Linux Defended

Linux founder scoffs at SCO's attack on open development model.

Linus Torvalds, the founder and lead developer of the Linux open-source operating system, has strong views about the legal dispute between The SCO Group and IBM, which he shared with eWEEK Senior Editor Peter Galli in an e-mail exchange recently. Torvalds also said he was taking a leave of absence from Transmeta Corp. and becoming the first full-time fellow at the Open Source Development Lab, where he will continue to drive the next Linux kernel version, 2.6, due later this summer.

Do you expect anything to change now that you are working for the OSDL in terms of your focus around Linux?

I dont see any particular changes. That said, I remember when I joined Transmeta, and some issues Transmeta ended up having with SMP [symmetric multiprocessing] ended up being how I started getting into Linux SMP development—not because Transmeta asked me to per se but because the situation was just different enough from my situation in Helsinki that my priorities shifted. In other words, were all creatures of our environment, and, in that sense, any change will obviously reflect in what I do.

There has been talk that the members of the OSDL, such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. or others, may try to sway your focus and get you to include technologies they want to see in the kernel. Are you concerned about this?

No. But part of the reason Im not concerned about it is that we were pretty proactive about it. Exactly to not raise these kinds of concerns, my contract says that I have final word on the kernel, and the copyright remains with me personally. Ive always felt it was important to let people know that there arent any direct commercial influences on the maintainership of the kernel and that the maintainership is done on purely technical grounds.

Your current focus is obviously on the 2.5 kernel and bug fixing so that it can become 2.6. Are you still on track for a release this summer?

Im never on track, and maybe Ill have to move to Australia to make good on it, but on the whole, Im actually pretty happy with where we are. Delayed (as usual), but there are no big showstoppers. Were getting to the point where Ill start doing the so-called prekernels to encourage more people to start testing stuff heavily.

The OSDLs focus has been to drive Linux further into the enterprise, yet yours has always been more broad than that. Is the enterprise focus something you are going to push more and focus greater effort on?

Ive always focused on the desktop (a fairly high-end desktop, admittedly). I think thats still where the most interesting stuff is, and the reason is largely still the same: Its the area that sees the most varied usage patterns. Obviously, scalability is always sexy, so I enjoy that part, too, but on the whole, I think there are enough people looking at the high end that for the good of Linux we should still concentrate on the "lower" end of desktops. The high end, to a large degree, is the easy part. The problems are well-known; the solutions are out there, too, and the workloads tend to be well-behaved. So its not something I worry about.

SCO alleges that you need to focus more on getting clarification as to where the code that goes in the Linux kernel comes from. Do you plan to change the current Linux development model?

No. I allege that SCO is full of it and that the Linux process is already the most transparent process in the whole industry. Lets face it, nobody else even comes close to being as good at showing the evolution and source of every single line of code out there. The only party that has had serious problems clarifying what they are talking about is SCO.

Some in the open-source community say SCO may itself have taken Linux code and included it in an unauthorized way in Unix System V, while others say its use of and contribution to Linux means it essentially open-sourced those products. What is your opinion on these claims?

I think its a lot easier (and thus more likely) to integrate open source code into a proprietary platform than the other way around. That said, I dont like the SCO FUD, and I dont have any huge reason to spread FUD around myself. In other words, I dont personally know of any such code.

SCO said you need to sign the nondisclosure agreement to look at the alleged copied code in question. I assume youre not going to sign it.

I dont generally sign NDAs ... because it can hinder my work. Id be crazy to sign one with SCO. Especially as signing an NDA would make the act of then seeing their claims totally useless, since I couldnt then go out and search the public for the sources. However, now that SCO is starting to talk a bit more about what they seem to object to, I have less and less interest in seeing the code. As mentioned, the stuff they seem to be complaining about they have absolutely no IP [intellectual property] rights to that I can tell.