Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Linus Torvalds is wrong - PC no longer defines a platform

Hey, I can do these clickbait headlines too! Recently it has gotten media's attention that Linus is dismissive of ARM servers. The argument is roughly "Developers use X86 PCs, cross-platform development is painful, and therefor devs will use X86 servers, unless they get ARM PCs to play with".

This ignores the reality where majority of developers do cross-platform development every day. They develop on Mac and Windows PC's and deploy on Linux servers or mobile phones. The two biggest Linux success stories, cloud and Android, are built on cross-platform development. Yes, cross-platform development sucks. But it's just one of the many things that sucks in software development.

More importantly, the ship of "local dev enviroment" has long since sailed. Using Linus's other great innovation, git, developers push their code to a Microsoft server, which triggers a Rube Goldberg machine of software build, container assembly, unit tests, deployment to test environment and so on - all in cloud servers.

Yes, the ability to easily by a cheap whitebox PC from CompUSA was the important factor in making X86 dominate server space. But people get cheap servers from cloud now, and even that is getting out of fashion. Services like AWS lambda abstract the whole server away, and the instruction set becomes irrelevant. Which CPU and architecture will be used to run these "serverless" services is not going to depend on developers having Arm Linux Desktop PC's.

Of course there are still plenty of people like me who use Linux Desktop and run things locally. But in the big picture things are just going one way. The way where it gets easier to test things in your git-based CI loop rather than in local development setup.

But like Linus, I still do want to see an powerful PC-like Arm NUC or Laptop. One that could run mainline Linux kernel and offer a PC-like desktop experience. Not because ARM depends on it to succeed in server space (what it needs is out of scope for this blogpost) - but because PC's are useful in their own.