Torvalds on Filesystems, Netbooks, KDE 4.0

Ever year, Linus Torvalds goes on vacation to Australia, during which he usually also visits linux.conf.au. During his stay this year he gave an interview to ComputerWorld, in which he talked about the success of point releases and the important topic of file systems in Linux, which is quite an active field today with ext4 and Btrfs. He also gave some insights into why he switched away from KDE, moving to GNOME instead, and he shares his thoughts on Windows 7.

Because of the inability to add support for ZFS to the Linux kernel due to the GPL being incompatible with Sun’s CDDL license, Oracle started work on Btrfs, a GPL-licensed file system that should bring ZFS-like functionality to Linux. Currently, Btrfs is in the beta stage, but support for it has been added to the mainline Linux kernel – despite its beta status. According to Torvalds, there are two camps when it comes to file systems: the one that wants stability, and the one that wants to release often. “You want filesystems to be stable, but you can’t be in beta forever,” Torvalds notes, “Btrfs is developmental, but it was merged in the main kernel to help people test it.” This obviously indicates that Torvalds and his crew of kernel maintainers acknowledges that Linux needs something to compete with Sun’s ZFS, and therefore, they decided it made sense to make it as easy as possible for Linux users to test the new file system and report possible bugs.

While Torvalds is critical of early netbooks, which according to him showed signs of “teething problems”, he is hopeful for the future of this new market niche. “I’m hoping the next generation will be more powerful and offer a better user experience,” Torvals said, “I was doing kernel development on a netbook and it was not at all horrible. The screen was too small, but we are getting to a stage where you can get a cheap good laptop.”

Moving on to Windows 7, Torvalds says that the big problem Microsoft has is the fact that they can’t do a yearly upgrade like Linux distributions can. Microsoft has to charge for their releases, and people won’t shell out an amount of money each year just to be up-to-date. The consequence is that Microsoft has to ave longer release cycles, which means more breakage between releases, which inevitably leads to customer dissatisfaction. He notes that “the cost of the pain is likely to be higher than the cost of the operating system which is why people are slow to upgrade.”

He does have some advice for Microsoft, though. He thinks they should decouple the operating system from the applications, and this is actually what Microsoft is doing right now by moving vital functionality of the operating system, such as photo organising/editing and the email application, to Windows Live, which has its own release cycle separate from Windows itself.

Torvalds also explains why he moved away from KDE. “I thought KDE 4.0 was such a disaster I switched to GNOME,” he explains, “I hate the fact that my right button doesn’t do what I want it to do. But the whole “break everything” model is painful for users and they can choose to use something else.” This is rather curious, seeing Torvalds’ advice to “use KDE” – which, coincidentally, was one of the most-commented stories on OSNews.

There’s more interesting stuff in the interview, so be sure to give it a read.

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