Torvalds tips Transmeta hand

Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux open source operating system, pointed to the increased popularity of the open-source movement here at Comdex, and for the first time spoke publicly about the new, secretive company he is working for.

Torvalds spoke to more than 5000 enthusiastic open-source supporters, telling jokes and giving updates on the progress of Linux.

"I was going to start with a lawyer joke, but I'm told it was already done yesterday," said Torvalds, referring to Gates' speech last night.

Torvalds prodded Gates another time in his speech, using a David Letterman-like Top 10 list for using the open-source development method. The number one reason for its use, he said, was "You won't get sued for anti-competitive behavior."

In the wireless communications arena, he said, Windows CE "didn't cut it ... especially when you cram into a small space, you need flexibility."

For the first time, Torvalds spoke publicly about Transmeta, the secretive start-up he has been working with. The company, he said, will give "full disclosure" January 19. He said that at Transmeta, "We are doing a smart CPU, which will be the first microprocessor using software to do a lot of stuff."

The Linux source code is being used for more and more complex tasks, he said. "We are going for high-end hardware," he said.

"I've been promoting the open-source method and I've been working for a company that is closed," he said.

The industry rumor about Transmeta is that it is working on a cheaper and easier to manufacture microprocessor that can run any operating system.

Linux 2.4, the next kernel version, which will be released next year, will be able to support a high-end architecture. It will go from supporting machines with dual or quad Pentium IIs and 1G byte of RAM as of one year ago to machines incorporating 8-way Pentium IIIs with 8G bytes or more of RAM.

Torvalds also said that users are setting higher and higher bars for technology. "Take Apple's iMac," he said. "The fact that it has five colours - who cares from a technology standpoint, but they are selling like crazy."

"Technology is not driving the market, but what's driving it is what people want."

In keeping with his Huck Finn personality, Torvalds said the most important thing was to have fun.

"It's not really about Linux vs Microsoft, it's about something you really, really have fun with and lets others have fun as well."

Although Torvalds did not reveal much about Transmeta, a new message on the company's Web site confirmed that the company would release the information regarding its Crusoe processor on January 19, 2000, but it would remain silent on details until then.

A "secret message" embedded in the source code of the Web page stated that Transmeta would announce and demonstrate the processor on that date. "Crusoe will be cool hardware and software for mobile applications," the message said. "Crusoe will be unconventional."

Transmeta can be found at http://www.transmeta.com/.

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