Torvalds breaks down Linux

Linux creator likens community to social network built on established relationships

Linux development is more like a social network built on trusted relationships and less like a democratic community of individuals dedicated to a single development process, according to Linux creator Linus Torvalds.

"I have a policy that he who does the code gets to decide," said Torvalds, the Linux project coordinator who has written approximately 2% of the Linux code since creating the operating system in 1990.

Torvalds made his comments during a two-part interview with Jim Zemlin, CEO of the Linux Foundation. Torvalds is a Fellow at the foundation, which funds his work. He can be heard in his own words via podcast on the Linux Foundation Web site. Part 2 of the interview will be posted in early February.

Torvalds also said GPLv2 remains his open source license of choice for the Linux kernel and that he would remain pragmatic on future decisions but that stance would not blind him to investigating GPLv3 under specific circumstances. He said trust is the fuel that energizing the Linux development process and commercial vendors can only establish that trust via actions not words.

Torvalds said the mythical "Linux community" does not refer to one big happy open source family, but that the development process is made up a many groups some with different ideals and goals.

"But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is actual code and the technology itself," Torvalds said. People unwilling to step up don't have a voice when all is said and done, he said.

Torvalds also expounded on the notion that he doesn't see Linux as part of a greater cause.

"To other people it is," he said. "I mean, it's actually one of the things I found to be interesting is how people use Linux in ways that I didn't start out designing it for and sometimes use it for things that I really don't care about personally that much."

Torvalds said working on Linux is still fun and that he is now motivated by the social aspects of his work as well as the technological challenges.

"[Technology] is still a large part of it, but largely it's also now just the social side.

So, it's just a lot of fun working with people; even though, I mean, I sit in my basement all day long and actually don't meet anybody at all, but what I do is essentially communicate and it is very social."

But Torvalds understands the important position Linux occupies in the industry and all the different directions the open source operating system is moving, including expansion to mobile and embedded devices and commercial vendor interest.

He said companies and individuals have to build trust.

"What happens is people know," Torvalds said. "They've seen other people do work over the last months or years, in some cases decades, and they know that, 'OK, I can trust this person. When he sends me a patch, it's probably the right thing to do even if I don't understand quite why' and you kind of build up this network."

The network could be classified as the forerunner to today's popular social networking models used across the Internet.

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John Fontana

Network World
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