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Amazon, Google and email

Glyn Moody: Do Amazon people get involved directly with kernel work?

Linus Torvalds: Amazon is not the greatest example, Google is probably better because they actually have a lot of kernel engineers working for them. Most of the time the work gets done by Google themselves. I think Amazon has had a more standard components thing. Actually, they've changed the way they've built hardware – they now have their own hardware reference design. They used to buy hardware from HP and Dell, but it turns out that when you buy 10,000 machines at some point it's just easier to design the machines yourself, and to go directly to the original equipment manufacturers and say: I want this machine, like this. But they only started doing that fairly recently.

I don't know whether [Amazon] is behind the curve, or whether Google is just more technology oriented. Amazon has worked more on the user space, and they've used a fairly standard kernel. Google has worked more on the kernel side, they've done their own filesystems. They used to do their own drivers for their hard disks because they had some special requirements.

Glyn Moody: How useful has Google's work on the kernel been for you?

Linus Torvalds: For a few years – this is five or ten years ago – Google used to be this black hole. They would hire kernel engineers and they would completely disappear from the face of the earth. They would work inside Google, and nobody would ever hear from them again, because they'd do this Google-specific stuff, and Google didn't really feed back much.

That has improved enormously, probably because Google stayed a long time on our previous 2.4 releases. They stayed on that for years, because they had done so many internal modifications for their specialised hardware for everything, that just upgrading their kernel was a big issue for them. And partly because of the whole Android project they actually wanted to be much more active upstream.

Now they're way more active, people don't disappear there any more. It turns out the kernel got better, to the point where a lot of their issues just became details instead of being huge gaping holes. They were like, OK, we can actually use the standard kernel and then we do these small tweaks on top instead of doing these big surgeries to just make it work on their infrastructure.

Glyn Moody: Finally, you say that you spend most of your time answering email: as someone who has always seemed a quintessential hacker, does that worry you?

Linus Torvalds: I wouldn't say that worries me. I end up not doing as much programming as sometimes I'd like. On the other hand, it's like some kinds of programming I don't want to do any more. When I was twenty I liked doing device drivers. If I never have to do a single device driver in my life again, I will be happy. Some kind of headaches I can do without.

I really enjoyed doing Git, it was so much fun. When I started the whole design, started doing programming in user space, which I had not done for 15 years, it was like, wow, this is so easy. I don't need to worry about all these things, I have infinite stack, malloc just works. But in the kernel space, you have to worry about locking, you have to worry about security, you have to worry about the hardware. Doing Git, that was such a relief. But it got boring.

The other project I still am involved in is the dive computer thing. We had a break-in on the site. It was really painful for the maintainers, and the FBI got involved just figuring out what the hell happened. For two months we had almost no kernel development – well, people were still doing kernel development, but the main site where everybody got together was down, and a lot of the core kernel developers spent a lot of time checking that nobody had actually broken into their machines. People got a bit paranoid.

So for a couple of months my main job, which was to integrate work from other people, basically went away, because our main integration site went away. And I did my divelog software, because I got bored, and that was fun. So I still do end up doing programming, but I always come back to the kernel in the end.

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