Linus on open source, free software and the personality thing
RMS versus Raymond, why 'free' is a bad word...
Torvalds interview part 2 You're very focussed on the kernel - does your role in the kernel kind of stop anyone else, any one company say, claiming "ownership" of Linux?
I don't see myself that way. I'm this figurehead and I'm the technical lead for the kernel. So it's not about arbitration - I don't care what the fight is: I keep myself fairly neutral there. It's actually not that hard: I basically work with engineers, talk technical detail with them and the politics never comes into this. But I'm happy I didn't go to work for a Linux company because - oh gosh - I thought I was being clever back then - now I think I was a genius!
That was one of things I considered when I moved to the US and decided no, I don't want do that. Boy, was that a right decision!
OK So this is an old argument about terminology. I'm guessing you're pretty happy with the rebranding of free software as open source....
I was involved in it, I was not one o the main people in rebranding. The main people were Tim O'Reilly and Brian Behlendorf...
I think he was on the list too. I was cc'd on the list and replied to some of them. But I was not the driving force and I was not like the person really excited about trying to push open source as name instead of free software. But I was in favour of the name and I'm even more in favour of it now because it's ended up depoliticising a lot of the issues. "Free" is too loaded.
Do you think it's a problem just with the English language. I don't think any other language has this - there's gratis and libre, for example?
It's more than a problem with the English language. Free has become this magic word because there's all these patriotic feelings here about the 'Born Free' kind of thing. There's all these commercial feelings too like 'Free Internet access', or '24 per cent more free!' in the US. Free is one of those four letter words. It's a bad word.
Actually a lot of people were nervous about open being a bad word, because of the Unix history of open systems and things like that. But by the time we started talking about Open Source, most of that flap had already passed, and the general population hadn't even heard about open systems and the Unix things.
But RMS [Richard Stallman] is adamant that he has nothing to do with the 'Open Source' movement
That's OK. I don't like the politics, and RMS is way too political about it - too black and white. I'm more pragmatic. I don't want to get involved in those discussions. I don't like the other side either, Eric Raymond also gets way overboard. There's a lot of, basically, discussion about issues that shouldn't be issues at all.
At the same time I understand RMS and have to respect what he's trying to do. But the same time I dislike it (laughs). It's something very honorable but at the same time disasteful.
But one of the things you and he might agree on is that he says free software is being overly personalised, that it isn't about one person, one kernel or one operating system...
I don't like it being personalised either, and it's easier for me to say than for him. I can say I am the person and I don't like it. I think that to some degree he feels that I took a lot of the glory. He did all the hard work, and then Linux came along and took the glory. Not Linus versus Richard, but Linux gets a lot more credit than the Free Software Foundation, and that makes it hard for him.
To some degree it's a good fight but to some degree it's still unfair. I suspect that he doesn't realise that one of the pieces that kept the FSF from really making a huge impact generally was that it was so inflexible, it was such a religious outfit and it still is. It's very idealistic. Idealistic can be bad.
...And with that, our time was up. Linus did help shed some light for us on the the Finnish expression "Your cow is in the ditch" which apparently reduces Finns to helpless mirth. Since Linus' first language is Swedish, not Finnish, he professed himself a bit rusty, but reckoned this was typically used in the context "His cow is in the ditch" - meaning someone's personal pet project. Can any Scandinavian readers explain? ®
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