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Kernel Development, Desktops, and Scooby Doo: The Alan Cox Interview - page 2

A Connoisseur of Indian Food and Scooby-Doo

  • February 10, 2000
  • By Paul Ferris

LT: What do you think of some of the commercialization changes to Linux? There's been some more commercial companies adding stuff to Linux. Has that been a good thing?

Alan: I'm not so sure. Some of it is, some of it isn't. There are a lot of companies trying to push proprietary products on top of Linux. As far as I'm concerned this isn't really much of a move on Windows markets. Companies still tying themselves down to vendors.

What is starting to become apparent is that there are a lot of vendors whose stuff was previously proprietary who are very interested in the open-source model, who are saying a lot of our revenues are really in the support side--maybe there really is something in this. We're starting to see a lot of these companies get into open source.

Three years ago, IBM wouldn't really be anything but a nuisance. It's remarkable.

LT: But then yesterday they announced their journaling file system on top of Linux would be open source.

Alan: The JFS stuff yesterday, they've provided several drivers. There's the S/390 port, which is one of the most powerful computers that can run Linux. There's a lot of good stuff that's been coming out of IBM. HP's been doing a lot of stuff with the printers, [as well as] the HP-PA port. All of these really big companies, companies we thought would be sort of last on the list, are really starting to get it.

LT: You've done some work with the PA-Risc (HP) port, haven't you?

Alan: I've helped a little. I was trying to do some stuff with the PA but Linus sort of stepped in and said, "OK, you're going to be doing the 2.2 releases." So I've done rather less on the PA port than I'd have rather liked. I've had some people saying, "We'd like to give you one of these," but I had to say, "I don't have the time to fiddle with that as well."

LT: I'd personally like to see the PA-Risc port working. I really like their hardware and I kind of have a soft spot for HP-UX since it was my first UNIX exposure, version 6.0 of HP-UX.

Alan: [laugh] The HP hardware is actually very nice, but HP-UX is on my hate list.

LT: It's kind of creaking now in terms of comparison.

Alan: On of the things that a lot of these companies haven't picked up upon is the importance of easy-to-use user interfaces.

LT: And HP-UX isn't there. I had to do so many changes to CDE and the shell to make it even livable for myself.

Alan: Yes, it's similar to Solaris. One of the first things you did was to get the GNU tape. It's surprising that these vendors never really seemed to pick up on that.

LT: Because they could have done that out of the box.

Alan: Yes, they could have done it. It would be nice to seem some of these vendors shipping GNOME or KDE--and things like a shell where the arrow keys work!

LT: Exactly! Do you know how many times I complained to someone at HP about this very problem? I complained on the support line, I complained to their PR people, and I've gotten nowhere. It was a very simple thing--I even said, "Look, load bash, and you can go back and forth through your commands." Because I was on the support end, we would sell a machine and out of the box it would be so hostile to a new user.

Alan: Certainly this has been one of the things that has sort of given UNIX a bad reputation. I know certainly that they're easy to fix things. I know a long time back when we were using DOS at work, I started using DR-DOS solely for things like the arrow keys. It was worth a product switch for it.

LT: You could fix some of these things with DOS, but if it doesn't come that way out of the box it's pointless, as a new user wouldn't find it.

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