LinuxFR : You’ve been doing Linux for about 20 years now and it’s a hard job. Is it still fun?
Linus Torvalds : Oh, absolutely. It’s still fun. And partly exactly because I’ve been doing it for 20 years, I wouldn’t call it “hard”. It’s still challenging and interesting, but I think I’m good at it.
LinuxFR : Why did you choose to switch the kernel from his original non-GPL copyright to the GPL licence? Was it an ethical or a practical choice?
Linus Torvalds : Practical. I think my original license contained the ethical parts I cared about, but it turns out that it was too strict about that whole “no money” thing, and it also wasn’t well enough known. Moving to the GPL fixed the problems that people had with my original license, and had the advantage that it was a known entity and also a lot more likely to stand up in court than the short blurb I had written originally.
LinuxFR : I know that you consider yourself a very pragmatic person and not a prophet…but do you agree that there is an ethical content in the GPL license?
Linus Torvalds : I’ll answer this two very different ways, and try to explain why I answer it two ways.
So the first and the very negative answer is that I absolutely despise the people who try to push the GPL as being about “ethics”.
I think that’s absolute bullshit. Why? Because ethics are to me something private. Whenever you use it as an argument for why somebody_else should do something, you’re no longer being ethical, you’re just being a sanctimonious dick-head.
But the second answer is that I personally feel that the GPL (version 2) matches what I want to do. I really like doing programming, and I wanted to put my stuff out there for others to enjoy, but I felt that the whole “you can do with it as you wish, but your improvements need to be available the same way the original
is available” is just very fair, and is a great way to do development.
So personally I think the GPLv2 matches quite closely what I think is “the right way to live my life”. And by “right way” I don’t think it’s the only way. I’ve done commercial programming too, and I enjoyed that a lot, and I think that was fair and appropriate too (hey, they paid me for it).
So I think the GPLv2 is a great license, and I use it for my own personal reasons. I do think that’s true of a lot of other people too, but I really want to point out that it’s not that the license is somehow ethical per se. A lot of other people think that the BSD license with its even more freedoms is a better license for them. And others will prefer to use a license that leaves all the rights with the original copyright holder, and gives no rights to the sources at all to others. And for them, that is their answer. And it’s fine. It’s their choice.
Trying to push any particular license as “the ethical choice” just makes me mad. Really.
LinuxFR : Why is the desktop so special and so much harder than any other market?
Linus Torvalds : Because it’s so much more interesting. It’s the market where people do so many different things.
Your average server does almost nothing. Sure, it may have a lot of CPU power, a fast network, and lots of IO, but it does the same thing over and over again, and that “same thing” is pretty limited. It’s running a database, a mail or web server, various analytics etc. It may be important for the company, but it’s not a very varied workload,
and it’s not something people are attached to.
In contrast, your desktop is what you see every day, and you get attached to it.