During a Q and A with Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin at last week's Open Source Leadership Summit in California, the Linux creator, in his inimitable forthright style, said: "The innovation this industry talks about so much is bullshit. Anybody can innovate. Screw that, it's meaningless. Ninety-nine percent of it is: Get the work done."
And he added: "I’m a huge believer in the 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration thing."
Torvalds made the comments in the context of a query by Zemlin about whether there had been a moment in the 25-plus years of working on the Linux kernel when he thought, "ah, this must be huge, this is much bigger than what you thought when you started".
"I didn't even know the people sending me patches, like know them personally. Of course, now I know them through email, but there is a tonne of people I have never met."
But he said he did want to mention the "whole 25-year thing". "Any technology project, the innovation that this industry talks about so much is bullshit. Don't do this big 'think different', don't do this big innovation thing. Screw that. It's meaningless."
He said his least favourite part of the technology news cycle was "this constant innovation and new ideas. And talk of 'this will revolutionise", all that hype, that's not where the real work is.
"The real work is in the details and I'm obviously one of those people who likes to concentrate on one project, I don't like flitting from one idea to another."
Torvalds said the people who "flutter about and come up with ideas" were also needed, though they were not "the really useful ones".
"They end up being the ones who, maybe, give ideas to the people who then do the work. That's what anybody should take away from this talk. The people who actually do the work are the ones you should listen to – and these days I don't actually do the work anymore. I merge other peoples' code.
"Conferences too, I like them to be less about the visionary innovation thing and more about the day-to-day thing, like what are my problems and how to solve them."
Torvalds and Zemlin also discussed the rate of work in the kernel project where a release happens about every 2½ months, how the work processes had evolved and Torvalds' creation of the version control system git, with Zemlin mentioning that Github, a project which hosts code, now has about 50 million repositories.
Torvalds created git back in 2005 when BitKeeper, the proprietary source management software he was using had its free licence pulled by the owner Larry McVoy. He gave credit to Junio Hamano, the chief maintainer, who he said had been doing the job for more than 10 years after Torvalds did the initial creation and maintained it for six months.
At the end of the session Zemlin thanked Torvalds for being "always inspiring and depressing simultaneously".