Linux Foundation chief talks about Torvalds' leadership, HTML5 and mobile's future

Jim Zemlin says Linux's desktop failure doesn't matter, MeeGo lives and HTML5 is the future

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Because Linus trusts Andrew Morton, to answer your question about the vice president, it would be Andrew Morton. Andrew has one of the toughest jobs in Linux. He's the guy responsible for the development tree.

So he's above Greg Kroah-Hartman?

I don't think he's above anybody else but people look to Andrew for that dev tree that Linus maintains. If we had to pick a VP it would be Andrew.

Would Linux without Linus be better off than Apple without Steve Jobs?

Unquestionably. Regardless of the hierarchy in Linux, there's a clear, collaborative spirit and structure. There's much more of a democratic nature than might exist at Apple, even though there has to be someone at the end of the day that makes a call. But I'm going to read this new book, coming out in November -- the first authorized biography ["Steve Jobs: A Biography"]. We'll see. Does the command and control versus the decentralized development work better or worse? History will be the judge and I don't know.

By the way, the first rule of providing interviews as the executive director of Linux Foundation is that it's tough to criticize Apple. They are kicking ass and they are kind of our friends because Apple did something for Linux that was really good in that they have clearly shown that the desktop doesn't matter. Microsoft's stalwart position didn't matter as much anymore and that has really enabled a lot. They showed that there are alternative ways of accessing information and they have definitely been breaking ground on this move toward streaming videos and music. Android is a result of that and it's all Linux.

What's up with MeeGo? Intel is still talking it up and there's been mention of it by speakers at LinuxCon ...

Here's how we look at MeeGo. A lot of hardcore engineering goes on in the MeeGo community, there is no doubt about that. A lot of random stuff goes on there, too, I'm not going to sugarcoat it. But those guys contribute those patches to the mainstream project from which it originated and it is hard, meaningful code that is going to benefit Android and everybody else. So why wouldn't I support that? I'd be nuts not to support MeeGo because whatever becomes of MeeGo, whether it's a commercial success or not, there is no doubt in my mind that Linux is better because of it.

In terms of where it's at, I'll tell you, we get a lot of calls about MeeGo from the automotive industry, from set-top boxes, from different folks who want to use that platform. I think, things come and go. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but we've got to keep trying. However it manifests itself, Intel's investment results in a lot of upstream projects working very well on their architecture. I don't think that's a loss.

So are you saying that you are still getting an increasing amount of interest in MeeGo? Interest has to have stalled after Nokia backed away.

I'm not going to lie to you. The Nokia thing sucked. Let's track the Nokia stock price since the announcement.

Well, Nokia wasn't doing great before that --

So, the question is, did it matter? Did either path, when you look at Nokia and the MeeGo decision versus Windows Phone 7, did it matter? So the N9 came out and it's gotten great reviews. So if MeeGo was good, why did Nokia go to Microsoft? But if it was bad, what has it been doing? It's been four years since the iPhone came out.

Android is still in the hands of Google, which is a mixed bag, at best, and webOS is more dead than MeeGo. Which still leaves this question of whether a collaborative Linux mobile platform will ever make it.

People, in particularly folks that are competitive to Android -- they don't hate the fact that Android is Linux based. They don't like hypocrisy of saying that it's open if it's not. Whether or not people get the source code at the same time isn't a big deal for me. But they do walk the talk. They do give it away. When they give it away, yeah, you can call them hypocrites or whatever. But they do eventually, it comes out and you can't say that's not meaningful.

There is criticism about Google's learning curve, and being slow to send patches upstream ...

So what? Everybody has that. Barnes and Noble didn't ask Google permission to build their Nook. They were provided with source code that Google provided to anyone and they went and built a very compelling product with it for free. I think they come through and release the source code. Timing to me is somewhat academic.

As for MeeGo's [success as an alternative to Android], it's so hard to predict the future of these projects. The ingredients are there. I'll be honest in the interest I see in the project. RIM hasn't come over and said we're going to change to MeeGo, but new companies do come and participate in the project.

Is Android really Linux? Or is it just something that has Linux running underneath?

That's Linux to me. Come on guys, I get that people are interested in controversy within the Linux world --

Actually my concern is the patents. Most of the patent issues are with Android -- and the Java stuff inside of it. If it's Linux, can Android's IP problems be transferred to it?

So there is a core definition of Linux from a patent perspective. It is the Open Invention Network's definition and it's a patent no-fly zone. I promise that will get bigger because this patent stuff is out of control.

Should users still be worried about using Linux?

I don't think so. I've heard this before. I know how the movie ends and we do just fine.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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