COMDEX: Ignore the Linux hype, Torvalds urges

Linux is gaining in popularity not because of the hype surrounding it, but 'because it does what people want it to do,' the operating system's creator Linus Torvalds has told a crowd at Spring Comdex. 'Don't get too caught up in the hype ... Things get way over-hyped so that sometimes when something new and real comes along it's dismissed because of the hype.'

Linux is gaining in popularity not because of the hype surrounding it, but "because it does what people want it to do," the operating system's creator Linus Torvalds said to a standing-room-only crowd here.

Torvalds urged the Spring Comdex trade show crowd of about 500 Linux enthusiasts to stay true to the roots of the open-source environment he champions: "Don't get too caught up in the hype ... Things get way over-hyped so that sometimes when something new and real comes along it's dismissed because of the hype."

His keynote address was moved to a larger room because it was expected to lure a sizeable crowd, but it seemed clear that the Linux Global Summit, which his speech kicked off, will need a bigger venue in years to come, particularly given that Torvalds only half jokingly predicts that Linux will achieve operating-system world domination -- "about next year." That Microsoft Corp. and its Windows operating system are the inferior enemy was made abundantly clear.

Torvalds made repeated references to Microsoft, whose chief Bill Gates opened the trade show with a keynote speech that included a demonstration of Windows 2000. Thirty minutes after Gates finished, Torvalds took the stage in the smaller room in a different hall. That the OS creators were separated by such distance seemed symbolic of what show organizers have hyped as the "OS war."

That metaphor is a little stale to those on Torvalds' side of the OS battle, who have characterized it as the young, idealistic, code-sharing touchy-feely Linux developer nation versus the monopolistic, code-hoarding, cut-throat Microsoft bullies. It didn't exactly start out that way, though.

"A lot of people think Linux was developed for idealistic reasons,'' Torvalds said, admitting that was true to a degree, but there also were quite realistic needs involved in its creation. Torvalds wanted to run Unix on his home computer and he couldn't do that, so he decided to modify it for his own use and one thing led to another.

"I thought how hard could it be," he said of altering Unix. "The only reason it worked out is because I didn't have any idea what I was getting into. If I had, no way in hell would I have done it."

Linux isn't quite ready for small-scale home use by "Mom and Pop," Torvalds said, adding that he believes that will change within the next three years.

That anyone who chooses to has the power to alter Linux is its beauty, Torvalds said, emphasizing that the licensing agreement for developers of the OS forces them to share their code. That, in part, will help to keep the OS from fragmenting the way Unix did, he said.

Torvalds isn't worried about fragmentation and he's also not worried about issues like having Linux ready to run on Intel Corp.'s forthcoming 64-bit architecture. Linux has been running on 64-bit systems for years, said Torvalds, who was greeted by a small group in the crowd doing the "wave" -- popular among sports fans who lift their arms in the air and stand, section-by-section in stadiums. The somewhat lackluster wave was followed by a standing ovation from the full house when Torvalds was introduced, but one ovation isn't enough and he was given another when he finished.

The connection he has to the crowd was evident throughout his hour-long talk. He started by encouraging the audience to interact, and they did, shouting questions and making comments. Torvalds said he needs that kind of feedback to continue developing Linux.

Calling himself "the kernel guy," Torvalds said he sticks with technical issues and development and doesn't care about marketing and distribution.

"People are sometimes surprised by how little I know about what's happening in the user space, or how little I care, which is one of the strengths of Linux," he said. "Whatever you want to do with it, I don't care. If you want to run a nuclear power plant ..."

He stopped talking as the lights flickered and went out, prompting a shout from the crowd: "That was a Windows 2000 demonstration."

When the lights went out a second time after coming back on briefly, Torvalds quipped, "What is going on. The whole show floor is controlled by Microsoft."

Torvalds didn't confine his criticisms to Microsoft. Asked what he thinks of the Java programming language, he said "I used to be really excited about Java." But the promise of write-once, run-anywhere has not been fulfilled and Java, Torvalds believes, falls into the overhyped category because its creator, Sun Microsystems Inc. "fouled up" in developing the language.

On that note, Torvalds wrapped up his talk by noting that he was surprised by how many people showed up to hear him. Then, he stuck around to chat and sign autographs.

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