Linus and the Mobile Linux chip

Linux is evolving to suit the information appliance market. And Linux creator Linus Torvalds is there to help

When Transmeta recently unveiled its x86-compatible mobile processor, the company was practically mobbed by the news media.

The reason: Linux-kernel creator Linus Torvalds had joined the company almost two years earlier and, with the Linux craze now in full swing, journalists wanted to find out what Torvalds had been up to.

The answer: Mobile Linux -- a smaller version of Linux with support for information appliances and mobile devices that have limited resources.

"Transmeta wanted to demo something completely different," said Torvalds, who works as a software engineer at Transmeta. "They wanted something that made people say, 'Wow!' ... When you want that you need to have control of the OS and a number of the applications as well."

While the company's Crusoe processors will also work with Windows software, for information appliance applications it will push Linux. "If Transmeta went to Microsoft and asked them to make a stripped-down version of Windows 98," he said, "they would have laughed in our face. We and others want to be able to tailor the OS to our needs."

"Stripped down" is a relative term. Mobile Linux still require 24MB of flash memory to run -- 32MB if the manufacturer wants to have enough room for applications. Yet Torvalds predicts that such memory requirements will not be asking too much of the next-generation products.

In the end, the move to Linux is only a way to sell more processors, said Torvalds, who is the first to stress that Mobile Linux is not a product in itself, but a tool.

"I would say that (Mobile Linux) just gets rid of the silly licences -- it just goes to a higher level," he said. "The OS should be taken for granted. You can choose to modify it for your hardware."

"What I think will happen is a kind of evolution. People will pick up the good parts and it is a free for all. What evolves is the best of all worlds."

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