File Under: Humor, operating systems

20 Questions for Fake Linus Torvalds

There’s a particular badge of honor you earn in web culture when you gain a high-profile impostor — Fake Steve Jobs comes immediately to mind.

But Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel and a bona fide hero within the free software community, is so beloved, he’s gained four pretenders.

For the last month, four Fake Linuses have emerged, each one posting 140-character bursts of humor and insight to Twitter and Indenti.ca, a free software alternative to Twitter that’s gained some traction among open source devotees.

All four pranksters are voiced by high-profile individuals within the Linux community, but their real identities have been kept secret by the Linux Foundation. The nonprofit advocacy group is running a contest between the four Fake Linuses. The one who does the best (and funniest) impersonation of Linus will be unmasked publicly and given an award at LinuxCon, which begins Sept. 21 in Portland, Oregon.

Webmonkey scored an exclusive interview with one of the Fake Linuses (FLT#2, we’re told). We communicated over e-mail to ensure the poser’s identity would be kept under wraps.

The real Torvalds, who has remained suspiciously mum about the whole thing, has a reputation for being both genial and bristly in his internet communications — he once famously compared OpenBSD developers to “a bunch of masturbating monkeys.”

Thankfully, we found his doppelganger to be just as audacious.

Webmonkey: You’ve been active on the web since its inception, but you’re new to Twitter. What’s more fulfilling, tweeting or posting to Usenet?

Fake Linus Torvalds #2: That’s hard to say. Usenet attracts a very specific group of people, so my flames hit their targets more directly. On the other hand, Twitter is a larger and more varied group, which means I get more flames from all sorts of folks.

Webmonkey: Have you ever asked for help with the Linux kernel on Twitter? If so, what was the response like?

FLT: Me? Need help with the Linux kernel?? Pfftt…

Webmonkey: As a web service, Twitter is notoriously flaky. Any ideas for improving its stability?

FLT: You mean, besides making it open source? Seriously, with so many people depending on Twitter to get up-to-the-second updates on what their friends are eating and which games they’re playing on company time, we need to get an open source development community involved to make it stable and, um, even geekier.

Webmonkey: What other social networks are you on?

FLT: Identi.ca, of course, because that’s where The True Believers hang out. But, I’m not all that “social,” if you haven’t noticed. I prefer to hang out on the kernel mailing list.

Webmonkey: Do you also only have those accounts because the Linux Foundation makes you?

FLT: Nobody makes me do anything. That’s what so great about this job. I spend many days simply trying to learn Napoleon Dynamite’s dance moves. If [Linux Foundation director] Jim Zemlin weren’t always bragging about his moves, I wouldn’t spend so much time on it.

Webmonkey: Which feels more sacrilegious, Twitter on Android or Identi.ca on the iPhone?

FLT: Hands down: Identi.ca on the iPhone is more sacrilegious. Look at it like this: If you’re using Identi.ca, then you’re open-source-minded and tech-savvy enough to know better. The only reason you bought that iPhone was to look cool.

Webmonkey: How difficult is it to compress a complex insult into a 140-character tweet and still assure yourself OpenBSD developers will be able to understand it?

FLT: The BSD crowd generally has trouble reading anything longer than 140 characters, so tweets work quite well for the purpose of insulting them.

Webmonkey: How do you feel about Richard Stallman’s campaign to have Twitter renamed GNU/Twitter?

FLT: Well, is it any surprise, really? He failed to get Linux renamed as GNU, so now he’s trying for Twitter. If that fails, he’ll go after Apple next. Just keep working his way down the food chain. Maybe someday he’ll realize no sane person wants to name their product after a wildebeest.

Webmonkey: What’s up with that guy who has @linus?

FLT: It’s rather charming. It got a little creepy, though, when I caught him going through the garbage cans behind my house. Funny thing is: A lot of people actually thought he WAS me on Twitter. So now I’m trying to be less predictable: I’ve even thrown a few bugs into Linux, just to keep things fast and loose. The bizarre thing is that Microsoft copied them! Those guys…

Webmonkey: On average, how many direct messages does @jzemlin send you each day?

FLT: These days, I have no idea. I had to block him once I started receiving pointless messages every 10 minutes. “So, whatcha thinking about?” “Just heard this song and I thought of you.” “How come you haven’t responded to my messages?” Yeah, pretty weird.

Webmonkey: What was the message that drove you to finally block him?

FLT: I think the tipping point came when he sent me this DM: “Did you know that ‘Linus’ means ‘love’ in Swahili?” It was then that I realized: this bromance had come to an end. I considered a restraining order, but then I remembered that he cuts my paycheck.

Webmonkey: Why can’t the KDE people just give it up, already?

FLT: I can’t venture to guess. But, legend has it that Matthias Ettrich started KDE because his girlfriend could not use the desktop applications of the time. Who’s he kidding? Matthias knows he’s never had a girlfriend.

Webmonkey: As the story goes, you met your wife over e-mail. Do you think there’s any opportunity for people to find love on Identi.ca or Twitter?

FLT: Thanks to the internet, and services like Identi.ca and Twitter, people can search for love 24/7, without ever leaving their parents’ basement.

Webmonkey: About a month ago, Novafora, the company that acquired Transmeta, ceased operations. As a former Transmeta employee, how do you feel about this — in 140 characters or less?

FLT: Sad to see Novafora and Transmeta disappear, but in Silicon Valley, such is life. Companies come and companies go. Only Linux is forever.

Webmonkey: How do you say “tweet” in Finnish?

FLT: Tyhjiöfluoresenssinäyttö. OK, not really. But all Finnish looks the same, doesn’t it?

Webmonkey: Do Fins tweet much?

FLT: Fins love to tweet! How else can they tell their friends about the 20-pound perch they caught ice fishing, without having to set down their beer or turn down the volume on the heavy metal?

Webmonkey: Does Tux tweet?

FLT: It’s hard to tweet when you have flippers instead of fingers.

Webmonkey: You’ve been gravely injured, and you only have the energy for one status update with which to cry for help. Twitter or Indenti.ca?

FLT: I’d cry for help on my Identi.ca account, which automatically feeds to Facebook and Twitter. Triple my chances for help! Microsoft, don’t get any ideas. You come after me, you’ve got to take the whole Linux community down, too. Ain’t gonna happen, baby!

Webmonkey: Can we have your #followfriday list?

FLT: @linuxfoundation, @linuxdotcom, @patricknorton, @donttrythis, @snackfight, @darthvader.

Disclaimer: Fake Linus Torvalds #2 is not the real Linus Torvalds, and these statements do not reflect the opinions of Linus Torvalds or the Linux Foundation. The identities of all four Fake Linus Torvalds will be revealed on Sep. 21 at LinuxCon. You can vote for your favorite FLT — the one with the most votes will receive the coveted Silver Penguin cocktail shaker at LinuxCon.