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Linus Torvalds is often described as an open source champion, interested in licensing only insofar as it affects his ability to share code and improve software more quickly. However, his real position is more complicated -- and to some, perhaps surprising.

Asked point-blank which is more important, sharing code or empowering users -- the declared goal of the free software champions whom Torvalds is routinely depicted as being in opposition with -- and his first response in what he calls "the usual Linus polite words" is "That's a really stupid question. Why do you put it as an 'either or' kind of concept?" He then goes on to explain that, because open source operates in the same manner as scientific query, and is a matter of enlightened self-interest, sharing code and empowering users "are not at odds at all" -- a view that, in the end, places him closer to the free software position than either free software or open source followers might care to admit.

Torvalds has been quoted many times about his emphasis on sharing code, especially during the debates about the recently released third version of the GNU General Public License (GPL). Most famously, in an interview with Forbes magazine in March 2006, Torvalds explained his preference for the second version of the license by saying, "The GPLv2 in no way limits your use of the software. If you're a mad scientist, you can use GPLv2'd software for your evil plans to take over the world ('Sharks with lasers on their heads!!'), and the GPLv2 just says that you have to give source code back. And that's OK by me. I like sharks with lasers. I just want the mad scientists of the world to pay me back in kind. I made source code available to them, they have to make their changes to it available to me. After that, they can fry me with their shark-mounted lasers all they want."



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