Skip to main content

Jim Zemlin at TEDx: What We've Learned from Linus Torvalds

By 04/25/20138月 22nd, 2017Blog


Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin is likely one of a handful of people in the world who has had a front row seat to the largest collaborative development effort in the history of computing, Linux. He understands that speed of innovation and quality of software development is dictated by forward thinkers who are working in collaboration.

That is why he was recently invited to speak at TEDx about what the technology industry has learned from Linux, and specifically its creator Linus Torvalds, and how some of those lessons can be applied to a variety of efforts and projects across geographies and disciplines. 

Linux has been pretty successful and the TEDx audience was eager to learn how it has achieved such success and how they could apply some of the Linux community’s best practices to their own work. In true Zemlin style, the lessons seemed a little surprising at first but as he elaborated, the audience soon understood how Linux has become the largest shared technology resource known to man. It runs the Internet, our smartphones, televisions, the world’s high performance computing systems and eight out of 10 of the world’s stock exchanges. It’s literally the foundation for our global economy, he explained.

He attributes the success of Linux during his talk to four primary principles:

Don’t Dream Big

Zemlin quotes poet David Frost in his first point about not dreaming big: “Don’t aim for success if that’s what you want. Do what you love and believe in and it will follow.” This is exactly what Linus Torvalds did when he put his Linux operating system on the Internet in 1991 and said he didn’t think it would be much, just something he was doing for fun. 

Give It All Away

Zemlin also makes an important point about how companies make money from software that is given away. By giving Linux away, Linus Torvalds and the entire Linux community have created more value than anyone could have imagined. Linux today is estimated to be worth more than $10B. IBM and Red Hat continue to see increasing shareholder value, while companies using largely closed development models have seen little return to their shareholders.

stock comps

Zemlin says that even Apple gets the value of Linux and open source software. Inside every iPhone and iPad, there is free software. He says,” Apple knows something that many people don’t. When you stand on the shoulders of giants you can innovate at higher levels.”

Don’t Have a Plan

He goes on to explain that the plan for Linux is there is no plan and shares with the TEDx audience how self-forming communities result in faster, better collaboration. Seven changes are made to Linux every hour, 24 hours a day, because people are self-motivated and care about what they’re working on. 

Don’t Be Nice

His last point is perhaps the most entertaining and provocative. Zemlin talks here about the value of flame wars, defending ideas and ridiculing code. The result? Better software. He cites a UC Berkeley study that found groups that are encouraged to debate rigorously and defend their ideas, opposed to traditional brainstorming where every idea is a good idea, come up with better ideas.

I don’t want to spoil the ending so I’ll just say that he makes the argument that the future is one where you can enrich yourself while at the same time enriching others. Check out the 18-minute talk here and share. If this TEDx Talk inspires you, let the TED team know and help us spread the word about Linux.

The Linux Foundation
Follow Us