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Interview: Linus Torvalds discusses Linux

Torvalds discusses Microsoft and open-source future

And I would like to stress that varied part. A lot of projects try to specialise in one area so much that they get only one particular kind of user, and because they get one particular kind of user, they then get just a particular kind of developer, too. I always thought that was a bad idea: trying to aim for a specific "niche" just means that your user-base is so one-sided that you also end up making very one-sided design decisions, and then the user base will be even more one-sided, and it's a bad feedback cycle.

The private sector is not adopting Linux and free software as fast as it was first imagined. Why do you think lots of enterprises still have concerns about free software?

I actually think adoption is going at a fairly high rate, but what people sometimes miss is that there's just a huge inertia in switching operating systems, so MS Windows has a big advantage in just the historical installed base. And on bigger servers, people are still running older UNIX installations.

So these things don't take a year or two. They take a decade or two. I have the advantage of having seen Linux develop (and being slowly adopted) over the last 16 years, while most others users have really only seen it in the last few years -- and trust me, we've come a long way in those 16 years. Is there a long way to go? Sure. There are technical issues, support infrastructure and just people's perceptions that just take a long time to sort out.

Microsoft has recently claimed that free software and some email programs violate 235 of its patents. But Microsoft also said it won't sue for now. Is this the start of a new legal nightmare?

I personally think it's mainly another shot in the FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] war. MS has a really hard time competing on technical merit, and they traditionally have instead tried to compete on price, but that obviously doesn't work either, not against open source. So they'll continue to bundle packages and live off the inertia of the marketplace, but they want to feed that inertia with FUD.

Do you think you and the open-source software community are prepared for this battle?

I don't actually see it as a battle. I do my thing because I think it's interesting and worth doing, and I'm not in it because of any anti-MS issues. I've used a few MS products over the years, but I've never had a strong antipathy against them. Microsoft simply isn't interesting to me.

And the whole open source thing is not an anti-MS movement either. ... Open source is a model for how to do things, and I happen to believe that it's just a much better way to do things and that open source will take over not because of any battle, but simply because better ways of doing things eventually just replace the inferior things.

Microsoft and Novell announced last year a partnership for the interoperability of Windows and Suse Linux. Do you think Novell betrayed the principles of open software?

I actually thought that whole discussion was interesting, not because of any Novell versus MS issues at all, but because all the people talking about them so clearly showed their own biases. The actual partnership itself seemed pretty much a non-issue to me, and not nearly as interesting as the reaction it got from people, and how it was reported.

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