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Interview: Linus Torvalds on the future of Linux

Why Microsoft will never beat down open source

Linus Torvalds is the creator of Linux, so we shouldn't be too surprised that he predicts big things for the open-source OS kernel. But in this interview Torvalds says he is excited about solid-state drives, expects progress in graphics and wireless networking, and says Linux is strong in virtualisation.

With new releases of the Linux kernel coming every two-to-three months, Linux continues to test the limits of the open-source development process. Moving forward, the roadmap for the open-source operating system indicates a constant drive to add features, while maintaining quality and stability.

To get some perspective on what lies ahead in 2008, we caught up with Linus Torvalds via email. His responses touched on the Linux development process, upcoming features, and whether he's concerned about potential patent litigation.

PCA Is Linux kernel development proceeding faster than Windows Server development?

Torvalds: I'm the wrong person to ask, for multiple reasons. First off, I'm somewhat biased, of course. But the other reason is that I don't even know - or really care - how Windows Server development actually proceeds, so how could I even compare and make an intelligent point?

I simply don't use Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) products, not because I hate them, but because they aren't interesting to me.

So, yes, with the above really big caveats, I obviously do believe that Linux development tends to be a lot more efficient than the alternatives - both inside the kernel but in many ways even more so in all the things going on around it.

And I don't mean Windows in particular, I mean any behind-closed-doors-commercial-proprietary model.

And as to why, let me instead answer your second question, because I think that one is more directed.

PCA In your opinion, where does Linux shine versus Windows? Reliability? Virtualisation?

Torvalds: I think the real strength of Linux is not in any particular area, but in the flexibility.

For example, you mention virtualisation, and in some ways that's a really excellent example, because it's not only an example of something where Linux is a fairly strong player, but more tellingly, it's an example where there are actually many different approaches, and there is no one-size-fits-all "One True Virtualisation" model.

There are many different levels of virtualization, and many different trade-offs in efficiency, management, separation, running legacy applications and system software, etc.

And different people simply care about different parts of it, which is why the buzz-word "virtualisation" shows up in so many places.

And not only do we tend to support many different models of virtualisation, but one telling detail may be that I am personally so totally uninterested in it, that I am really happy that I have almost nothing to do with any of them.

And I mention that as a strong point of open source! Why? Because it actually is a great example of what open source results in: one person's (or company's) particular interests don't end up being dominant.

The fact that I personally think that virtualisation isn't all that exciting means next to nothing.

This is actually the biggest strength of Linux. When you buy an OS from Microsoft, not only you can't fix it, but it has had years of being skewed by one single entity's sense of the market. It doesn't matter how competent Microsoft - or any individual company - is, it's going to reflect that fact.

In contrast, look at where Linux is used. Everything from cellphones and other small embedded computers that people wouldn't even think of as computers, to the bulk of the biggest machines on the supercomputer Top-500 list. That is flexibility.

And it stems directly from the fact that anybody who is interested can participate in the development, and no single entity ends up being in control of where it all goes.

And what does that then lead to? Linux ends up being very good at a lot of different things, and rather well-rounded in general.

It's also very adept at taking up any new niche, because regardless of where you want to put it, not only has somebody else probably looked at something related before but you don't have to go through licence hassles to get permission to do a pilot project.

NEXT PAGE: Linux's strengths, and Microsoft's ability to react in 2008 > >

See also: Linus Torvalds: Microsoft can't catch Linux


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