Linus Torvalds: 'Better is worse if it's different'

— 12:02 PM on February 7, 2008

In the Linux Foundation's "Open Voices" podcast, Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds has sounded off on desktop Linux and why he believes the operating system hasn't been as successful as it should. The podcast can be listened to here, and a transcript is available on two parts on the Linux Foundation's website (part one on this page, part two here). However, the folks at Wired have written up a summary of what goes on in the podcast and Linus' main arguments.

In short, Torvalds believes Linux has failed to take off to a significant extent on the desktop so far because it's too different from Windows. Torvalds sums up the problem in one short sentence: "If you act differently from Windows, even if you act in some ways better, it doesn't matter; better is worse if it's different." Interestingly, Torvalds also believes Microsoft is running into this very problem with Windows Vista. "I think one the reasons people are having issues with Vista now, is that it's much harder to—for one company—to kind of change the market and when the market has matured," Torvalds explains.

Users' reluctance to change may nonetheless turn out to be an advantage for the open-source community. "Now you can't have one company that kind of tries to move the goal post," he says. "Because if it keeps trying to move the goal post, that's just going to irritate that company's own constituents." In other words, desktop Linux isn't in any great danger of being outpaced on the functionality front, because developers of major desktop operating systems like Microsoft and Apple must avoid trying to reinvent the wheel if they want their products to sell.

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