'IT rebel' Torvalds awarded honorary doctorate

Stockholm University at a presentation ceremony here last week awarded an honorary doctorate to Linus Torvalds for his accomplishments as the creator of the Linux open-source operating system.

Torvalds, a 29-year-old native Finn, became the Swedish university's youngest-ever recipient of an honorary doctorate, and was lauded in a statement from the university's Faculty of Natural Sciences as an "IT rebel" and "computer genius."

In a low-key question-and-answer session prior to the presentation ceremony, the affable Torvalds talked about how he sees his famous creation unfolding over the near future.

The next update to the Linux kernel, version 2.4, is already in "feature-freeze", said Torvalds, meaning that no additional new features will be included in the final release, which however is likely to slip into 2000.

"The goal was to ship 2.4 by year's end, but knowing how these things work I would say it is realistic to say that it will be out early next year," said Torvalds, speaking in his native Swedish. Although born in Finland, Torvalds belongs to the Swedish-speaking minority of the officially bilingual Nordic country.

Torvalds noted that the 2.4 version of the Linux kernel will feature several improvements that will allow it to be used in systems with up to eight processors.

In addition, the new kernel will also be better adapted for use in notebooks and other portable formats, with support for PC Cards and USB (universal serial bus), said Torvalds.

Asked about his views on the future of Linux and how it would fare against software giant Microsoft's offerings, Torvalds noted that Linux certainly compares favourably to Windows NT and especially Windows CE.

It will be harder for Linux, however, to loosen Microsoft's near-total control of the desktop PC operating-system market, said Torvalds.

Rather than portraying himself as a competitor and threat to Microsoft chairman and chief executive officer Bill Gates, Torvalds said that he only wants to give people an alternative technology, as well as a different model for doing business.

"I can't say I'm suffering economically. That's the nice thing about being a programmer -- you get to do what you like and also get paid quite well," said Torvalds. "If I would have to make the choice again, I think I would do the same thing all over."

While readily answering Linux-related questions from an audience of around 100 people, Torvalds politely declined to talk about his present job or what his employer is doing.

Torvalds currently works for Transmeta, one of Silicon Valley's most secretive start-ups. It was founded by David Ditzel, with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen also said to be in the inner circle of the mystery-shrouded company.

On Thursday, during a visit to his native Finland, Torvalds reportedly said that Transmeta probably will make some kind of announcement, or at least say when it will announce something, at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas in November.

What Transmeta exactly is working on remains unknown. Industry speculation ranges from guessing that it is developing a new high-performance processor for portable devices, to something software-related that will improve processor performance.

What is known, however, is that Transmeta, in addition to software programmer Torvalds, also employs several chip industry veterans. One of them is Jim Chapman, who was previously a senior executive at now-defunct x86 processor vendor Cyrix Corp. The company's Taiwan office, meanwhile, is headed by John Lin, who previously also held senior positions at Cyrix and other processor vendors.

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