Linux boss Torvalds: Don't talk to me about containers and other buzzwords

Just wants to get through next 6 months

Jim Zemlin and Linus Torvalds at LinuxCon 2015
Jim Zemlin and Linus Torvalds at LinuxCon 2015

LinuxCon 2015 Linux kernel maintainer Linus Torvalds isn't thinking about where his creation will be ten years from now – in fact, he claims he doesn't even think ahead one year.

"I am a very plodding, pedestrian kind of person," Torvalds said during a Q&A session with Linux Foundation boss Jim Zemlin at LinuxCon in Seattle on Wednesday. "I look six months ahead. I look ahead at this release and I know what's coming up in the next one.

"I don't think planning 10 years ahead is necessarily very sane. Because if you think about Linux ten years back and where Linux was ten years ago, trying to plan for where we are now would have been completely insane."

What's more, while the popularity of Linux continues unabated, Torvalds has little time for some of the other hot-button technologies that have risen out of the open source community of late.

"I'm sorry to everybody involved here in containers," he said. "I'm so happy that the kernel tends to be fairly far removed from all of these issues, all of the buzzwords and all the new technologies. We end up being in a situation where we're such an infrastructure play that we only care about us working and then how people use the kernel."

Similarly, while the industry is abuzz about the so-called Internet of Things, the Finnish coder takes a somewhat pessimistic view about Linux's ultimate role in it.

The chief hurdle for running Linux on really tiny devices, he said, is that the kernel itself has grown considerably since its early days. Where once it fit in under a megabyte, these days it's tens of megabytes in size, and that's not likely to change much in the future.

"It's always really hard to get rid of unnecessary fat. As every developer in this room knows, things tend to grow," Torvalds said. "Realistically, I don't think we'll ever grow back down to the kind of sizes we were 20 years ago. We can certainly grow smaller, shrink. But I do suspect that if you want to work on some really small devices, you will have to end up looking at other alternatives."

And when it comes to security, the Linux main man doesn't think it's likely that systems running Linux will ever be completely hardened and bulletproof – at least, not to the satisfaction of the security community, which Torvalds admitted to occasionally being at odds with.

"Security is bugs," he said. "Most of the security issues we've had in the kernel – and happily they haven't been that big, or some of them are pretty big but they don't happen that often – most of them have been just completely stupid bugs that nobody really would have thought of as security issues normally, except for the fact that some clever person comes around and takes advantage of it. And the thing is, you're never going to get rid of bugs."

But then Torvalds pointed out that the ultimate future of the Linux kernel is only up to him in the barest sense. With around 1,500 contributors to the kernel code, most of whom are now professional programmers working for various companies, the bulk of the actual work is done by other hands.

"I love open source and how all the credit goes to me," he joked. "What can I say? Realistically, the only power I have is to say no, and sometimes I do that in a somewhat colorful manner. I don't even write any code anymore. Realistically I get a lot of the kudos for these days being just a maintainer. I'm manager of a lot of very productive people." ®

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