Gates and Torvalds face off at Comdex

Despite a last-minute room change that still left dozens unable to squeeze into the standing-room-only space, Linux creator Linus Torvalds' show managed to go on.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Torvalds gave a keynote speech at the Linux Global Summit at Spring Comdex half an hour after Microsoft Corp. CEO Bill Gates opened the show in a much larger auditorium. While Gates, like Torvalds, addressed an overflow crowd, the two presentations couldn't have been more different in style and substance.

Torvalds, who kept the sweltering crowd attentive by entertaining audience questions and concerns throughout his hour-long presentation, seemed like more like the Gates of years ago than did Gates himself. Greeted by a standing ovation, Torvalds calmed users' concerns about potential splintering of "the little OS that could." Torvalds also managed to throw in a few Microsoft slams, keeping the Linux faithful happy. When the lights temporarily went out, Torvalds wondered aloud, "What's going on in this place? The whole show floor is controlled by Microsoft."

Gates' keynote proceeded comparatively smoothly. Gates opened by showing a video of his last year Spring Comdex address, which was plagued by a blue screen in the midst of a Windows 98 Universal Serial Bus demo. This year, a demo of a demo of a beta release of Windows 2000's Plug and Play USB support went on without a hitch.

Gates introduced a new Titanium mouse, called the IntelliPoint Explorer mouse, which the company plans to ship in Sept. The latest Microsoft mouse replaces the open case full of moving parts with a closed case design using an integrated optical sensor, eliminating the need for a mousepad. He also showed a forthcoming Natural keyboard under development at Microsoft which will include two USB ports as part of its design.

Gates spent most of his keynote reiterating the company's vision for its various Windows platforms, including Embedded Windows, Windows CE, Windows 98 and Windows 2000. He officially announced Microsoft's Corporate Preview Program for Windows 2000 Beta 3, which is due to begin shipping to OEMs and testers next week. Calling Windows 2000 "the biggest investment we ever made in a single piece of software," Gates said Beta 3 will be supported by more than 20 OEMs; 100,000 channel partners; thousands of ISVs and independent hardware vendors, 140,000 developers and more than 500,000 customers.

Torvalds' keynote was a bit less predictable, even though he focused primarily on Linux' history and its well-established challenges. Like the Gates of old, Torvalds sparred with his audience and played up his image as a developer's developer. When asked about his views on Java, Torvalds noted that he no longer is really excited about Java. At first, "I bought into the hype," he acknowledged. "But now I'm fairly down on it because of the way Sun [Microsystems Inc.] mishandled it," resulting in the current fragmentation of Java implementations from Sun, IBM, Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Torvalds deflected concerns about the potential for similar fragmentation in the Linux space, noting that the copyright/license for Linux requires anyone who modifies the source code to make changes available to others under the same license. "This insures that the splinter 'heals'," quipped Torvalds. He added that the Internet development paradigm under which Linux has evolved has made it less likely to splinter, as well. Different programmers are working on different pieces of the OS. Linux has been ported to a variety of form factors, from the Palm Pilot to supercomputers, Torvalds said. Some developers, like Torvalds, are working on the kernel; others are more focused on user-space issues. He did acknowledge that more work needs to be done to make Linux a "serious mom and pop contender on the desktop," but that, too, is possible in two to three more years, Torvalds predicted.

A team working under non-disclosure is working on porting Linux to Merced, Torvalds said, so that a Merced-optimised version of Linux will be available the day the chip ships. "Merced is really just more of the same," Torvalds was quick to add. "Linux has been 64-bit for a long time. It can run on Alpha or UltraSPARC today. The main interesting parts are things like the compiler technology and that's something that Intel is driving."

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