back to article 'I'm no visionary': Torvalds up for $1.3m life-changing gong

Open-source poster child Linus Torvalds, who kickstarted development of the Linux operating system kernel, has been nominated for the €1m Millennium Technology Prize - but says he's "no visionary" and is surprised Linux has been so successful. Torvalds and stem cell engineer Dr Shinya Yamanaka are finalists for the gong - one of …

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Trollface

That's one hell of an exchange rate

"The award, worth £817 ($1.3m), recognises technology innovations that improve the quality of human life."

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I know the euro has lost a lot of its value of late, but I'm sure that one million euros is worth a lot more than 817 pounds!

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Happy

817 pounds - that's about 400 kilos, right?

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linus was already given millions when red hat did its ipo way back when. just in case "life-changing" in the headline implies, "lots of money".

it's true what he says, he certainly is no visionary. he never even had any ambition or plans for the kernel to take off. that it has been so successful and is now so huge and essential to the tech world as we know it is thanks to thousands of its contributors over the years, and also companies like red hat and google who took it to corporate heights.

on my own computer though i prefer community efforts so i run debian, which is as stable and sensible as an OS gets imo.

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Is it 'cos I is Finnish?

Quite - Finnish institute proposes famous Finn for award.

Stem cell research has the potential to change all our lives for the better, not least in disease treatment. I admire and use Linus's work, but seriously now, if he hadn't done it, wouldn't we all be doing very much the same things using BSD or some other *nix flavour?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Is it 'cos I is Finnish?

I'm sure if you would have bothered to research a bit that you'd see that the first person to win this biannual award was in fact sir Berners-Lee (in 2004), who isn't quite Finnish now is he? Winners since have been Shuji Nakamura (2006), Robert Langer (2008) and Michael Grätzel (2010). But let us not confuse the discussion with facts.

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Joke

Gosh don't tell me

Next you'll be telling me that Dr Shinya Yamanaka isn't Finnish either.

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Linux

Re: Is it 'cos I is Finnish?

I am happy he got this award from Finland, although the persons behind the selection are very international, because Finland (official) was very very slow in understanding the value of Linux.

And as a person Linus is not the guy who would boost about being the greatest innovator in the world and similar stuff.

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Re: Is it 'cos I is Finnish?

"wouldn't we all be doing very much the same things using BSD or some other *nix flavour?".

Most likely, but that did not happen.

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Re: Is it 'cos I is Finnish?

... but on the other hand you got to admire the finns for bearing him no grudge, considering that linus renounced his loyalty to "foreign princes" when he accepted his u.s. citizenship :)

now, would we be using bsd or even other nix flavor for our kernels today if no linux? that's a tough and interesting question. linux and the tools and programs associated with it grew so strongly because it, the kernel, piqued the curiosity of many contributors very early on, and then inspired people to do incredible work building first distros and bringing together more folk around those projects. i don't know that the bsd had that type of potential to grow, even with linux never in the picture.

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Re: Is it 'cos I is Finnish?

" Linus renounced his loyalty to "foreign princes" when he accepted his u.s. citizenship "

But that was the Finns insisting on that - the US is happy to have have dual-nationality citizens and he wouldn't have needed to renounce his Finnish citizenship if the Finns (like the Norwegians) would also accept it.

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Re: Is it 'cos I is Finnish?

Most likely not, Chris.

BSD's license allowed Apple to come along, take it add a GUI Apple liked and then sell it on.

Compare the number of people who contribute to BSD and Apple for free (or little) and then compare the number to those who contribute to GNU/Linux and GPL'ed software.

You can also compare the number of people who contribute to GNU/Linux for money and those who contribute to BSD and Apple for money.

The figures are very lopsided.

Mostly it's the licence. A rough summary is that GPL means that each contribution is a contribution to everyone from everyone. No-one gets to take advantage of other peoples work without each party having equal access.

The BSD licence means that each person can take it away and keep it to themselves. Not very social and not very friendly.

I'd say that's the main reason why BSD didn't take off like GNU/Linux has.

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Re: Is it 'cos I is Finnish?

Erm - I think you're forgetting iOS, which has literally millions of app development projects, many contributed for free or nothing. (Not always deliberately. But still.)

The problem with the social coding model is that it's attractive to hobby coders who know nothing about project management and often don't give a toss about ordinary users.

There are some obvious wins, especially in CMS, big iron, and web support. But there's also a lot of pointless me-too effort, especially on the desktop. And not so much of the stand-out very cool stuff you can sometimes find in the App Store.

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Trollface

Re: Is it 'cos I is Finnish?

"If 386BSD had been available when I started on Linux, Linux would probably never had happened." Linus Torvalds

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Re: wouldn't we all be doing very much the same things using BSD

No.

BSD pre-dates Linux and has a completely different development model. I don't think Linus is being overly humble. He picked the right model for the development work to thrive and it has. Yes, it shows a bit of genius insight, but I do agree the prize should go for the stem cell research in this case.

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I'd go for stemcell guy over linux guy.

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Anonymous Coward

I'd tend to agree, but then statrted thinking "I wonder if stem-cell guy has access to super-computers for his research?"

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@Lockwood

They will share the award and the money, in case you have not understood that.

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Anonymous Coward

What about if Torvalds had access to a dozen clones of himself though? :)

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Have you ever used stems cells (apart from your birth)?

Stemcells have not set the world on fire then.

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Re: @Lockwood

That's not how I read the report. They're the two nominated finalists, not the winners.

It looks as though it is going to be hard to choose.

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Re: @Lockwood

@Dave Bell: That's how I read it, too.

Interesting to see the number of ups and downs I got...

If the award were for technologies, Linus may well be more deserving than the other guy.

Let's think about his.

Life changing... "I did some OS coding stuff" vs "I have stuff that can do cool medical stuff"

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Mushroom

"Android - the dominant mobile operating system.".....

.....let the fun and games begin.

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Anonymous Coward

"Anyone who's used the Linux supremo's Git tool certainly agrees"

What's with this little bit of snark? It's not addressed in the article.

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Subtitle Snark

The Git comment exists because it's true and hilarious.

Supposedly (I heard it from a guy, who read it on the Internet!) Linus never planned for users to interface with Git directly, he wrote it as a back end for other, more friendly version control applications. And it shows.

Not that any version control is perfect, but my experience lines up with at least a few others', which is something along the lines of "Oh god, whyyyyyy!?!"

But if Git is what you know, by all means, use it. There's nothing that'll make you hate version control more than trying to alternate between similar, but ultimately incompatible syntax and operations.

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Anonymous Coward

Because he isn't...

... and the history of git and what came before is actually a good example. Its sole reason for coming into existence was scratching a very specific itch. Recall that we've known for years using a SCM is a Good Idea[tm] yet linux didn't used to, then it switched to something rather obscure, then it switched to something cobbled up in a couple of weeks. The result is very much geared toward how Linus likes to work. That this then takes off because "used by linux!" or "used by Linus himself!" is neither here nor there. There are plenty of alternatives with various featuresets that could've been used in stead. His main, or perhaps even only, reason for making one himself was because he was peeved, not because he had grande visions.

For me all that means I actually have reservations about using it, though the execution is actually pretty well done and its online documentation (ie manpages) is a lot better than, oh, subversion's, for example. It just sticks in my craw that it's written from scratch by a long-time SCM-non-user peeved with a fellow developer (even though he had good reason to be peeved). But that's just me, and I digress.

Anyway, Linus is just this sometimes deliberately highly opinionated guy, you know. Happened to come up with the right project to share at the right time and place, is all. Oh alright, he did stick with it and still does, through all the success and everything. If that's worthy of a prize, then give the man a prize, why not.

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Re: Subtitle Snark

There is a very good explanation why git exists by the very same person who coded/ invented it and handed it over when it is mature enough.

Linus is a very communicative person, no matter who you are, he even respond to personal mail unless you troll or play ignorant .

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Because he isn't...

At work we use git pretty much as a traditional SCM system - that is, we sync to a central repo once we're done with a task. Compared to SVN though, three advantages are obvious: a) local branching is teh awsum. Makes it so easy to try something out, if it doesn't work revert back to trunk, if it does simply merge it, b) git handles automatic merging while pushing to a repo much, much better than SVN - with SVN it seemed that if two people worked on the same file you'd get a conflict, even if the edits had been in completely different places, wheras with git conflicts seem to only appear when appropriate; and c) it's fast. Really fast.

Having said that, it is not the most friendly in terms of commands and a bit hard to get your head around at first; but there are severial tutorials as stated, and several more user friendly frontends exist if the command line gives you pimples.

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Happy

This little bit of snark?

"Snark" is required in TheReg headers, better that way.

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Git out

Ask the world what they want a source control system to do, make a big feature list, and keep cramming features into your source control system until everything in that big list is checked off. That's Git. Git has such a rich feature set that it will take you months of experience to chose the right feature for a simple task and years of experience for a complex task. Merging conflicting lines in a file is not enough, as you must merge another dimension of conflicts in the file's evolutionary history as well. Your experience in the first few months of Git will be streamlining the process deleting your local repository, fetching a fresh copy, and merging a backup of your work on top of it after a failed attempt to resolve conflicts. After years of training you will become an enlightened Master who swears by the virtues of Git and sees SVN and Perforce as toys. Or you will smash your computer, quit your job, and find a less frustrating place to work. Probably the latter.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Nexox

Basically, what this guy says. I admire Linus an awful lot, but Git...

C.

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Re: Nexox

git is fantastic. The only reason it's difficult to understand at first is that it is actually substantially different from and superior to the tools it replaces, rather than just being a rejig.

Until you realize all the deeply cool stuff it allows, the learning curve and rigor git requires is somewhat frustrating. It really doesn't take long, though.

You might want to look at how many projects have migrated to git over the last $ARBITRARY_UNIT_OF_TIME vs how many have migrated to, well, anything else at all. And how many new F/OSS projects start up using anything but git.

Short story: git already won. If you haven't noticed it yet, that says more about you than it does about git.

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Re: "the virtues of Git and sees SVN and Perforce as toys"

How come I keep seeing P4Merge touted as the merge tool of choice when resolving conflicts in Git then?

Git is, frankly, awful. I've used many different version control systems in the last 15 years, and none even approach the usability of Perforce. (I have absolutely no affiliation with Perforce, btw.) I have the misfortune of using Git at work these days and I am continuously baffled as to how something so user unfriendly can become so popular. But well, I guess given the general quality of development tools in the Unix world I shouldn't be surprised - oh how I do so enjoy those overly complicated and long debugging sessions with Sun Studio at the office.

Side story: I genuinely wanted to give Git a try out about two years ago on a personal project using the Unreal Engine. Git couldn't even work out how to add the 25GB of files to the repository without crashing. Mercurial was the same story. Perforce just took it in its stride and a few hours later (this was over a rather slow network connection) I was up and running. It will be a cold day in hell before I recommend anything but Perforce to anyone else.

Flame on...

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Anonymous Coward

"git is fantastic"

Your argument, as given, reads as "it's popular". And I'll grant that it's the current "go to" tool for a large body of people. People, whoever, who probably haven't done a careful evaluation of all available tools; they just pick whatever everyone else is using. So your argument may seem plausible but once you start thinking about it, it's actually easy to see it's pretty orthogonal to technical merits.

Note that I'm not saying it's no good. I've used it, and it's not that bad, but not unequivocally good either; it has enough quirks and idiosyncrasies that there will remain room for alternatives for the foreseeable future. I just don't buy your argument.

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Linux

Re: Because he isn't...

"the right project to share at the right time and place"

Well, that applies to every one who makes it really, like Gates, Jobs and so forth.

Apart from that something else is needed and Linus has had that too.

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Re: "git is fantastic"

A lot of the projects I've seen who've switched to it did fairly extensive evaluations of other options, actually. And a lot just referred to the comparisons _other_ projects had done.

Granted I really only give a flying toss about 'mainstream' F/OSS projects. I don't know or care anything about others.

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Headmaster

Re: Because he isn't...

Have to disagree with you over Steve Jobs - at least after the Mac came out - the story of how Jobs was forced out, then forced his way back in is quite unlike anything Gates or Torvalds went through.

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@Kevin McMurtrie

Since I'm not a programmer, I have no opinion on Git and can't evaluate the technical content of your post. But your prose: priceless. I particularly like the end.

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@LARS: Re: Because he isn't...

Yes, but unlike Gates, Jobs and so forth, Linus has been smart enough to RECOGNIZE that he was in the right place at the right time.

Yeah, he is talented and it helped, but those were more important.

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Linux

Let's paraphrase Churchill and be done with it.

"It has been said that git is the worst form of source control except all the others that have been tried."

I've had my fair share of problems with Git, especially since the company product is cross-platform and that includes Windows, but when I compare it to problems I've had with SVN, CVS, or heaven forbid Visual SourceSafe...

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Anonymous Coward

to paraphrase...

...enlightened self-interest

that deserves a prize, I would have thought

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Alert

Linux vs stme cells, hmmmmm

Given that Linux is here and now (or rather, has been for 25 years) and stem cells are still 99% vapour-ware, I think I'd give it to Linus on this occasion. Besides, what Dr Yamanaka has done is more of an enabling step (using non-embryogenic sources for stem cells) rather than paradigm-changing (I guess many argue the same with Linus).

Interesting that George W's witholding of US Federal funds for embryogenic stem cell research didn't turn out to end the development of this technology the way it was promised. I think we should remember this point in the various "end of the world as we know it" scenarios are presented (climate change, renewable energy, health care reform). I guess "most of you won't notice" isn't as good a headlines as "we're all going to die".

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Vic
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Re: Linux vs stme cells, hmmmmm

> rather than paradigm-changing

What Linus did wasn't paradigm-changing either; it built on what the GNU organisation had done. Linux is the kernel that was missing from the GNU operating system, and it was written along similar lines to GNU projects.

That's not to belittle what Linus has achieved - I am a very satisfied Linux user - but what he did was to get the job done, not change the paradigm.

Vic.

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Happy

Re: Linux vs stme cells, hmmmmm

He did not change the paradigm, he allowed the change to be actually noticeable.

What I want to say is that we wouldn't have heard about GNU if not for Linux. Of course, Linux wouldn't be as big today if not for GNU. It's really neat case of synergy, if you pardon my marketroid speak.

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Re: Linux vs stme cells, hmmmmm

He did innovate. Stallman et al invented anti-social coding. Linus socialised it and made it friendly.

There's nothing original about the technology in Linux, but the development model is certainly unique. What was - possibly unintentionally - innovative was creating a code-sharing and project development environment that leveraged public access to create useful stuff.

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Re: Linux vs stme cells, hmmmmm

Actually there is a fair bit of useful research coming out of the stem cell branch of biology. I think so far it has been more along the lines of new drugs to use for successful transplants, but it still derives from the stem cell work. And I do believe they've had some limited success with cloning certain organs to transplant. Still not quite ready for prime time, but Dr. Yamanaka's research has the potential to change that, and without getting caught up in the controversies about embryonic stem cells. And yes, I'm one of those who is opposed to the embryonic stem cell research because I think it risks too much on the devaluing life question.

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"I'd tend to agree, but then statrted thinking "I wonder if stem-cell guy has access to super-computers for his research?""

If you're going to do it that way you may as well give the award to the guy who invented electricity, or the guy who invented coming down from the trees. Neither Torvalds or Yamanaka could have done their thing without the work of others.

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FAIL

So ripping off MINIX and giving it away for free counts as "innovation" now?

Sheesh.

Linux is a mediocre UNIX clone that, over twenty years later, still cannot boast a GUI worth a damn. And it's not as if offering source code licenses was novel even back then.

Give the award to Dr. Yamanaka. At least stem cell research has the potential to save lives. Linux has only the potential to further hold back the IT industry even more than UNIX and its loudmouthed fanatics already have.

As for Git and all its bastard relatives: the programming fraternity has only itself to blame for the continued existence of a need for such tools in the first place.

Get your heads out of your fatuous arses and you'll discover that every other field on this planet has managed to evolve rather more extensively over the years since the late 1960s, with the rather pathetic and embarrassing exception of programming. Text files and a Babel of programming languages (that, for some inexplicable reason, are all aimed at English speakers) are YOUR goddamned fault and nobody else's.

The foundation blocks to resolve this problem have been around for decades, but you've done precisely feck all except repeat the same actions over and over again, expecting different results each time, and yet failing to learn the lesson when that desired result stubbornly fails to materialise.

Seriously, get over yourselves. UNIX is not the alpha and omega of operating system design, and everything does NOT have to be stored in endless sodding ASCII (or ANSI) text files. That's just stupid. Text file viewers are no less programs than any other viewer of data. It's all just bloody numbers, so there's nothing inherently more "human readable" about a bunch of data with a ".TXT" extension than one with another extension. If you're hairy enough to code, you're hairy enough to code a bloody file viewer too.

Now look what you've made me do! I've got flecks of foam and froth all over my nice clean keyboard! I'll have to stop ranting now.

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FAIL

Re: So ripping off MINIX and giving it away for free counts as "innovation" now?

"Now look what you've made me do! I've got flecks of foam and froth all over my nice clean keyboard! I'll have to stop ranting now."

We'd all have been better off if you'd stopped six paragraphs earlier, thanks.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: So ripping off MINIX and giving it away for free counts as "innovation" now?

Actually I think the human race would have been better off without him starting at all.

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