Linus Torvalds says open source not a guarantee of success

In a question-and-answer session here at Internet World Expo on Wednesday, Linux inventor Linus Torvalds chided competitors Microsoft. and Sun Microsystems.

Torvalds said Sun's recent half-step towards making its Solaris operating system open-source will not be effective.

"I don't think the Sun common licensing [announcement] will work but I am glad to see it happen," Torvalds said.

Torvalds said if vendors intend to make their source code open, they need to do so without any of the restrictions or conditions such as Sun placed on its Solaris operating system..

"A window is not open just because you can see through it," Torvalds said, saying that code is not truly open unless developers and users can manipulate it "without someone else controlling them."

Asked about Microsoft's recent rumblings that the company might make some of its products open-source and what that would mean to the Linux market, Torvalds said he would like to see it happen but was not hopeful about such a prospect.

"Talk is cheap [referring to Microsoft's statements]. It is a fairly theoretical question at this point, because I don't think it is likely. But I hope it happens," Torvalds said.

Torvalds cautioned, however, that developers are not guaranteed success just because they adopt an open-source strategy against competitors who have not.

"People think just because it is open-source, the result is going to be automatically better. Not true. You have to lead it in the right directions to succeed. Open source is not the answer to world hunger," Torvalds said.

As one example Torvalds pointed to Netscape's Mozilla, an open-source Java-based browser that held some promise but failed to attract many developers.

Torvalds said that in discussions with business users and developers more and more of them are beginning to see the value of, and better understand the strategy of the Linux technology and business model.

"A lot of business people I talk to realize the Linux way of doing business is not that strange after all, saying they are trying to do the same thing I have been doing. Just 18 months ago open source was a dirty word," Torvalds said.

Ed Scannell is an InfoWorld editor at large.

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