Torvalds: Linux will break desktop barrier in 2004

Linux founder Linus Torvalds believes this year Linux will crack the lucrative desktop market as more commercial software...

Linux founder Linus Torvalds has said that this year Linux will crack the lucrative desktop market as more commercial software suppliers tool up and cash in on the operating system and kernel developers improve graphical interface integration.

"Last year was good but I'm seeing a lot more noise about it this year," said Torvalds, in an interview at the Linux.Conf.au in Adelaide. 

"The server space is easier to tackle first with any operating system as it can be applied to specific tasks such as mail serving; however, the desktop is harder to sell.

"Now, the kernel and other pieces are coming together including office applications, games and web browsers. This has made the Linux desktop interesting to [corporates which] tend to choose one desktop, such as KDE or Gnome [GNU Network Object Model Environment], and stick with it."

TorvaIds said that the Unix graphical interface, or X, was unlikely to disappear as it has a powerful infrastructure. "It's likely that X will be the 2D interface to a lower-level graphics system that is based on OpenGL. The Linux desktop wants to have 3D as the base and X as the interface to 2D."

When asked if adopting an integrated hardware and software system be good for Linux, Torvalds said there are pure technical disadvantages of having an operating system that supports a wide range of hardware.

"The variety of hardware makes it challenging as Linux needs thousands of drivers ... An operating system is a complex beast, so it's nice to have an existing one that can be adapted to the hardware. There are a few problem spots with Linux driver support by hardware companies and wireless is one of them. With hardware getting better this problem is being solved."

As for Linux in the enterprise, Torvalds said the direction it takes would depend on what resources enterprise companies put into it. "IBM is the most obvious, and although it is impressive to run Linux on high-end hardware, most of the people who work on Linux don't have access to it. It's the regular desktops that get most of the attention by programmers."

When asked about the relationship between free and commercial software, Torvalds said that software is becoming a commodity. "Once you have a commodity product, the things you make money on are the services and hardware that are built around it. For example, with a lot of mobile phones the software is not the value in the product.

"... On the desktop, it's hard to say what the commercial applications market will be like because it hasn't really taken off yet. On the server there are already companies, like Oracle, that don't have any problems selling commercial applications.

"Open source is good for general software, such as the kernel and development tools, and commercial software is good for specialist software."

On the question of SCO, Torvalds was pleased that Novell released a letter saying that the company is violating Novell's agreements, and that it also had to make available its case to IBM.

"Lawsuits are a big part of the business landscape in the US. It's good that this case has made all the Linux developers aware of code, but it has been bad because it is irritating and I definitely don't want something like this to happen again.

"All the Linux developers take copyright very seriously. They are developers and want to do coding, not copying. Because of this, I feel that the code quality of Linux is even better than commercial Unix operating systems. I'm not worried about copyrights but the Linux community doesn't have a lot of lawyers, PR or marketing."

Rodney Gedda writes for Computerworld Today

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