Linus is an American

by Rick Jelliffe

Sometimes I joke in seminars "What do you call someone who believes that everyone should follow his standard but he should have to follow no-one else's?", Answer: an American. This is a cheap joke with suprising success, but icebreaks for a more serious discussion on vendor and developer attitude to standards; the quaint pioneer mythology that some Americans seem prone to, versus the desparate cooperativeness of the Australians, versus the desire for community of Europeans, versus the need for a level playing field from the Asian countries who see America as the periphery now. Of course, all stereotypes; reflecting on these stereotypes lets anyone thoughful think "Am I being like that stereotype American or like that stereotype European?", so not valueless.

In a recent exchange, Linus Torvalds blasts specifications; he is plausible but overbroad, and sadly "American".

With the initial caveat that his remarks really seem to be on the issue of kernel programming, and I'd leave that area to him, I think his remarks are mistaken, misleading and simplistic when applied to the wider world of software For a start, his argument is based on either abstract specifications or running code, when in real life you may have both. And, most importantly, you may (or may not) have access to a community as well. Worst, Torvald has a running assumption that a specification tells you how to implement something rather than (some of) what you want to achieve. Standards certainly strive very hard to avoid implementation-specific expressions, and standards seem to be what Linus is targetting at least in his examples.

Personally, I don't care much for technologies that are controlled by one stakeholder, once they reach a position of niche dominance to the extent of discouraging new entrants. Microsoft or Linus. (I am terribly uncomfortable with having to be the driver for Schematron in a similar vein, I am a bad driver.)


2006-06-21 06:07:08
So begins the cracking up of Linus the T. Similar to Eric Raymond.
I think the mammal brain can only take so much hard work and adulation for so long. Look at what it did to the Americans.

Colin Powell made some interesting points in a speech he gave to Intergraph 2006. He said that for all of the bad times of late, when it comes down to asking for intermediaries for international diplomatic spats, more people trust the Americans than don't.

It is kind of sad, IMO, when those of us who have worked in one capacity or another for so long to make international standards or fight for them find ourselves becoming nationalists. It bodes badly in a world where petty kingdoms and kings rattle sabers and the South Pacific fleet puts to sea for a 'very large exercise'.