Tuesday Oct 28, 2008

Small Improvements Leading to Big Results

The Open Secret of Success: "Instead of trying to throw long touchdown passes, as it were, Toyota moves down the field by means of short and steady gains. And so it rejects the idea that innovation is the province of an elect few; instead, it's taken to be an everyday task for which everyone is responsible." -- James Surowiecki, The New Yorker

There is so much to say about that quote. I think it's anti-intuitive for many people, which is probably why many miss it. But what I love is that it's just liberating. If this is true, and if much of Toyota's success is based on everyone being responsible for innovation, then I find that inspiring. Empowering. It means that innovation is not exclusive. It's not necessarily only locked inside the special people with big names, big titles, big brains, big megaphones, or big salaries. How utterly democratic. That's not at all how innovation is generally characterized, though. Be careful what you read.

So, will the American auto companies eventually get this? I think they will. It's cool to see Ford getting back into the quality game -- Ford gains on Toyota -- the Toyota way -- now so things may be changing. This bit about companies trying to leverage the Toyota manufacturing system is really interesting to me. It seems difficult to implement because it's such a different way of thinking, but extreme circumstances are also efficient focusing mechanisms. People get back to basics because they have no choice. That's where Toyota's system came from, actually -- a group of people who built a company during difficult times.

As soon as I read these new links (thanks for the pointers, Chris), I thought about how the Toyota production system is open source, basically, and how leading FOSS developers embrace the very same principles of incremental improvement. Just see Linus Torvalds here and here for one obvious and high profile example, but any reading of open source culture and software development methodologies will bubble up many interesting associations.

Everything tagged Toyota here.

Monday Feb 04, 2008

Torvalds on Japan and OpenSolaris

Jim Zemlin released part two of his conversation with Linus Torvalds. I blogged about part one last month. Lots of interesting perspectives in the entire interview.

When asked to comment about OpenSolaris, Torvalds said, "It's generally hard to build a community around a commercial entity that also wants to be in control because everybody else around that commercial entity will always feel like they're at the mercy of Sun. And I'm not even going to go into OpenSolaris because, quite frankly, I don't even care." And there were a few more bits after that, but that's the gist of it. Following the comments of Torvalds about OpenSolaris has been interesting over the last few years. Sometimes supportive, sometimes negative, sometimes indifferent.

But more interesting were his thoughts about the Japanese and the value of incremental improvements: "But if you just incrementally improve on something, you will get there eventually. One analogy ... is the auto industry 40 years ago and how non-innovative Japanese companies that just plodded along, how they were looked down upon by the true innovators in the U.S. auto industry. And look -- who was it that actually ended up changing the auto industry?" Totally agree.

One of the things many Japanese are famous for is taking the long view. It's enough to drive the average westerner insane. But anyway. On OpenSolaris, very early on learned to embrace a long term perspective, and that came from dealing with many engineers at Sun who hold long term views of technology. So, I wonder, what happens if we just plod along, if we just keep improving OpenSolaris incrementally over time, if we keep learning from those who have gone before. I wonder what that perspective buys us?

Linus Torvalds - Part I | Linus Torvalds - Part II

Tuesday Jan 08, 2008

Torvalds on Democracy and Culture

Interesting interview between Jim Zemlin and Linus Torvalds. Two issues jumped out at me -- democracy and culture.

Torvalds on Democracy:

\*\*\*
Jim Zemlin: Let’s look a level deeper at the social interaction because open source is often described as this sort of democratizing process that, you know, everyone has a say, there’s this grand consensus, but at the end of the day, needs to be some sort of decisiveness when it comes to making decisions. How do you deal with that?

Linus Torvalds: Well, I mean, it’s really not a democracy at all and some people call it a meritocracy which is not necessarily correct either. It’s – I have a policy that he who does the code gets to decide, which basically boils down to there’s a – it’s very easy to complain and talk about issues and it’s also easy for me to say, ‘You should solve it this way.’

But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is actual code and the technology itself and the people who are not willing to step up and write that code, they can comment on it and they can say it should be done this way or that way or they won’t, but in the end their voice doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is code.
\*\*\*

I agree. But I'd just add that "code" to me means anything that you actually produce. It could be a document. A piece of artwork. A spec. Some code. A building. Whatever. Those who "do" always distinguish themselves from those who talk. To me that's the essence of a meritocracy.

Torvalds on Culture:

\*\*\*
So, the language barriers tend to be a huge problem for – well, actually, maybe more even the different cultural issues that – with Asian countries they have good penetration; some of them have huge penetration of Internet use, they have a obviously great education and they do not end up contributing a lot to open source, not the kernel, not to generally other projects either.

And that seems to be at least partly cultural and it’s really hard, then, for some of these people who have cultural barriers and a language barrier to then become actively involved. It does happen, but it certainly explains a lot of the reasons why Western Europe and the U.S. are the biggest development areas.
\*\*\*

This one's tougher. Although I agree that there are big language and culture issues in some Asian countries, at least in China I see these melting fast. It could be a very different open source world in a few years.

There are many other really interesting bits in the interview. Take a look. And a listen. Linus Torvalds - Part I | Linus Torvalds - Part II

Monday Nov 26, 2007

Two Great Linus Quotes

Here are two Linus quotes from a recent article in Informationweek -- Torvalds On Where Linux Is Headed In 2008:
And not only do we tend to support many different models of virtualization, but one telling detail may be that I am personally so totally uninterested in it, that I am really happy that I have almost nothing to do with any of them.

And I mention that as a strong point of open source! Why? Because it actually is a great example of what open source results in: one person's (or company's) particular interests don't end up being dominant. The fact that I personally think that virtualization isn't all that exciting means next to nothing.

...

But in the end, a lot of this is just a huge amount of individually small changes that may not be even interesting on their own - what is then really stunning is how big a difference all those small not-so-interesting changes make when you put them all together.

In other words, I'm a huge believer in the "99 % perspiration, 1% inspiration" rule. It's a lot of hard -- but happily, mostly interesting -- work, and there is seldom, if ever, any single big silver bullet.

Even though I took these two quotes out of the context of the original article, they illustrate two points I agree with: (1) one person or company shouldn't control the entire community, and (2) the real value of community development comes over the long term and results from many small contributions, not one big one. To me, these are two issues facing the OpenSolaris community right now. The small things matter a lot. They add up. And I think we miss that many times because we are too focused on "Sun" in the community on the one hand and the so-called "lack of leadership" on the other. There are no silver bullets for OpenSolaris. And there's nothing to replace the perspiration of doing the hard -- but interesting -- work.

Sunday Sep 23, 2007

Linus and Solaris Bugs

Seems Linus called Solaris a "buggy piece of crap" (here, here). Cool. But I'll listen to Casper, Joerg, Martin, and Richard instead.

Tuesday Aug 07, 2007

Andrew Morton on OpenSolaris

Linux kernel maintainer allays fears about forking: "Meanwhile, Morton did not put much stock in Sun's rival OpenSolaris project. 'From where I sit, I don't hear much about it. I don't see much evidence of people switching over,' or seriously considering OpenSolaris, said Morton. Sun should have moved off of Solaris and onto Linux, Morton said. 'They've fragmented the non-Windows operating system world and they continue to do so,' he said. But he acknowledged he did not see much chance of Sun moving away from Solaris." -- Andrew Morton

Oh, well. I guess not everyone has to love you, right? I wonder, though, why the jab now? Linus was critical of OpenSolaris recently, too. Anyway, I actually put a lot of stock in Linux -- especially Ubuntu because it's so open to non-technical users like me.

Wednesday Feb 02, 2005

Linus Torvalds on OpenSolaris

Linus Torvalds chimes in today on OpenSolaris in CRN -- Torvalds: Waiting To See Sun's Open Solaris.

"It all looks good. I was disappointed in their Java work, it was a complete disaster, and Sun took control of it," Torvalds told CRN, alluding to the Java Community Process. "But CDDL is different. Everything is in place for it to work well."

Torvalds said he doesn't know if there will be enough interest in Solaris to grow a viable open source community, or if the Unix OS has become too "marginalized," but he isn't complacent about Sun's efforts. "A lot of people still like Solaris, but I'm in active competition with them, and so I hope they die," the Linux creator and chief developer quipped.

Sun's Danese Cooper comments on the CDDL:

After the panel Danese Cooper, Sun's chief open source evangelist, said that while the CDDL has different provisions of the general public license (GPL) that affect developers' use and distribution of Open Solaris, Sun won't bring patent litigation to the courts. "We're not going to sue anyone," she said.

Technorati Tag: OpenSolaris

Tuesday Dec 21, 2004

Torvalds: Solaris is a Joke

Some unfortunate comments from Linus today in a long Q&A with Stephen Shankland at Cnet. Most of his previous statements recently on OpenSolaris have been reasonable. I've been a big supporter of Linux here at Sun, and I have a lot of respect for Linus. So it's difficult hearing some of this from him. Oh, well.

Q: What do you think of what Sun is doing with Solaris 10--technology improvements, open source, and the move to x86 chips?

A: I'm taking a very wait-and-see attitude to Sun. They like talking too much. I'm waiting for the action.

...

Q: It seems to me that they have taken some action besides just grandstanding. They have resurrected the x86 version and added several interesting features--containers, DTrace, and ZFS, for example--that are available today in beta versions of Solaris 10. They're actively rounding up support from developers and software companies. And they announced that the production version of Solaris 10 on x86 will be available for free. What do you think about the x86 move and the new Solaris features?

A: Solaris/x86 is a joke, last I heard. (It has) very little support for any kind of strange hardware. If you thought Linux had issues with driver availability for some things, let's see you try Solaris/x86.

...

Q: When Sun releases Solaris as open-source software, will you take a peek?

A: Probably not. Not because of any animosity, but simply because I don't have the time or the interest. Linux has never been about "others," it's been about getting better than itself, so I don't really have any motivation to play around with Solaris. I'm sure that if it does something particularly well, people will be more than happy to tell me all about it.

...

Q: Surely if you like the idea of standing on the shoulders of giants, there might be some handy ideas in Solaris. Why ignore it?

A: Because I personally don't think they have anything left worth taking after I've applied the general Unix principles. I really do think Linux is the better system by now, in all the ways that matter.

But more importantly, if I'm wrong, that's OK. People who know Solaris better than I do will tell me and other people about the great things they offer. To try to figure it out on my own would be a waste of time.

Tuesday Dec 14, 2004

Linus Comments on OpenSolaris

I read these comments from Linus Torvalds yesterday in eWeek:

Sun "wants to keep a moat against the barbarians at the gate," he wrote in an e-mail interview. Torvalds said he does not expect developers clamoring to start playing with that source code.

"Nobody wants to play with a crippled version [of Solaris]. I, obviously, do believe that they'll have a hard time getting much of a community built up," Torvalds wrote. "I think there are parallels with the Java 'we'll control the process' model. I personally think that their problem is that they want to control the end result too much, and because of that they won't get any of the real advantages of open source."

He is speculating, of course, on the OpenSolaris license, which we have not announced yet. He doesn't know. And neither do I, to be honest. That discussion will be for another day.

I disagree with his comment about developers not clamoring to start playing with the code, though. The Solaris community very much is clamoring to play with the code. In fact, we can't get it out to them fast enough! I see it every day. I bring Solaris developers and system administrators into the OpenSolaris Pilot Program. One at a time. All day, every day. And I can assure you, they are a lively bunch of talented developers.

However, I think Linus has touched on a significant issue here -- control. Just how much control a corporation like Sun asserts over a project such as OpenSolaris is a subject of constant discussion internally and within the OpenSolaris Pilot Program. No one has been in our position before, so we're learning as we do all this. And thoughtful people can disagree (and they do, believe me!). In this respect, I see Linux and Solaris at two very different stages in their lives. I see Linux growing up from a grass-roots community into a fully viable desktop and enterprise operating system that now has the backing of major corporations but remains open source. I see Solaris as growing from the community, then moving under the stewardship of a major corporation, and now returning to its roots after many years of highly focused enterprise engineering.

So, here's my question -- can you judge the Solaris community (as it exists today) based on the experiences of the Linux community (as it exists today)? I mean, we are open sourcing an operating system that already has a large installed base around the world, already has a business model driving Sun, already has developers who will be fully enfranchised as an open source community very shortly, and already has a sophisticated development methodology that we are updating and carefully moving across the fire wall. It seems we are in a very different place as we open source Solaris right now than Linux was when it went open source. Am I wrong? That's not rhetorical ... I'm actually asking. I see it as a distinction with a very big difference. When questions of "control" come up they are sometimes characterized as a negative when in reality shouldn't they be considered complex business and technical issues that need to be responsibly resolved? Well, that's pretty much what we are doing.

Thursday Sep 16, 2004

Linus on OpenSolaris

Linus chimes in on OpenSolaris in the last paragraph of this eWeek article: Linux founder Linus Torvalds is also withholding judgment on OpenSolaris. "My guess would be that they use some kind of MS-like 'shared-source' license, and even then they don't release enough to actually build a working system," Torvalds said. "But hey, maybe for once I won't be disappointed by Sun. Hope lives eternal."
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