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Linus Torvalds: “GNOME Are In Total Denial”

Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, has hit back at recent claims by that ‘desktop Linux is dead’, describing parts of the argument as ‘laughable’.

His response stems from an article written last week by GNOME founder Miguel Icaza, in which he says that the Linux Desktop is ‘dead’.

Icaza laid blame at the door of the Linux kernel developers who, Miguel Icaza argued, didn’t care about the ‘breaking [of] both open source and proprietary software alike’ with their rapid development pace.

Linus Responds

Linus Torvalds responded to Icaza’s claims on Google+, claiming that suggestions that the Linux kernel were responsible for instilling developers with an attitude that resulted in problems for GNOME were ‘laughable’.

One of the core kernel rules has always been that we never ever break any external interfaces. That rule has been there since day one, although it’s gotten much more explicit only in the last few years. The fact that we break internal interfaces that are not visible to userland is totally irrelevant, and a total red herring.

I wish the gnome people had understood the real rules inside the kernel. Like “you never break external interfaces” – and “we need to do that to improve things” is not an excuse.

Or “different users have different needs”. The kernel was – and is – happy to support both the SGI style thousand-CPU machines and the embedded vendors with cellphones and routers.

The fact that they have different needs is very obvious.

Linus went on to cite Linux’s success as being down to the absence of ‘huge vision’ of where he has wanted people to go with in, adding:

In fact, Linux pretty much did what I envisioned back in 1991 when I first released it. Pretty much all subsequent development was driven by outside ideas of what other people needed or wanted to do. Not by some internal vision of where things “should” go.

That’s exactly the reverse of the gnome “we know better” mentality, and “We will force Corba/.NET down your throat whether you like it or not, and if you complain, you’re against progress, and cannot handle the change”.

Some gnome people seem to be in total denial about what their problem really is. They’ll wildly blame everybody except themselves.

Miguel Responds

Miguel Icaza joined in the conversation shortly after Linus and sought to distance GNOME from his opinions:

My involvement with  Gnome stopped about five years ago, and I merely stayed in the periphery because I used Gnome as a user and we built C# programs that used Gnome libraries.

So it is unfair to the Gnome guys to attach my position to their project.  I have not talked to them in a long time, and have no idea if anyone there even espouses my opinions.

But he reiterated the reason that motivated him to write the article:

I think it is too late for the open source desktop to become a mainstream consumer OS, but it will continue to be a solid workstation OS.

Linux has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams in the form of Android.  And perhaps Linux as a kernel for a web browser will be the next big thing, but it wont be what I had desired.

The momentum to become a consumer OS is gone.

It Hasn’t

Miguel is an amazing chap without whom much of what we use as “Desktop Linux” today wouldn’t exist.

But he’s also wrong on this. If anything the ‘momentum’ for Linux – specifically Ubuntu, I might add – to become as consumer OS has never been greater: hardware companies, big name software houses, and more are all lining up to invest time and money into support the platform.

If desktop Linux was really dead, or approaching it, then this just wouldn’t be happening.