Linux Founder Linus Torvalds 'Still Wants the Desktop'

During a LinuxCon panel discussion, Linus Torvalds provides insight into what works and what doesn't with Linux in 2014.

Linus Torvalds

CHICAGO—The Linux faithful gathered today at LinuxCon to hear core Linux developers, especially Linus Torvalds—and the audience wasn't disappointed. In a keynote panel session, Torvalds spoke of his hopes and the challenges for Linux in 2014.

Linux kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman moderated the discussion and commented that Linux already runs everywhere. He asked Torvalds where he thinks Linux should go next.

"I still want the desktop," Torvalds said as the audience erupted into boisterous applause.

The challenge on the desktop is not a kernel problem, Torvalds said. "It's a whole infrastructure problem. I think we'll get there one day."

Torvalds also discussed the issue of kernel testing overall and noted that testing drivers on real hardware is problematic. He sees a need to encourage the Linux user community to be part of testing recent kernels. "That's the only way we find the strange hardware quirks," he said. "Most developers have something modern, and the rest the rest of the world has older stuff."

The issue of kernel code bloat was also addressed as Linux is now being run in small-form-factor embedded devices.

Torvalds said he'd love for Linux to shrink in size "We've been bloating the kernel over the last 20 years, but hardware has grown faster," he said.

Torvalds wants to push the envelope for the embedded market despite some challenges. He noted that some of the small-form-factor device vendors have their own operating system technologies in place already, and those vendors don't always make hardware readily available to Linux kernel developers.

One of the big successes for Linux on small-form-factor devices in recent years has been the rise of the Raspberry Pi device; the mini-computer has been great at seeding the Linux development community for small-form-factor devices, he said.


The issue of Linux code maintainers was another hot-button topic addressed by Torvalds, who noted that some Linux kernel code has only a single maintainer and that can mean trouble when that maintainer wants to take time off.

Torvalds said that a good setup that is now used by the x86 maintainers is to have multiple people maintaining the code. It's an approach that ARM Linux developers have recently embraced, as well.

"When I used to do ARM merges, I wanted to shoot myself and take a few ARM developers with me," Torvalds said. "It's now much less painful and ARM developers are picking up the multiple maintainer approach."

Torvalds also discussed big code rewrites within Linux. Although rewriting code is a challenge, it's also a benefit, he said.

"It's a sign of life that old code gets rewritten," Torvalds said. "Even things that we thought were done sometimes aren't; it keeps my job interesting."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.