First Monday Interview with Linus Torvalds

DISCLAIMER : This article was taken from http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue3_3/torvalds/. Known sources belong to their respective authors. All trademarks belong to the respective corporations and companies. If vavai.com violated your license or your copyrights, please do not hesitate to contact [vavai] [at] [vavai.com]. Please click original source for an update article. Interview has been done on 1998, after Netscape’s decision in January 1998 to release source code for their Web browser. Nice to see how much Linux change from that’s time.

Linus Torvalds wrote the core of Linux, a free version of the Unix operating system. Despite being free, with no large software company backing it, Linux now has an estimated installed base comparable to MacOs or Windows NT. Linux is extremely popular among Internet software developers, and the "Linux model" of decentralised development with loose copyright is the topic of three papers in this issue of First Monday. Netscape’s decision in January to release source code for its Web browser shows that the commercial software is not immune to the Linux model either.

Over the past two years, Linus Torvalds had an e-mail dialogue with First Monday’s Rishab Aiyer Ghosh on what motivates people to work on free software. According to Torvalds, it is not really fame and reputation. Contributing to the "cooking-pot market" of the Internet matters, which is why he doesn’t care for shareware. Users are developers too, as they contribute implicitly. And while a passive user base could reduce developers’ inclination to write free software, what counts most of all for the best programmers is the fun of programming – they’re like artists.

FM: What did you want out of releasing Linux publicly, the first time? Did you get it? Was it money, fame – "reputation" – a nice set of software libraries written by others that helped your other work?

LT: Originally it wasn’t any of the above, although I did ask around for other peoples work that I could use (and thus there was a kind of "quid pro quo" there). Originally Linux was just something I had done, and making it available was mostly a "look at what I’ve done – isn’t this neat?" kind of thing. Hoping it would be useful to somebody, but certainly there is some element of "showing off" in there too.

LT: The "fame and reputation" part came later, and never was much of a motivator, although it did of course to some degree enable me to work on it without feeling guilty about neglecting my studies ("Hey, this is much better for me than getting a degree quickly").

Download complete interview.

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