Is Linus Torvalds even speaking for Linux anymore?

Don Reisinger wonders if Linus Torvalds can speak for the Linux community anymore. Is he?

Even though Linus Torvalds has always been known as a deity-like figure in the world of Linux, lately he has been quite outspoken about where he thinks his operating system is going and what its competitors are doing wrong.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Torvalds had quite a few complaints to bring against both Mac OS X Leopard and Windows Vista.

"I don't think they're equally [updated to fix word] flawed - I think Leopard is a much better system," Torvalds said. But then he added: "OS X is in some ways actually worse than Windows to program for. Their file system is complete and utter crap, which is scary."

"I think [Mac] OS X is nicer than Windows in many ways," he continued. "But neither can hold a candle to my own [Linux]. It's a race for second."

And while you would expect this kind of propaganda from the operating system's founder, does he even speak to (or for) the Linux community anymore? If you ask me, he's just another wolf howling in the night hoping someone will agree.

Why you ask? Because although Torvalds has his own belief about what Linux is and should be going forward, the vast majority of its users disagree. Let's face it -- if it were up to Torvalds, beauty and intuition would take a backseat to functionality. But when you look at distributions like Ubuntu or OpenSuse, it looks like no one is paying attention.

"An OS should never have been something that people (in general) really care about: it should be completely invisible and nobody should give a flying [expletive] about it except the technical people."

Sure, that statement makes some sense, but in the grand scheme of things, it's the design and usability factor that makes the operating system much easier to use. And while both Mac OS X and Windows have their issues, for the average person, it makes more sense to use those than Linux.

And perhaps that's where the troubles lie. In the beginning, Linux was supposed to be the advanced techie's dream operating system that would allow them to do whatever they wanted at any time. And although that dream was perpetuated for years, businesses have come in and created distributions that make it more pleasing to the general public because of their desire to turn a profit.

To make matters worse, it's that same mentality that Torvalds espouses that has held the operating system back from becoming a major player in the business. According to its most recent research data, NetApp found that Linux commanded just 0.67 percent of the OS market in January and was barely leading the iPhone, which came in at 0.13 percent of total market share.

But maybe that's what Torvalds really wants: a niche operating system that has a cult-like following and harbors very little appeal to more than 98 percent of the world's computer users. But then again, maybe he doesn't.

In another interview with the Linux Foundation, Torvalds bemoaned Windows' command of the market, but said that Microsoft has created mistakes that may open the door for the open source community: "The desktop itself is something that people aren't necessarily interested in new features and I think that actually is something that helps open source because now you can't have one company that kind of tries to move the goal post because if it keeps trying to move the goal post, that's just going to irritate that company's own constituents."

So which one is it? First Torvalds says he's proud to be the alternative to those awful companies that release operating systems for the sole purpose of power and money, but then he tells the Linux Foundation that there's a strong chance that Linux can grow because of that. And to make matters worse, the operating system's most popular distributions are being used as money-making tools already -- just look at Ubuntu and Dell for all the proof you need for that assertion.

The truth of the matter is Linux was originally developed to abandon the idea that beauty and "hand-holding" was necessary to create a great operating system and it became somewhat of a counter-culture. And as Torvalds continues to hold on to that dream, he is seeing his valued community take on a life of its own and he is being pushed even deeper into the realm of insignificance.

Is he still the voice of Linux? Sure. But unlike years ago when he was the only person espousing the Linux creed, he has lost his pulpit and dozens of other spokespeople have risen from the ruins.

It's time the Linux community finally wakes up and decides which way it will turn -- towards its roots or towards the features that the general public really wants. Until then, we'll have the old guard spewing their ideals, while the momentum of the operating system carries it away from its very foundation.

Suffice it to say, Linux is moving away from its founding ideals and not even Linus Torvalds can change it.

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About the author

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.

 

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