Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Zakia Bouachraoui, Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Linus Torvalds Reveals How He Herds the Cats of the Linux Kernel

"I am a dictator," Torvalds concedes, "But it's the right kind of dictatorship.. . I can't be nasty."

"I have no legal or explicit power. I only have the power of having people's trust - but that's a lot of power," said Linus Torvalds this week, when asked by BusinessWeek whether as leader of what it called the Linux movement he was a "benevolent dictator" or not.

"I am a dictator," Torvalds conceded. "But it's the right kind of dictatorship."

"I can't really do anything that screws people over. The benevolence is built in. I can't be nasty. If my baser instincts took hold, they wouldn't trust me, and they wouldn't work with me anymore. I'm not so much a leader, I'm more of a shepherd."

Joking that all the kernel developers would hear this remark and say, "He's comparing us to sheep," Torvalds changed the animal in his metaphor: "It's more like herding cats."

Asked how he picks the core kernel contributors, the Finnish-born cat-herd replied that the lieutenants get picked by the other programmers:

"It's not me or any other leader who picks them. The programmers are very good at selecting leaders. There's no process for making somebody a lieutenant. But somebody who gets things done, shows good taste, and has good qualities -- people just start sending them suggestions and patches. I didn't design it this way. This happens because this is the way people work. It's very natural."

When asked about his your role today in the Linux phenomenon, and how differs from his role in the past, Torvalds explained to BW that he is these days mostly "a communications channel."

"I'm one of a couple of central points for discussions," he said. "I have all the patches come to me, though I have sub-lieutenants doing the programming work. I'm a meeting point, rather than a software engineer. I don't do much programming anymore."

Clearly Torvalds hasn't yet grown tired of his role as what BusinessWeek calls "technical shepherd," declaring: 

"Linux has come a long way in the last 13 years. I'll do another 13 years if that's what it takes."

His most resounding words came when asked what makes him believe Linux will continue to gain momentum.

"I think, fundamentally, open source does tend to be more stable software. It's the right way to do things," Torvalds replied.

"I compare it to science vs. witchcraft. In science, the whole system builds on people looking at other people's results and building on top of them. In witchcraft, somebody had a small secret and guarded it - but never allowed others to really understand it and build on it. Traditional software is like witchcraft. In history, witchcraft just died out. The same will happen in software. When problems get serious enough, you can't have one person or one company guarding their secrets. You have to have everybody share in knowledge."

So Linux - and open source software in general - has history on its side. Torvalds is not just a leader and a herder of cats, it seems. He is also a social philosopher possessed of a winning way with words.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

Comments (1) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
Benevolence Pays 08/19/04 08:40:43 AM EDT

I am surprised that Linus thinks of himself as a dictator. I suppose that he could be considered that except for the negative connotations.

I see him more like a Benjamin Franklin, or perhaps George Washington.

Or maybe more like a Martin Luther.

None of these would I call dictators.

And all the people who I can think of as dictators I can't say that I like.

Linus is more like a George Washington. He is leading the army. He starts the country. He is the general in charge, not a dictator but a natural leader.

IoT & Smart Cities Stories
Digital Transformation and Disruption, Amazon Style - What You Can Learn. Chris Kocher is a co-founder of Grey Heron, a management and strategic marketing consulting firm. He has 25+ years in both strategic and hands-on operating experience helping executives and investors build revenues and shareholder value. He has consulted with over 130 companies on innovating with new business models, product strategies and monetization. Chris has held management positions at HP and Symantec in addition to ...
Dynatrace is an application performance management software company with products for the information technology departments and digital business owners of medium and large businesses. Building the Future of Monitoring with Artificial Intelligence. Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more busine...
The challenges of aggregating data from consumer-oriented devices, such as wearable technologies and smart thermostats, are fairly well-understood. However, there are a new set of challenges for IoT devices that generate megabytes or gigabytes of data per second. Certainly, the infrastructure will have to change, as those volumes of data will likely overwhelm the available bandwidth for aggregating the data into a central repository. Ochandarena discusses a whole new way to think about your next...
CloudEXPO | DevOpsSUMMIT | DXWorldEXPO are the world's most influential, independent events where Cloud Computing was coined and where technology buyers and vendors meet to experience and discuss the big picture of Digital Transformation and all of the strategies, tactics, and tools they need to realize their goals. Sponsors of DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO benefit from unmatched branding, profile building and lead generation opportunities.
All in Mobile is a place where we continually maximize their impact by fostering understanding, empathy, insights, creativity and joy. They believe that a truly useful and desirable mobile app doesn't need the brightest idea or the most advanced technology. A great product begins with understanding people. It's easy to think that customers will love your app, but can you justify it? They make sure your final app is something that users truly want and need. The only way to do this is by ...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that Big Data Federation to Exhibit at the 22nd International CloudEXPO, colocated with DevOpsSUMMIT and DXWorldEXPO, November 12-13, 2018 in New York City. Big Data Federation, Inc. develops and applies artificial intelligence to predict financial and economic events that matter. The company uncovers patterns and precise drivers of performance and outcomes with the aid of machine-learning algorithms, big data, and fundamental analysis. Their products are deployed...
Cell networks have the advantage of long-range communications, reaching an estimated 90% of the world. But cell networks such as 2G, 3G and LTE consume lots of power and were designed for connecting people. They are not optimized for low- or battery-powered devices or for IoT applications with infrequently transmitted data. Cell IoT modules that support narrow-band IoT and 4G cell networks will enable cell connectivity, device management, and app enablement for low-power wide-area network IoT. B...
The hierarchical architecture that distributes "compute" within the network specially at the edge can enable new services by harnessing emerging technologies. But Edge-Compute comes at increased cost that needs to be managed and potentially augmented by creative architecture solutions as there will always a catching-up with the capacity demands. Processing power in smartphones has enhanced YoY and there is increasingly spare compute capacity that can be potentially pooled. Uber has successfully ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CrowdReviews.com has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 22nd International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 5–7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. CrowdReviews.com is a transparent online platform for determining which products and services are the best based on the opinion of the crowd. The crowd consists of Internet users that have experienced products and services first-hand and have an interest in letting other potential buye...
When talking IoT we often focus on the devices, the sensors, the hardware itself. The new smart appliances, the new smart or self-driving cars (which are amalgamations of many ‘things'). When we are looking at the world of IoT, we should take a step back, look at the big picture. What value are these devices providing. IoT is not about the devices, its about the data consumed and generated. The devices are tools, mechanisms, conduits. This paper discusses the considerations when dealing with the...