Linus Torvalds, head of development for Linux, comments on the operating system, its rival Windows, what motivates software developers and the occasional messiness of free choice, in an interview with Wall Street Journal columnist Lee Gomes talked over email.
The Wall Street Journal: Around the 1999-2000 time frame, when Linux became widely known, there were a lot of excited predictions that, just as Linux was conquering the server, it would soon be conquering the desktop, too. That doesn't seem to have happened; any thoughts?
Mr. Torvalds: Well, I suspect that the Linux desktop probably isn't that visible from the outside, but hoo-boy, there's been a lot of advances in the last seven or eight years to the point where you can actually buy a Linux desktop box (not just server boxes) from several tier-one manufacturers.
So maybe the desktop isn't exactly getting "conquered," but it's getting a fair amount of development attention. So as a desktop user myself, I have to say that I'm very happy in the technical development (as opposed, perhaps, to the actual market penetration) over the last years.
I'll leave most of the market-share worries to the people who care more deeply about it. I'm a technical guy, so I tend to believe in the "If you build it, they will come" motto, even if the inertia in the market would make it a long road to travel.
WSJ: You often talk about how the Linux community likes choices, and how neither you nor anyone else wants to impose, say, some user interface choice on them. But the vast majority of nontechnical users don't want a choice in this; they just want someone to solve the problem for them in an easy-to-use way. Do you think the emphasis on free choice inside the technical community "scales up," as they say, to users in general?
Mr. Torvalds: Hey, I think that choice always adds complexities and ends up being something that confuses people and can make things appear messy and unplanned.
So in that sense, choice is horribly bad, no?