Linus Torvalds: Apple’s Mac OS X much better than Windows Vista (but OS X filesystem is utter crap)

“Apple’s much-touted new operating system, OS X Leopard, is in some ways worse than Windows Vista, says the founder of the Linux open source project, Linus Torvalds,” Nick Miller reports for The Sydney Morning Herald. “Torvalds was in Melbourne last week for the conference and was invited to pass judgement on OS X versus Windows Vista in a wide-ranging interview.”

“‘I don’t think they’re equally flawed – I think Leopard is a much better system,’ he said. ‘(But) OS X in some ways is actually worse than Windows to program for. Their file system is complete and utter crap, which is scary,'” Miller reports.

Miller reports, “He poured scorn on the modern trend to treat a new version or update of an operating system as a cause for major celebration and marketing. ‘An operating system should be completely invisible,’ he said. ‘To Microsoft and Apple (it is) a way to control the whole environment … to force people to upgrade their applications and hardware.'”

Full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “bioness” for the heads up.]

MacDailyNews Take: Apple is methodically making their move to ZFS. Filesystem changes must be carefully considered for platforms with large user bases – which is something that Torvalds has absolutely no experience with on the desktop. The fact is, the performance of Linux on the desktop is, to turn a phrase, “complete and utter crap.” In January 2008, Net Applications’ measure of operating system usage share online put Linux at 0.67%. Ouch, just 0.67%, after all of these years! Apple’s Mac OS X, even with its filesystem that so concerns Linus, but which also happens to work perfectly well for users, stands at 7.57%, more than 11 times that of Linux. In fact, Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch already hold 0.17%. Apple’s Wi-Fi mobile devices will likely surpass Linux on the desktop this year. Linux users, and Torvalds himself, should give up the ghost. Linux on the desktop is a pipe dream. (Linux in the server room is a totally different story.)

As for an operating system being completely invisible, Mac OS X does a much better job of getting out of the user’s way than Windows or the various Linux flavors, which, from what we’ve seen, all seem hell-bent on making ugly clones of the Windows UI failure in what seems to be some desperate attempt to keep the delusional fantasy of Linux on the desktop alive.

Hey, brother, we didn’t ask for a war, but we’re well-prepared to fight, if you insist.

Apple has shareholders and employees and infrastructure. It’s a company, not a commune. To criticize them for charging for their work is disingenuous and/or naive. Obviously, if Mr. Torvalds has proven anything, it’s that you can’t get world class user interfaces from disorganized, disconnected, and unfunded ragtag bands of volunteers. The money Apple makes goes into perfecting the experience for the end user. Linux has so much to learn in the area of UI – the most important area for people who use computers, by the way – that it’s impossible to quantify. Even Windows is better.

Mr. Torvalds won’t like to hear this (and perhaps that’s why he’s lashing out), but, usage figures prove that, of the roughly 10% who are informed about what they are buying, almost all of us would rather pay for Mac OS X than have Linux for free on the desktop.

Now, all of that said, in a way we do kinda sorta agree with Torvalds on this general concept: The perfect world has no place for the very flawed Windows, the “choice” of the uninformed.

Our perfect world? Mac OS X on desktops, notebooks, and mobile devices (in the hands of users) and Mac OS X Server and/or Linux in the server room.

[UPDATE: 2:56pm EST: Attempted to clarify in the Take that most Mac users have made an informed choice (so have Linux users), while most Windows users have not (or they wouldn’t be using Windows, they’d be using Macs). Read any random bunch of independent OS reviews and Apple Mac is the clear choice. Much more than software lock-in, Windows depends on ignorance to survive (and even thrive) today.]


  1. I use Linux at work, and it’s okay, but nowhere near as easy or friendly as OS X. The fact that it is completely open source is nice, but in the end it’s the experience that counts.

    Linux is used a lot in the visual effects industry, because of its superior memory management and 64 bit support (Only now with Leopard can Apple compete in this space).

  2. While I appreciate the entire Linux micro-universe, If you want to build something from scratch and tinker your life away (remember Heathkit and the Jr. High A/V club?)… good for you. Have fun with Linux.

    Me? I need to get things done. As quickly and as efficiently as possible. I’ll stick with Mac OS X, thank you.

    Of course Mac OS X isn’t perfect. From what I’ve read about it, the promise of ZFS in OS X in a few years is pretty tantalizing.

    Apple’s apparent plans for OS X everywhere are pretty tantalizing, too!

  3. Well, my son (13) has installed Linux on his Lenovo PC that we were required to buy for him for school, and believe me, the experience of using Linux is FAR superior to his having to use Windows for about 6 months before he installed Linux. Just being free of the virus threat is enough reason to switch…. We’re lobbying the school hard, meantime, to go with Macbooks next time they do a laptop refresh. Fingers crossed it’ll work and he can dump both for OSX!

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  4. To say an operating system should be invisible is nonsense. You still have to interact with it on some level depending on what you’re doing. It shouldn’t be totally invisible – it just shouldn’t be needlessly visible.

    Linux is a great ideal but it seems that the ideal matters above all else. At least with Apple, Macs and OS X we have a great overall system to justify our passion.

  5. Yes Linus, show us how well you understand the consumer desktop compared to Steve Jobs who brought the GUI and personal computers to the masses.

    If you think you can make market share headway on desktop Linux based just upon a improved file system, go for it. Don’t let us stop you. ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”smile” style=”border:0;” />

    Just remember we all are still friends against Microsoft, after all Steve Jobs used Linux at Pixar’s renderfarm.

    Just remember your place is in the server room though, not on the desktop. Again your welcome to try though.

    God knows we Mac users don’t like being tied to Apple’s limited hardware line. OS X/PC would be a better choice than Linux on the desktop.

  6. MDN, you do a serious disservice in lampooning Linux on the desktop. Remember that WebKit — the foundation of Safari which is, in many ways, the most important component of the iPhone — is derived from part of a Linux desktop environment project.

  7. “‘(But) OS X in some ways is actually worse than Windows to program for.”

    There is a huge difference in saying that “OSX is in some ways worse than Vista” and “In some ways worse to program for that Vista.”. Everyday people on the street don’t give a crap about programming, only about usability.

    That being said i still hope OSX goes ZFS in the future.

  8. @GUI Man
    “God knows we Mac users don’t like being tied to Apple’s limited hardware line. OS X/PC would be a better choice than Linux on the desktop.”

    Speak for yourself. I can’t find a single Mac user in our department that agrees with that assertion.

  9. “… treat a new version or update of an operating system as a cause for major celebration and marketing…”

    This is to help the programmer and user have confidence that their program will work. My apps work under Linux, but it is hard to give confidence that they will work since I can’t control the version of Linux or plugins.

    Many programs require Leopard for the Core… programs, but there were equal jumps with MacOS X and MacOS 7. The amount Apple charge for the OS and the lack of registration would lead me to believe it is not the cash-cow it is for MicroWho?

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