LJ Interviews Linus Torvalds

With 2.2 on the horizon, LJ once again talks to the man who started it all—Linus Torvalds.

Marjorie: Everyone wants to know about the new kernel in 2.2. What new features have been added? Anything going away?

Linus: Most of the new 2.2 features are about performance, especially on high-end hardware. The SMP support is much better, and the kernel is more aggressive about caching file names, etc. Also, it works on more hardware.

There have been some nervous people wondering whether it would still work on the small machines, and I essentially spent the last week making sure it still does. We had some tweaks that needed to be made simply because there had been bit-rot with respect to small machine behaviour—none of the main developers use small machines much during the development phase.

Features going away? I think we're phasing out some of the support for things that people no longer seem to be using very actively, so yes, some of the esoteric code may be gone, partly because nobody cared to maintain it. On the whole, it's all there, larger and better than ever.

Marjorie: You seem to be quite excited about the addition of SMP—tell us about it. Will having this feature open new doors for Linux?

Linus: We had SMP support in 2.0 too, thanks mainly to Alan Cox. The new thing about 2.2 is that the SMP support is no longer just a tacked-on feature no one actually trusts, but is much better integrated. I've done all my development on SMP machines for the last year and a half.

With 2.2, the Linux SMP code comes of age—it's still not a stately old statesman, but more like a boisterous young teenager—it's there and it's reliable. It's going to be polished up in the future, because we're still cutting some corners to get it up easily and reliably, but now it's really more a matter of polishing than rewriting completely.

Marjorie: I've been talking to one of the local ISPs, and they have been having problems with both NFS and NIS. The main problem with NIS is that the newest version hasn't been ported to the SPARC. Has any work been done in these areas? Who is working on it?

Linus: I have to admit I haven't followed the SPARC port very closely at all. Mostly I've been involved with the Alpha, and even that has been surpassed by my main interest in SMP. You'd better ask others about the SPARC side.

Marjorie: Is there anything different in the installation procedures that users should be watching out for?

Linus: When it comes to the kernel, not really. The module loading is different, and some of the system utilities need to be reasonably current with the latest kernels, but on the whole if you have a reasonably recent distribution, you can just plop in a new kernel and it will work (apart from maybe upgrading your pppd, etc., details).

Marjorie: What do you think is missing from Linux? What new features will we be seeing in the future?

Linus: There are many “big system” features we haven't quite gotten to yet, but little that impacts most users. Clustering, high-end SMP scalability (expecting scaling from 8 to 32 CPUs is fairly unrealistic right now), journaling file systems, etc. Few people need them; the ones who do will get them done eventually.

I think most of the missing functionality a lot of people care about tends to be in “user land” rather than the kernel. That was true some time ago; it's become even more true these days. Happily, it's also being addressed more, both on a high-end server scale (Oracle, etc.) and on a lower-end desktop scale (Corel, KDE, Gnome, etc.).

Marjorie: What is the status of Wabi and Wine? Will the time come when MS Windows 95 and 98 programs will run on Linux?

Linus: I don't think you'll see all Windows programs running, but yes, I still believe that Wine can do it. (Wabi seems to be a dead product, and fairly uninteresting these days since it does only 16-bit programs.) Wine is still improving, and some people are actually using it for what they need (mainly Quicken and a few games, it seems).

Marjorie: Do you think a standard GUI is a necessity for Linux? Will any of the currently available desktops (KDE, GNOME, etc.) fill the bill?

Linus: I don't think it's a necessity to have a standard GUI. We need a better interface than plain X and TWM, but FVWM took us a long way, and KDE and Gnome are tackling the integration and complete desktop issues rather than just the window manager. I think we'll end up with both KDE and Gnome for awhile, and they'll eventually do the same things and work pretty much the same. Then you'll choose whichever you like more, because all the programs you want to run will run on both.

Marjorie: People always ask you, “What direction do you want to see Linux take?” Let's reverse that: “What directions do you want to make sure Linux does not take?”

Linus: I want to make sure Linux doesn't stagnate. I like to see new areas open up—the people who did the port of Linux to the PalmPilot must be crazy, but I enjoyed seeing that kind of thing happen.

Marjorie: When did you realize that the “chaos Linux development” model was really working?

Linus: I had never realized it wouldn't work. It wasn't planned chaos, and I never thought there would be problems. And there never really were. It worked out of the box—it's just scaling up to a larger scale.

Marjorie: You seem to be at every show that involves Linux. How do you balance traveling, work and family and stay sane?

Linus: Lots of medication.

Heh. Actually, I haven't been traveling too much lately. I did a reasonable amount of flying earlier this summer because there were a few conferences close to each other, but on the whole I try to avoid going to too many conferences. They're fun, but only when done in moderation.

Not traveling still doesn't mean I have tons of free time, obviously, and there have certainly been some weeks when I considered myself too busy. Things tend to calm down every once in a while, and I can take a breather.

Marjorie: What can you tell us about working at Transmeta? (Or is it still a secret?)

Linus: I still can't tell you anything but that it's a ton of fun.

Marjorie: On a personal note, tell us about your family and living in the U.S.

Linus: We like it here. My younger daughter was born here, and as such is a dual citizen of both the U.S. and Finland. We haven't really had too many problems getting used to it being sunny all the time, and going around in T-shirts and shorts for 70% of the year.

We've had a few silly paperwork issues (can you believe getting a driver's license took nine months because it had to go through the INS?), but all in all, it's been very enjoyable.

Marjorie: What's your favorite breakfast?

Linus: Breakfast? You have time to eat breakfast? I drink a cup of cappuccino every morning to wake up.

Marjorie: Any words of wisdom you'd like to leave us with?

Linus: Nope. “Be good to each other” and “don't you eat that yellow snow” have both already been taken.

Marjorie: Thanks for your time.

______________________

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