My view on Linus Torvalds’ statement

Maybe you’ve heard of this recent statement from Linus Torvalds. It goes like this:

I may make jokes about Microsoft at times, but at the same time, I think the Microsoft hatred is a disease. I believe in open development, and that very much involves not just making the source open, but also not shutting other people and companies out.

People tend to focus in the first paragraph, which I find by far the least relevant. I mean, of course hatred is a disease. And it’s really nothing specific to Microsoft. But let’s read on:

There are ‘extremists’ in the free software world, but that’s one major reason why I don’t call what I do ‘free software’ any more. I don’t want to be associated with the people for whom it’s about exclusion and hatred.”

This is where Linus’ goes intimate. One could say it is intentional, but I see it more as a kind of slip. You see, in Torvalds’ mind, if you speak about free software instead of open source, there’s this danger that they will associate you with exclusion and hatred! His view of the world is very simple and straightforwarded: Either you completely avoid the freedom rethoric, or you’re full of hate.

In Torvalds’ mind it’s not conceivable that one could care about freedom out of love and not hate. It’s not conceivable that one could stand to defend his and everyone else’s rights out of compassion, without hating the person who would take them away. That is the view of an extremist.

It’s very unfortunate that people pay so much attention to Torvalds, as if he was some kind of visionary. Reality is that he’s just a very skilled hacker with delusions of grandeur and complete carelessness about ethics or morality.


32 Responses to “My view on Linus Torvalds’ statement”

  1. molamola Says:

    Didn’t understood the last part :s could you explain better please?

  2. gwoho William H. Says:


    Not everybody understand the difference between Free as in freedom and Open Software, and even when they do, it is easy to talk tihngs with not sense at all.

    Free Software is about FREEEEDOM, ethic, morality, respect, technology, sharing, knoledge, etc.. Open Software is similar but oriented to cost savings and fast technology innovation for industry, so the Open S. movement misses the FREEdom point some times.

    None of these comunities are interested about hate, there are people desiring to hate others because of their differences, but this happens in every domain of human aspect, like religion, sports, politics, etc.. We just need peace, and call to haters to “make love” heh :)

    HAPPY HACKING BRO’S the same to Linus T.

    btw, I’m a free sofware evangelist with a pure GNU project involved in, and I’m not hating others….

    • robertmh Says:

      Some proponents of “open source” term use it for purely practical purposes, just to extend free software in the commercial space. I think even RMS (reluctantly ;-)) approves of this.

      Others use it as a means to strip the freedom aspect away, because freedom and ethics doesn’t suit their agenda (Linus, for example, is glad DRM vendors participate in his kernel as long as they send him patches).

      And then there are some who simply are not aware there’s a social movement going on.

      Needless to say, I don’t hate any of these groups. But the second one doesn’t deserve my respect.

  3. Dave Says:

    I find myself agreeing with you, Robert, not only because I’ve followed Linus’ statements on the subject of Free Software over the years but because I had a similar reaction to the Linux Magazine interview. Without saying it directly, the implication that supporting software freedom is somehow related to hatred of a particular organization seems evident to me.

    Perhaps my familiarity influences me excessively, but I’ve noticed several occasions recently where Linus goes out of his way to throw in disparaging comments about Free Software supporters. And that’s fine; he’s entitled to his opinions, and as a high-profile public figure he has the opportunity to make them in public.

    All I can say is that I don’t hate any particular individual or company, but I advocate the use of Free Software based on its ethical principles. The hostility I sense seems to be coming mostly from those who prefer their technology value-neutral.

  4. Patrick Says:

    IMHO you really overestimate what Linus said. Its a great twist to recognize “Either you completely avoid the freedom rethoric, or you’re full of hate.” out of what Linus really said. You are really turning the words in his mouth this way.

  5. Links 05/08/2009: Tiny Core Linux 2.2, Red Hat Awards and Scholarships | Boycott Novell Says:

    […] My view on Linus Torvalds’ statement In Torvalds’ mind it’s not conceivable that one could care about freedom out of love and not hate. It’s not conceivable that one could stand to defend his and everyone else’s rights out of compassion, without hating the person who would take them away. That is the view of an extremist. […]

  6. Michael Schurter (schmichael) Says:

    Forgot to click “Notify me”. Sorry. :)

  7. Michael Schurter (schmichael) Says:

    Wow, going a bit far don’t you think? You quote 2 short passages and then surmise:

    “In Torvalds’ mind it’s not conceivable…”

    I don’t care if I agree or disagree with you, I have a problem that you claim to know what another person’s mind cannot conceive?!

    This is all getting quite ridiculous. Let’s all just get back to writing code in whatever damned language we please.

  8. Tim Says:

    LT’s decision to use GPL way back when, and to encourage internet collaboration on his little project, was “visionary”, or at least a very good approximation of it. Anyway, his contributions which been considerable and over more than a decade mean his comments will always get more attention that other skilled hackers. Probably the fact that he is still a “practitioner” not a “prophet” counts highly in the minds of many people. We also know his rhetorical style is loud. I’m pretty sure he talked about “world domination” in the past, for example.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Hear, hear. About freaking time someone up and said this.

    Overall, the “open source community” seems to have some kind of a problem with person worship. ESR, Linus, and their pet object of anti-worship: rms. Very catholic church, very ww2-era Italy.

  10. johnney Says:

    What a weak- ass bs thread. WGAF about what torvalds, gates, you, or anybody else for that matter thinks about squat. I bet u could pick apart anything anybody says. Screw software in general. Opensource, payed for, and free. Try to keep your judgmental whining to a minimum. People have better things to do besides worrying about what your mama said.

  11. J Says:

    I think you’re reading into his second paragraph a little too far. “Either you avoid the freedom rhetoric or you’re full of hate” is quite a jump from “I don’t want to be associated with the people for whom it’s about exclusion and hatred.” Nowhere does he imply that all members of the free software world are in it for the exclusion and hatred.

    • robertmh Says:

      Right. And some people who use the term “open source” are NRA members and weapon apologists.

      If I said “I don’t use this term because I don’t want to be associated with pro-weaponry people”, I’m sure everyone would quickly point out that I’m full of shit.

      Wouldn’t you?

      • Matt Says:

        No. It all depends on what is important to you, and whether you want to be in the same group as a (considerable) amount of people with whom you strongly disagree. And if Linus doesn’t want to be associated with the group of people for whom it’s about exclusion and hatred, I do understand that very much. You may not. But I believe your conclusions to be incorrect.

        Case in point: I stopped being a supporter of a certain football club when a growing part of the fan base consisted of people with a rightist-extremist background. I woulnd’t want to be in the same group as them, because I felt and still feel strongly about such matters. So would you say I was full of shit?!

      • Bob Says:

        You need a serious lesson in formal logic.

        When the primary voices who use the term “open source” are espousing their views on weapons under the umbrella of their software views, then and only then will your logical leap be remotely meaningful. Some of the porimary voices in the FSF are indeed espousing views of exclusion and hatred in their roles within the community. I don’t how that can be disputed, but you seem to be trying to do so.

  12. Beuc Says:

    I guess one gotta make some noise, when he just made Windows more competitive to Xen :P

  13. himdel Says:

    Oh, common, he’s right. The most vocal “free software” people *are* extremists (*). Therefore, for your average person (well, for some definitions of average :) ), the “free software” term is kinda tainted. The danger of being asociated with those is real.

    You don’t have to avoid the freedom rethorics to not be a hater. You just have to be prepared to be considered one.

    (*) RMS definitely is.

    • robertmh Says:

      Because I don’t ever contemplate the possibility of kneeling or surrendering my freedom, you call me an extremist. Fair enough. Then I’m proud to be what you call an extremist.

      But then you try to link freedom commitment with hate. You insinuate (like Torvalds does) that if you care about freedom you’re more likely to be a hater that if you don’t.

      Look, there are haters everywhere, even in the free software community, and I’m not one of them. Loving one’s freedom has no relation at all with hating someone else. I don’t hate my opressors, I pity them for wasting their lifes doing harm to others.

  14. Peter Says:

    It is unfortunate that the FSF pays a lot of attention to Linus’ words instead of doing some coding.

    • robertmh Says:


      I don’t represent the FSF’s views or opinions. I do some coding, but maybe it’s not enough for you to consider my words worthy of reading. Anyway, I don’t use that metric.

      As for the FSF, it’s not its purpose to write code. The GNU project, however, does, and I bet you’re using some of their software.

      • parolang Says:

        You work on GNU Grub, don’t you? That’s part of the GNU project. I was just wondering why you’re saying “their” software. Since you’re working on part of the GNU Project, wouldn’t that be *our* software?

        It’s just a small thing. I guess I always wondered why GNU developers distance themselves from the GNU project.

  15. sirio Says:

    Let’s see what we have here:
    Torvalds states that “There are ‘extremists’ in the free software world” – which obviously impies, that not everyone in the free software world is an extremist.

    Further he states that he does “not want to be associated with” those peple – which also is only based on the assumption that such associations are possible, not necessary. And that he wants to avoid such a possibility.

    There is no singe quote that justifies your deduction that Torvalds says that “Either you completely avoid the freedom rethoric, or you’re full of hate”. This is something that springs from your interpretation of Torvalds’ statement. From there on you impute a black-and-white view to Torvalds that can not be found anywhere. This seems somewhat biased and unjutifiable to me.


    • robertmh Says:

      that’s one major reason why I don’t call what I do ‘free software’ any more. I don’t want to be associated with the people for whom it’s about exclusion and hatred

      The message “free software is about exclusion and hatred” is pretty clear in these words.

      If you don’t want to see this, that’s too bad, I’m not going to argue over it.

      • Matt Says:

        Learn to read, for Christ’s sake!

      • Bob Says:

        Too bad that’s not what the quote says. The message you placed in quotes is not, repeat IS NOT, what he said. He said “I don’t want to be associated with the people for whom it’s about exclusion and hatred” and “There are ‘extremists’ in the free software world”. You have drawn a totally false line between those two quotes and somehow decided that he is saying the entire movement is about those things. In a sad way, you seem to be proving the legitimacy of his concern without realizing it.

  16. grillmeister3000 Says:

    Torvalds is pragmatic, nothing more, nothing less. World domination of any single system is not going to happen. But if you claim that Torvalds lacks ethics or morality because he states this reality, you’re full of shit. Go praise your toe lint eater.

    • robertmh Says:

      Torvalds is pragmatic, nothing more, nothing less.

      I am pragmatic, too. My goals clearly differ from his, but this has nothing to do with pragmatism vs idealism.

      • Regala Says:

        Maybe it’s got something to do with rudeness, and talking shit for months on and about fellow Debian developers. You dare comment these quotes but, let me state this for you: you are one of this group that motivated him to talk this and may I remind you that for years NOW, RMS has had this kind of speech for people talking about Open Source “instead of” Free Software ? so please spare us your analysis.

        It’s funny how you twist reality, and try to elude the #1 subject: some shit-headed “free software supporters” behaved like asses against another free software project for a long time. Someone states it, unfortunately you are in the wrong group, so you shit this someone. Despicable.

        You are one of those who called names on fellow developers and free software supporters, you are one of those who spread hatred for months on other FREE SOFTWARE Projects. You are one of those who made me think this community was too ill, and too self-confident to see and respect the OTHER ones. You are not qualified to talk about this.

      • robertmh Says:

        You dare comment these quotes but, let me state this for you: you are one of this group that motivated him to talk this

        In that case he got it all wrong, because I don’t hate anyone. I complain about things that I think are important, and that’s all there is to it. If it bothers you, don’t read.

        But of course, when there’s nothing more to offer, labeling me as a hater gives one a piece of self-righteousness doesn’t it?

  17. chaica Says:

    Bitkeeper and Tivo issues showed that Linus Torvald underestimates deeply the license stakes. Bitkeeper was a strong alert but Tivoisation is much much worst.

    FFF positions are strong and it’s tempted to try to remain in a neutral position. But there is no such position and Torvald will be forced to face the rightness of FFF ideas when he’s going to struggle over a big (hopefully not overwhelming) flaw in the current Linux kernel license in the future.

  18. John Says:

    He has a point though. I was just in a conversation with someone talking about open source, and immediately got labeled as a Microsoft hater — in the extreme facist sort of way.

    As with so many things, the extremists end up spoiling the fun for the “normal” people. “Free software” now has connotations about what that means that “that kind of person” who uses or creates it. Same with “Open Source”.

    We can keep making up monikers, but the extremists will always rain on the parade.

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