Patents 'biggest threat' to Linux - Torvalds

Brainshare: Linus Torvalds told attendees that legal problems, rather than technical issues, have become the open-source movement's biggest challenge

Linux creator Linus Torvalds says that nontechnical issues such as software patents constitute the single biggest threat to the future success of the open-source OS.

During a surprise guest appearance at Novell's annual BrainShare user conference, the Finnish open-source guru took part in a question-and-answer session with the networking-software company's chief executive and chairman Jack Messman and vice chairman Chris Stone.

When asked what he thought was the biggest threat to Linux, Torvalds said he was extremely confident that the operating system itself was robust but admitted problems outside of technical sphere may cause trouble further down the line. "The things that tend to worry me are software patents. When nontechnical issues can be used to stop software development -- that for me is the scariest part," he said.

Torvalds has frequently spoken out against the lawsuits launched by Unix software company SCO against IBM and Novell over software-patent issues related to the Linux open-source operating system. But this latest attack carries some added weight, made as it was in SCO's home-state of Utah. Novell traditionally holds the annual BrainShare event in Utah's state capital, Salt Lake City, while SCO is based in the smaller town of Lindon.

Messman and Stone also quizzed the Linux creator on what he would have done differently during the development of Linux if he had his time again -- to which the usually modest and relatively publicity-shy Torvalds gave an uncharacteristically self-aggrandising reply: "I don't know what I could have done better," he joked.

When asked by one of the many Linux enthusiasts in the audience, some of whom were waving Finnish flags and trying to rouse the crowd into a standing ovation, what he would be doing into 20 years' time, Torvalds said he made a point of never looking further ahead then a couple of years. "I am not a believer in staking out the future. I think that is a sure way to fail," he said.

But Torvalds did reveal that his immediate focus would be on managing the input from the Linux community following the release of version 2.6 of the Linux kernel last December. He also claimed that his attention for the next few years will be firmly on developing the Linux desktop; a commitment echoed by Novell's Stone who revealed that his company is planning to migrate 50 per cent of its internal staff off of the Windows desktop by mid-summer, with plans for a full migration by the end of this year.