What Would Linus Do? Torvalds Offers Lesson For Microsoft - InformationWeek

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8/24/2007
08:53 AM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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What Would Linus Do? Torvalds Offers Lesson For Microsoft

An interesting interview with Linus Torvalds showcases his thinking about how operating systems should be released, and he's floating a powerful idea Microsoft would do well to heed.

An interesting interview with Linus Torvalds showcases his thinking about how operating systems should be released, and he's floating a powerful idea Microsoft would do well to heed.To me, the MSN logo sitting atop Torvalds' interview adds an even eerier side angle to his message. Here's the money quote, in response to a question as to why Linux has been on the 2.6 release of the kernel for so long:

"We used to have these big and painful development releases that took several years, and it worked reasonably well. . .but it had serious downsides, too.

Basically, a multiyear development cycle simply doesn't work. . . with 2.6, the base kernel is in good shape, and we've improved our development process. . . So instead of having two or three years between stable releases, we now have two or three months. Which means that the vendor kernels are much closer to the development kernels, and avoids a lot of the problems we used to have. Everybody is happier. So we'll probably stay with that model unless something really radical happens, and that means that we'll keep with the "2.6.x" codebase, and just incrementally improve on it."

I'm not sure that Microsoft would be able to bag big operating-system rollouts in favor of new releases every month. (Though when you count how frequently Microsoft pushes Windows Updates -- patches -- down to users' machines, you could argue that's what they do.)

However, I am intrigued by Torvalds' implicit point that, once an operating system is mature, you no longer need to mess with it in a major way.

While such a strategy seems extremely sound, technology wise, it would be death to companies which make their big bucks by creating a buzz around their new operating system du jour. Torvalds acknowledges this in the interview when he goes on to say: "Of course, if we had a marketing department that had a strong say, they'd make us call it some sexy name ("Panther" or "Vista" or whatever)."

I've been surprised that no one has pulled these nuggets out of the Torvalds transcript. This interview was Slashdotted a few days ago, but since then has pretty much faded off the radar screen. Perhaps it's because Linus is saying things the way he usually says them, quietly and in a non-confrontational manner.

As my three regular readers know, I prefer posts which either provoke or provide a data dump: I don't do many which simply posit questions, but I've got one today:

Are we, or should we be, at the "end" of major release cycles, not only for Linux, but -- and this is the one that really interests me -- for Windows?

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