Linux founder Torvalds speaks out on OS's future

Linux creator Linus Torvalds last week set goals for his open-source operating system, including a movement to the desktop and faster release times.

But a one-size-fits-all implementation of Linux is not likely or desirable, because different levels of computing will require varieties in functionality, Torvalds said.

Speaking at a meeting of the Bay Area Linux User Group in San Francisco, Torvalds said Release 2.4 of the Linux kernel is due for release this fall, featuring Universal Serial Bus high-speed peripherals support and scalability to four CPUs in a multiprocessor system, with an eye toward support of eight CPUs.

Torvalds also said he plans to have shorter intervals between releases of the OS. The release date for Version 2.2, a predecessor to Version 2.4, slipped by a year as the growing popularity of Linux prompted developers to take more time to write code, he said.

"People became more careful," Torvalds said. He added that he hopes to have a final list of features for the upcoming release in a month.

Boosting Linux on the desktop and in embedded devices is desirable, Torvalds said, although a major movement on the desktop will take some time. Development of desktop Linux functions requires accommodating a variety of user behaviors, he added.

A major Linux desktop movement could put the OS squarely into competition against Microsoft's Windows OS. David Sifry, chief technology officer of Linuxcare, a Linux technical-support company, said prior to Torvalds' talk that he expects Linux to be more solid on the desktop in about 12 months.

"It's not on the desktop yet. It's getting there," with continued improvements expected for Linux user interfaces, Sifry said.

A fragmented Linux will emerge, although the fragmentation will not be as severe as that which has plagued the Unix OS, Torvalds said.

Some devices will require different levels of the OS, according to Torvalds. "You shouldn't even try to force a single [kernel] on everybody," he said.

In addition to discussing imminent improvements, Torvalds detailed some functions that will not appear in the near future.

High availability is one feature not planned for Version 2.4, although a goal is to make the OS crash-resistant, Torvalds said. Users are often able to devise superior high-availability solutions on their own, he said.

Scaling beyond eight or 16 processors in a single multiprocessor system may not be viable right now, Torvalds said. Something as extreme as a 256- or 512-CPU Linux system is not realistic within the next five years, he said. A possible alternative to this level of multiprocessing is system clustering, Torvalds suggested.

"A lot of hardware issues get so complex" when scaling to more processors, he said.

Prior to the meeting, Torvalds expressed interest in watching what transpires when Linux vendors Caldera and Red Hat become public corporations.

"One of the questions I've always hated answering is, 'How do people make money in open source?'" Torvalds said. "And I think Caldera and Red Hat and a number of other Linux companies going public basically shows that, yes, you can actually make money in the open-source area."

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