Next Up: Linux Desktop

Kernel maintainer Andrew Morton is optimistic about desktop and client apps.

Andrew Morton, Linus Torvalds right-hand man and the maintainer of the 2.6 kernel, will not be attending the LinuxWorld conference in New York this week, but he did speak with Senior Editor Peter Galli about the recent 2.6 kernel release and his vision for Linux.

What will the buzz be around Linux in 2004, from your perspective?

It will be around the desktop. We are very interested in that. The Sun [Microsystems Inc.] desktop [Java Desktop System] makes sense and is a good innovation. The OSDL [Open Source Development Lab] is also doing work with some of our partners around the desktop. Novell [Inc.] also now has Ximian, so that is all looking good and promising. There are also a lot of desktop applications that do not require the whole mobile professional business suite. Things like kiosk applications, point-of-sale applications and more embedded applications. I think thats another entry point for Linux on the desktop.

Some Linux watchers have said 2004 will not be the year of the Linux desktop. Obviously you disagree?

I think a lot of mobile professionals go by their own personal experience and, frankly, trying to get all your e-mails and other things on your BlackBerry with Linux really sucked. But thats not the whole desktop market. Theres a percentage out there that dont need a Web browser or PowerPoint and all those things, and thats an entry point for the Linux desktop.

As you and Linus move toward the next test and development kernel, 2.7, are features for the desktop and desktop functionality a high priority, or are you continuing to focus on the server?

A lot of work went into the server side in the 2.6 kernel, mainly because that was the area where more work needed to be done in terms of some scalability and hot-plugability. But were all very sympathetic to the desktop as everybody in the kernel world uses Linux as their desktop, and we want to see it do well. What we did give the desktop in 2.6 were improvements in the areas of device management and hot plugability. The 2.4 kernel was not bad in that space either. So, in my opinion, not a lot needed to be done to the kernel for desktops in 2.6 since the 2.4 kernel is fine for desktops as long as we get the applications story sorted out.

What do you think the greatest changes are that the 2.6 kernel will bring users when it ships in commercial distributions? What are the parts you are most proud of?

It would be the improved scalability on the high end for certain machines and the improved responsiveness and interactivity on desktop machines.

When can we expect to see the release of the 2.6.2 update?

We just got through 2.6.1, which had a huge backlog of stuff that had been saved up during the 2.6.0 freeze period. I seem to have another 300 changes here ready to go, so 2.6.2 will also be a significant merge. You can expect that in a couple of weeks. But we are being pretty successful these days in keeping the kernel stable as we make large changes to it. Thats not something we were very good at across the 2.3 and 2.4 series. I think weve sorted out some processes a lot more now in that area.

Next page: Looking toward Kernel 2.7.