Linus Torvalds: ARM “not very pleasant to deal with” and doesn’t look like beating Intel

Linux creator Linus Torvalds believes ARM doesn’t have the ability to overhaul Intel’s x86 infrastructure because of the latter’s open hardware ecosystem. 

Torvalds made these comments while speaking with David Rusling, chief technology officer of ARM tools vendor Linaro at a fireside chat.

When asked if he has an architecture of preference Torvalds quickly responded that “x86 is still the one I favour most and that is because of the PC. The infrastructure is there there and it is open in a way no other architecture is.

“The instruction set and the core of the CPU is not very important. It is a factor people kind of fixate on but it does not matter in the end. What matters is the infrastructure around the instruction set. x86 has it and has it at a lot of levels.”

Torvalds did compliment ARM’s hardware for mobile, but ultimately said that he had been "disappointed in ARM" because "as a hardware platform it is still not very pleasant to deal with”.

“It does not have the same unified models around the instruction set as we do in the PC space, but it is getting better. Being compatible just wasn’t as big a deal in the ARM ecosystem as it was in the x86 system”.

Compatability is at the heart of chip manufacturing, but Torvalds believes that hardware vendors don’t have an incentive to create products to make a platform more useful.

He said that ARM mostly develops on an x86 PC and while he admires the Raspberry Pi, he called it a ‘toy’ and said ARM won’t surpass Intel until it can provide a platform that developers will want to use as their primary machines.

Torvalds had similar sentiments for internet of things (IoT) devices, saying that the Linux development community won’t make the effort to develop for them “because most of the small devices tend to be very locked down.

“I would like to say there are lots of IoT devices people will care about but when they are closed only people in companies care about them.” 

When Rusling confronted Torvalds on his somewhat contentious behaviour, the Linux founder argued that he is misunderstood. “99 per cent of the time I am a very happy manager and I mentally pat people on the head all the time.

“I am an outspoken person and I used to say that on the internet nobody can hear you being subtle. Sometimes my grumpiness makes more news than my being nice. I feel like most of the time I am actually a very happy person. We have had a wonderful dev process that really, really works.”

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