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Linux’s Torvalds surprised by IoT uptake

Linux founder Linus Torvalds is starting to appreciate the use of his operating system as a backbone for embedded systems, especially in the world of Internet of Things (IoT), speaking at the Embedded Linux Conference & OpenIoT Summit for the first time this week.

Torvalds said that the growth in Linux for embedded systems surprised him, when he first started seeing his operating system deployed on gas machines and other non-digitized products, around 15 years ago.

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“There was no single point where I was surprised, but 15 years ago I started seeing these odd, embedded systems. The first one that really caught my eye was a gas pump running Linux,” said Torvalds. “Today, many changes have been invisible. Even I don’t see all the uses of Linux.”

While embedded systems continue to use Linux as the default backbone, Torvalds does not see the platform being used on tiny devices. Instead, he wants to see Linux become the major platform for large IoT devices, claiming that the open-source platform would work well as the backbone for an IoT hub.

IoT security and the risks of Linux as the backbone

Speaking on the subject of security, Torvalds agreed that some embedded and IoT devices being unpatchable was a problem. “In a new industry things will get done without security. Security plays second fiddle. It will be slightly distressing if someone hacks into my home furnace and turns up my heat to 95, I’ll be bothered.”

He warned that vendors tend to get in the way of security, similar to Google’s Android system with carriers and manufacturers slapping on their own customizations to every Android upgrade. Torvalds said that one way to fix this might be an alternative to standard Linux, similar to Cyanogen, but it would require IoT vendors to allow other platforms on board their devices.

Torvalds also praised the ARM community while speaking on security, he said “They’ve discovered it’s cheaper to buy commodity chips even if they’re not perfect rather than always making customized hardware. The ARM community, in particular, is getting better, so now the kernel people can keep up with ARM embedded systems. It’s not perfect, but we’re getting better.”

While the message is rather clunky, that has been Torvalds’ approach to Linux for some time. Keep updating and see where it goes, without a five year plan or concentrated effort at winning some group of developers or users over.

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