May 6, 2016

Linus Torvalds Talks IoT, Smart Devices, Security Concerns, and More [Video]

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Dirk Hohndel interviews Linus Torvalds at ELC.

For the first time in the 11-year history of the Embedded Linux Conference (ELC), held in San Diego, April 4-6, the keynotes included a discussion with Linus Torvalds. The creator and lead overseer of the Linux kernel, and “the reason we are all here,” in the words of his interviewer, Intel Chief Linux and Open Source Technologist Dirk Hohndel, seemed upbeat about the state of Linux in embedded and Internet of Things applications. Torvalds very presence signaled that embedded Linux, which has often been overshadowed by Linux desktop, server, and cloud technologies, had come of age.

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Linus Torvalds speaking at Embedded Linux Conference.

IoT was the main topic at ELC, which included an OpenIoT Summit track, and the chief topic in the Torvalds interview.

“Maybe you won’t see Linux at the IoT leaf nodes, but anytime you have a hub, you will need it,” Torvalds told Hohndel. “You need smart devices especially if you have 23 [IoT standards]. If you have all these stupid devices that don’t necessarily run Linux, and they all talk with slightly different standards, you will need a lot of smart devices. We will never have one completely open standard, one ring to rule them all, but you will have three of four major protocols, and then all these smart hubs that translate.”

Torvalds remained customarily philosophical when Hohndel asked about the gaping security holes in IoT. “I don’t worry about security because there’s not a lot we can do,” he said. “IoT is unpatchable -- it’s a fact of life.”

The Linux creator seemed more concerned about the lack of timely upstream contributions from one-off embedded projects, although he noted there have been significant improvements in recent years, partially due to consolidation on hardware.

“The embedded world has traditionally been hard to interact with as an open source developer, but I think that’s improving,” Torvalds said. “The ARM community has become so much better. Kernel people can now actually keep up with some of the hardware improvements. It’s improving, but we’re not nearly there yet.”

Torvalds admitted to being more at home on the desktop than in embedded and to having “two left hands” when it comes to hardware.

“I’ve destroyed things with a soldering iron many times,” he said. “I’m not really set up to do hardware.” On the other hand, Torvalds guessed that if he were a teenager today, he would be fiddling around with a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone. “The great part is if you’re not great at soldering, you can just buy a new one.”

Meanwhile, Torvalds vowed to continue fighting for desktop Linux for another 25 years. “I’ll wear them down,” he said with a smile.

Watch the full video, below.

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