The world according to Linus

He eschews mobile phones, is not into virtualisation and likes an argument. We catch up with the man behind Linux, Linus Torvalds, at Linux.conf.au, which took place in Melbourne, Australia.

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Would you ever accept an offer to keynote at LCA?

I used to do speaking almost ten years ago. I did a lot of speaking because when Linux was new it wasn't very widely known, so I felt like I should spread the word. But I was never a really good speaker, I always hated speaking and I don't like standing in front of a huge audience. I get stressed out beforehand and Linux got big enough that there were people who were willing to do the speaking and people who were better at it, so I stopped doing it. I come to LCA to go to some of the sessions, but more so just to talk with the people.

Why do you keep coming back to LCA?

LCA is a really nice conference; it's very laid back, it's very technical, you don't see suits, there is no marketing crap, it's all just about the technology which is really fun. It's a nice environment and to be honest it is summer here! Back home in Portland they had snow and sleet, it's cold and rainy, so coming to Australia for a week during summer is a nice break.

What do you think is going to be the next big controversy in the Linux world that everyone is going to fight about and want to have you on their side?

If I knew that it wouldn't be a big issue! It seems like something flares up every few years. I mean something flares up all the time but it's usually something small. There is always the bigger thing, usually something that has been simmering for a while, and it just simmers long enough that when something happens it just releases the floodgates and there is a big flame-fest. It probably happens at every company where people get frustrated and there's heated discussions, but of course when it's open source everybody sees it.

I'm also not very polite, I actually like arguing with people, and there's a lot of people who like arguing in general in the kernel community. Some people don't like doing anything but arguing and we try to discourage that, so sometimes you see this flare up and it goes on for a while and then it dies down. Sometimes, as a result we change how we do things.

What happens is as the community grows things that used to work a couple of years ago may not work anymore, and we continue this process and the process itself becomes this thing that holds you back and it frustrates people, and nobody wants to change it because changing a process you've gotten used to is really painful. Then you get to the point where it begins this huge flame war because everybody hates what is going on and nobody really knows how to do it right. We've had that happen three or four times where we've had these big discussions saying "this is not working anymore". The discussions often aren't that polite at all and tend to be like "this person is being a complete asshole and we should just kick him out because it's really not working".

And sometimes nothing really happens, we've had cases where we just realise "OK this isn't working let's try to change the model", so quite often the flame wars are actually productive and are a way of letting off steam and getting out all the problems that have been simmering for sometime out in the open. Sometimes it's enough to just get them out and not have to change anything - it's just about letting people let their steam off.

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