesitate with his reply. "I still want the desktop," Torvalds said, as the audience erupted into boisterous applause. Torvalds doesn't see the desktop as being a kernel problem at this point, either, but rather one about infrastructure. While not ready to declare a "Year of the Linux Desktop" he still expects that to happen — one day.
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Linus Torvalds: 'I Still Want the Desktop'

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:39PM (#47714739)

    If he waits a little longer, he can probably just take it without anybody noticing.

    • If he waits a little longer, he can probably just take it without anybody noticing.

      Great point. Maybe we can take over tablets and cell phones with Linux, er, Android, er, whatever... It's not like Microsoft is making much of a play for these... (Windows 8, 8.1, and 9 not withstanding)

      • by Rob Y. ( 110975 )

        Well, actually, if mobile, the cloud and chromebooks take enough of the market away from the traditional desktop, Microsoft has 2 choices. Either raise the price of Windows to make up for the declining market or lower the price of Windows to fend off the competition. If the price of Windows goes up - and the traditional desktop is only necessary for a limited kind of user, then Linux wins what's left of that market by virtue of the cheap price. If the price goes down, Microsoft may continue to dominate,

    • by Skarjak ( 3492305 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @05:11PM (#47715637)
      I'm always puzzled to see these kinds of posts. Do you do your work on a tablet? "Desktop is dead!" is a lame cliche the media came up with that everyone can parrot to show how "knowledgeable" they are about the industry, when a simple inspection of the facts shows desktops aren't going away any time soon. I'm writing this from a desktop, with a confortable mechanical keyboard, a good mouse and a widescreen monitor, cause that's what you need if you want to get shit done.
      • by Ost99 ( 101831 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @05:55PM (#47716009)

        The desktop IS dead, at least in one sense.
        If you buy one now, you might never have to buy one again.

        Acknowledging that I might be pulling a "640k ought to be enough for everybody", I predict that a current generation mainline i7 and i5 will be sufficient for any "desktop" task more or less for ever (or until we move away from a physical interface like keyboard / mouse and touchscreens).

        My 5 1/2 year old desktop is still a solid workhorse and significantly faster than my new $3000 ultrabook.

        • by Skarjak ( 3492305 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @07:23PM (#47716581)
          I disagree. Fridges haven't really been getting any better for a while, but no one claims that industry is dead. You'll have to buy new desktops because like everything else, they'll eventually stop working. And I wouldn't be so quick to say extra power will never be needed. The average computer has been fully capable of doing all tasks the average user needs to get done for a quite a few years now, but they keep getting stronger anyway. That's because you can find new things to do with that power. And of course, work computers or gaming computers can absolutely make use of extra power. Finally, companies can still work to make computers more silent or power efficient. I think there's still room. What we'ere seeing is a diversification of ways to interact with technology, which inevitably means a reduction of market share for the older products, but as long as these products are still needed, the industry will be in good shape.
  • by Joe Gillian ( 3683399 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:42PM (#47714755)

    Linux has so much going for it in the device market that I don't see why Linus doesn't just double down on it. The future of Linux seems to make more sense as a kernel used for other things (like Android) rather than trying to break into the standalone desktop OS market.

    • by Your.Master ( 1088569 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:53PM (#47714855)

      What's he doubling down though? That term implies some stakes are being allocated.

      It goes on to say he doesn't think the desktop is a kernel problem. Well, that kind of means he's not spending specific resources on desktop, which means that wanting the desktop doesn't contradict "doubling down" on the device market.

      The actual part of the article that talks about investing is when he talked about shrinking Linux and about addressing the embedded market.

    • by bulled ( 956533 )
      Because Linux started as a project to fill a need he had, a Desktop OS that he could afford as a student. I presume he wants to see the desktop continue to because he still wants to work with one and I applaud that because I do as well.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bird ( 12361 )

      We need a free desktop OS. Linux is the only contender.

      • by worf_mo ( 193770 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @05:15PM (#47715685)

        We need a free desktop OS. Linux is the only contender.

        Is [] that [] so []?

    • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @04:21PM (#47715163) Homepage

      Well first of all Linus has never been overly concerned with market share, just building a technically damn good kernel so I doubt this will have much practical influence on his work. It's got to be frustrating though, Linux works on massively huge and complex servers. It works on the smallest mobile and embedded devices. But a regular desktop that from the kernel's side is rather simple, one CPU and usually one GPU and pretty much no exotic devices (from the kernel side all USB devices look the same, for example) and no absurd limits being pushed in any direction.

      I think the last real significant desktop feature was when they increased interactivity by changing the default time slice from 100 Hz to 1000 Hz and that was in 2004 or so. Heck, I would say it was at least as ready as the BSD kernel was when Apple created OS X in 2001. It's quite telling that the one thing Google did not want to rewrite when they made Android was the kernel. All else they ripped out and replaced with Apache licensed code, but not that. Well that and a bunch of Google proprietary APIs, but that's another flame war. I think I'd feel just the same in his shoes.

    • The device market does nearly nothing for Linux as a consumer brand, nearly nothing for the promotion of FOSS. People don't see the Linux embedded in their router, they don't see and can't even get to the Linux that hosts Android on their phones. Most Android developers don't even touch or see Linux during development.
    • by Lisias ( 447563 )

      Because he needs a functional to develop the Kernel! :-)

      He used to use Gnome Desktop 2, and I prefer not to reproduce what he said when Gnome 3 was spilled out from the Gnome Foundation.

      (and I totally agree with him)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:46PM (#47714789)

    Working out of a coffee shop - just hit the slashdot page when one of the passer-bys looked over my shoulder and said "Slashdot? Is that site still around? Are they still talking about the Year of Linux on the Desktop?" ... and then we noticed the first story simultaneously...

  • I think Chrome OS or Android is the only way to go. Both Apple and Microsoft is trying to go in the same direction, and hide all the arcane intricacies and really simplify the computing experience for the common computer user. To varying degrees of success, I must admit, but I think it's the way forward for most of the users.
    • by jcdr ( 178250 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @04:17PM (#47715115)

      Actually Chrome OS or Android are toys compared to a full desktop experience. Gnome 3 and Unity has go into the direction of toys for simple applications resulting in the frustration if so much users that projects like XFCE and Mate get attention like never before.

  • by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:49PM (#47714819) Homepage Journal

    Would also require that people be able to run most of the apps they want in Linux. Note that though this has long been a problem, the increase in web-based apps is slowly eroding the relevance of any specific OS. Even for games, though the quality of web-based games will always be inferior. And (nearly) everyone likes to play games.

  • by WaywardGeek ( 1480513 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:50PM (#47714827) Journal

    All Google has to do is dump that stupid steaming pile called ChromeOS, and admit that Android wins. A desktop customized version of Android (complete with a real desktop) is still based on Linux (at least Google's fork of it), already has hundreds of thousands of apps, and could be better in nearly every way than Windows or Mac OS-X in 2 years, IMO.

    The other broken OS, GNU/Linux, needs a major overhaul before it will ever be popular among anyone but geeks who are willing to accept that their OS is hostile to sharing new apps, or too blinded by fan-boy-ism to notice. I write this from my Ubuntu laptop, where my code contributions are far lower than Android or even Windows, even though I put in most of my effort here. It's just easier to publish an Android app. It's even easier to publish software for Windows. If Mark Shuttleworth were just a bit smarter, I think he'd realize he needs to abandon managing .deb packages and start this whole mess over based on a more git-like aproach. He's done a lot in that direction - user PPAs for example, but it's still not there. No RPM or .deb based Linux OS will ever become the basis for the Year of the Linux Desktop.

    • by jcdr ( 178250 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @04:42PM (#47715379)

      Packaging is a very big achievement. Even Android use packaging with APK file. Really, packaging is not the problem. I remember systems before packaging, this was a nightmare. Never return to this hell...

      The problem is to have popular tools able to build and publish proper *.deb package as easy as for *.apk packages. For example a good IDE where you find a "new C++ Debian package" button (and others language option of course), fill a simple form and start coding your application from a functional template. Then a "build" button should create the *.deb package and you should be able to debug it. The IDE should have a "Add Debian repository" button with a simple form to create a remote Debian repository using FTP or SSH. Finally the IDE should be able to publish your packages in your remote repository. Like for Android, the IDE should be able to build package compatible with a choice of releases.

      From my point of view, the packaging is not the problem. The lack of competitive developers tools advancement in the Linux distribution compared to Android is in my opinion far more the root cause if the problem. While structured very differently, *.deb and *.apk packages target almost the same goals from the system and user point of view.

      The situation in creating and publishing *.deb package is actually like if you create and publish *.apk packages all by hand using a lot of command line, instead of a easy and shiny IDE.

    • A desktop customized version of Android (complete with a real desktop) is still based on Linux (at least Google's fork of it) ...

      Android is not based on Linux. Android is **hosted** on Linux, it is really its own operating system. Most Android apps are Java and have zero interaction with Linux, they only use Android. As for apps that have some native code (c/c++ via NDK) they are usually using legacy c/c++ code that is not Linux based and/or they are using operating system calls that are POSIX based not Linux based.

      Linux is just a host for Android. It could be replaced with some other POSIX compliant OS and the vast majority of An

      • Android is not based on Linux. Android is **hosted** on Linux, it is really its own operating system.

        Complete nonsense. Android is an "operating system" only in market speak. In fact, Android is an application platform, not an operating system. If you doubt me then you need to get an operating system textbook and read for yourself what an operating system actually does. Hint: manage hardware at a low level, presenting a uniform interface for applications; manage memory; schedule execution; enforce security constraints; etc. All of this done by Linux, and not the Android libraries, and much more besides.

  • by doti ( 966971 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:52PM (#47714841) Homepage

    My desktop computer at home is running Linux for more than a decade now.

    • by BringsApples ( 3418089 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @05:35PM (#47715859)
      Same here, Slackware (14.0 now) at that, running KDE (installed by default). I work with many clients using this as well. I can connect to their windows servers via remote desktop (KRDC) (installed by default) if need be. I haven't had any issue conversing with, and/or sharing notes with any microsoft office users, (calligra suite) (installed by default). I'm browsing with firefox (installed by default), run my own email server (sendmail) (installed by default) and view mail with thunderbird (installed by default). Sometimes if I leave k3b (DVD burning software installed by default) open for to long, it causes KDE to go full-on rahtard, and has been known to require a reboot. Other than that, once you get used to it, and learn a way to do things that produce the results that you're looking for, it's quite nice.

      Every time I upgrade to the latest version of slackware, I'm able to simply copy data and I'm right back in business. This matter of having the same data for 10+ years is extremely important to so many people. I wonder how many windows users can say that they have data (and I'm talking about personal files as well as other files, like config files for programs to run as you like them to run - not music, movies etc...) that's 10+ years old. I ran windows for 15+ years prior switching completely to slackware. I ran slackware for more than 6 years before I ever typed 'startx' at a prompt.

      I'd also like to point out that fixes for security issues and/or any other update that's required, are almost always released prior to any microsoft fix. Pretty important stuff, especially if you're running any type of server out of your home.

      I point all of this out, not out of egoism, but to really say that even running slackware, probably the clunkiest way to run the linux kernel, the X environment is pretty damn stable, and very adapted to the rest of the world. Of course, slackware IS known for it's stability...
  • We Are the Linux fanboys.
    You Will be Assimilated.
    Resistance is Futile.

    - Linux fanboy :)

  • Oh it'll happen... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:55PM (#47714887)

    The day that the various desktop environments decide to cut out the middlemen. When I can go grab an official KDE install disk that gives me a polished KDE experience with the latest kernel and Wayland from, that's the day Windows will start really hurting. Then I can say to my relatives "Linux? Just go get KDE" and there'll be no confusion anymore. If it's KDE compatible, it's KDE compatible. Load the binary, off you go. Just like OS X and Windows.

    • by armanox ( 826486 ) <> on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @04:10PM (#47715053) Homepage Journal

      They used to have a link to an OpenSuSE live CD to do just that (well, with XFree86/X.Org. Wayland isn't a priority for KDE). It would appear that is no longer present on the site. Also, KDE doesn't really care to be Linux - they target UNIX compatible systems (AIX, FreeBSD). GNOME, on the other hand, wants to be just Linux, and is largely in bed with the Fedora Project.

    • by Zero__Kelvin ( 151819 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @04:25PM (#47715205) Homepage

      "The day that the various desktop environments decide to cut out the middlemen."

      Right. Because a Window Manager is the OS. All that threading, management of processes, filesystems and the like are just uneeded cruft!

      "Then I can say to my relatives "Linux? Just go get KDE" and there'll be no confusion anymore. If it's KDE compatible, it's KDE compatible."

      You have what you are asking for available today. You just don't know which distribution to recommend. Your recommendation to relatives should be: "Find someone with a clue and they can help you." Your problem is that you are pretending to have when, when you actually don't

      Give your relatives a computer sans OS and try recommending : "Just go get Windows!" and see how far they get before they ask Which version? Home? Premium? 7? What is this Server 2008? Or should I get Server 2012? Maybe I want MS-SQL? What's the difference between 32 bit and 64 bit? How many Gigabytes should be CPU be? The Hard Drive is the box with all the cables coming out, right?

    • by Dimwit ( 36756 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @06:29PM (#47716235)

      This is a much bigger deal than people seem to think. I tried getting my father set up on Linux not that long ago.

      "I need help, this says GNOME needs updating, I thought I was running Linux?"
      "You are, Linux is the kernel, but GNOME is the desktop environment."
      "Well, what's Debian? It says Debian needs updating."
      "You're running the Debian distribution of Linux."
      "I thought it was GNOME?"

  • Neither are going to happen, so move along and focus on something that CAN happen.
  • by slashdice ( 3722985 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @03:58PM (#47714923)
    Linux "won" mobile in the same way Michael Moore "won" the war on anorexia.
  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @04:05PM (#47715001) Journal
    Successful desktop operating systems have been based on various kernels. Apple used a pretty crummy one before switching to a BSD derived one. The Atari ST and Commodore Amiga each used their own, and they had certain success in their niches.

    The problem is the GUI. People don't like X, and Linux people have no desire to give us anything else. Engineers and enthusiasts may well argue that it's better from various objective reasons but the end user doesn't care. They use it and they think it sucks. Perhaps the problem is that it still pretty much needs the shell. Perhaps it's large, slow and clunky. Perhaps it's the poor support for games.

    Android doesn't have these problems because the developers didn't cripple themselves with X. TiVos and Tomtoms (before switching to Android) used Linux without X and people were quite happy with them.

    Give us a nice, simple, standard GUI without a bazillion customisations, and with the ability to to just install an app from the GUI and run it from the GUI, and Linux might actually work on the desktop.
    • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @04:19PM (#47715137) Homepage

      > The problem is the GUI. People don't like X

      A stupid noisy minority of techno-hipsters don't like X. For the rest of us it's invisible and no more bothersome than the graphics subsystem on any other platform.

      The problem with your rant is that the still marginal market share of Apple refutes it. Linux in other forms was able to gain traction because of lack of an entrenched monopoly (or being the monopoly).

      Apple demonstrates that applying the "one true way" approach to the desktop won't help you get away from Microsoft.

      So there's no real point in sabotaging Linux just to suit some delusion that ignores reality on the ground.

    • The problem is the GUI. People don't like X, and Linux people have no desire to give us anything else.

      I seriously doubt the premise that the common user cares about X enough to not like it. The operating system is a platform for people to run the programs they need to accomplish certain tasks. Windows will continue to be the heavyweight champion because there is so much legacy crap out there which nobody cares to port over to other platforms. It's not a matter of saying that Linux has application A which is fully compatible with application B on Windows; it's a matter of saying that a user can accomplish

  • Apple as a model (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LessThanObvious ( 3671949 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @04:10PM (#47715051)
    Apple's success is an interesting model for what it would take to make Linux mainstream on the desktop. The average non-techie Apple user doesn't know or care that there is BSD running beneath the GUI or that a UNIX command line even exists on their Mac. Granted there is a legacy there where people are already comfortable with the idea of a Mac being a legitimate alternative to the Windows PC, but it is the seamless user friendly GUI and fully developed application ecosystem that make it desirable. The argument can be made that Ubuntu and maybe others are pretty usable and are getting close to mainstream useability, but we aren't quite there yet. Until there is a GUI that is so fully featured and bulletproof that the user never needs to do anything at the command line to achieve reasonable efficiency at all common tasks and the application ecosystem is developed to have decent parity with current mainstream OS in use, Linux doesn't stand a chance in the desktop. I'm not sure that the financial payoff is there for any business to undertake the investment needed, but I certainly hope we get there someday.
  • by sproketboy ( 608031 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @04:24PM (#47715197)

    Microsoft probably has somewhere between 6 and 20 thousand engineers working on device drivers for various windows versions out there making about 80k a pop. Sorry but Linux simply does not have these kinds of resources. It would be nice but I don't see it happening.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geek ( 5680 )

      Microsoft probably has somewhere between 6 and 20 thousand engineers working on device drivers for various windows versions out there making about 80k a pop. Sorry but Linux simply does not have these kinds of resources. It would be nice but I don't see it happening.

      Try 500-600. Most of those are "project managers" too who farm the work out to Indian contractors. Microsoft doesn't have the development force you think they do.

  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @04:48PM (#47715431) Journal

    I use Mint 17 Linux daily, but what I miss, what is really lacking are Adobe apps. Someone should start a kickstarter for Linux ports. Adobe is already familiar with Qt ( I think I read Lightroom is Qt) so they have the experience.

    Let's put our money where our mouth is and get adobe to Kickstart the ports.

  • by Rob_Bryerton ( 606093 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @05:14PM (#47715669) Homepage
    Total non-issue; the majority of computing consumers have moved on; they're using phones and tablets. Corporate users will use what they're given.

    The days of paying hundreds of dollars for an operating system and compiler are (thankfully) gone. The OS is irrelevant anyways; you go to where the applications are; anything else is just silly...
  • by Iamthecheese ( 1264298 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @06:27PM (#47716219)

    I use Linux, almost exclusively, but I can see one of the major problems preventing migration that many linux developers cannot. It's confusing and difficult for the average user to learn where all the configuration files are and what they do. The moment you expect a new user to open a terminal you've already placed a giant barrier to adoption in the way. Certain distros have made giant leaps of progress in this matter but it's still a problem for all.

    Want to make a minor adjustment to how your sound card works? Command line. Want to tell your laptop to ignore the touchpad? Command line. Want to use Tor? Command line. Want to install software that's no on the Ubuntu Software center? Command line. I understand that GUI is a dirty word to some developers. I understand the focus on making things work before worrying about making them easy. But the path to the year of Linux on the desktop is paved with intuitive, simple, GUI driven configuration and computer usage.

  • by Pathway ( 2111 ) <> on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @06:52PM (#47716401)

    How Linux wins the Desktop

    1. We need a "Default". Not necessarily a default Distro, but a set of standards that all distros can follow. Of course, other options will be allowed, even encouraged. Rationale: We need the "fragmentation" problem to be addressed, and I would suggest that a good start would to have a standard interface that is common across all of "Linux".

    2. We need an easy way to manage a large group of computers. Large or small, businesses and schools want to make the configuration of their computers easy. Examples: Mass deploy Chrome. Setup a lab of computers to use a single printer. Setup logins with permissions and shared home folders. Rationale: These features are easy to configure on Windows and Mac OS X, but not so easy on Linux.

    3. Easy Deployment. There needs to be a scriptable deployment that can mass install Linux onto multiple computers easily, including initial setup and joining of whatever management system is being used. While "image based" deployment can work, native installation deployment with configuration would be better. Rationale: If it is going to compete against Windows and Mac OS X, it has to be as easy to deploy.

    I'm sure there are some projects that already fill some of these needs... but it's not there yet.

  • Ugh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @07:56PM (#47716765) Homepage Journal
    I just started maintaining an old Linux X11 app. A REALLY old app. Some of the function declarations still use K&R. It's all Motif and XT. Looking at it with an eye to modernizing it, well... I guess QT won. Problem is, if I go QT, I pretty much have to drink all the QT kool-aid, since they seem to have tried to re-implement the entire C standard library under their API. Other than that, the field's pretty much right where I left it back in the mid '90's, last time I really looked at X11 programming in a big way. Actually back then GTK and gtkmm were at least looking like promising competitors to QT. Looking around at an even lower level, I can find a rant from Rasterman about imlib being faster than Xrender, and pretty much everyone deciding that OpenGL was a better way to go than Xrender anyway. That's pretty much everything, since 1995.

    I think if you want the desktop it's going to take another linux-kernel-level effort around the GUI. The question is do we keep trying to put more band-aids on X11 or do we design something from the ground up that everyone can agree on?

  • by Lisias ( 447563 ) on Wednesday August 20, 2014 @08:20PM (#47716903) Homepage Journal

    So I recommend him to start his own Desktop project. :-)

    Seriously, I don't know of, now, any other Open Source leader capable of doing a decent Desktop. Torvalds finishes what he starts, and he finishes it vrey well (see git).

    We had very good Desktops in the past, but nowadays things are just too shiny and too new and... too dumbed down to be useful to me: who knows me from other /. posts about this matter knows why I migrated to MacOS two years ago, and don't plan to migrate back in the short run.

    I still love Linux - all my non desktop machines are Linux, no questions asked. But I just can't handle any of the present mainstream Desktops to use Linux again on my working box.

Marvelous! The super-user's going to boot me! What a finely tuned response to the situation!