Torvalds criticizes patent trollers, Microsoft, Sun, virtualization craze

Linux creator Linus Torvalds blasted patent trollers, Microsoft, Sun and the virtualization craze in his second official communiqué to the public. And he said desktop Linux is going nowhere in market share.
Written by Paula Rooney, Contributor

Linux creator Linus Torvalds blasted patent trollers, Microsoft, Sun and the virtualization craze in his second official communiqué to the public. And he said desktop Linux is going nowhere in market share.

In a second Q&A podcast posted on the Linux Foundation site, Torvalds told his interviewer, LF Executive Director Jim Zemlin, that the patent case against Red Hat and Novell is not surprising because of their stature in the industry. Yet he argues that patents have no value to the large companies they supposedly favor because it only makes them vulnerable to patent trollers --which are likened to rogue states in a cold war.

"Well, I think it does favor the corporate world in the sense that if you see patents as a cold war thing, it clearly helps to be big and have lots of patents because they’re the equivalent of having lots of nukes, and small companies and individuals can’t have nukes; it’s practically not very accessible," Linus said, according to a transcript of the interview released Monday. "So, the model does favor large companies. On the other hand, again, that’s where the rogue state problem comes in. Large companies, in some ways, are more vulnerable to being blackmailed over patents, so when you have patent trolls, the trolls usually want to go after the big money, so they actually go after the large companies and now it doesn’t help to have lots of patents."

The first podcast was posted In January. Linus Torvalds no longer conducts interviews with the general press. He speaks only with Linux Foundation, the organization that sponsors his work and that was founded in 2007 as a merger of the Open Source Development Labs and the Free Standards Group.

Patents have no real value, except as tools to inflict fear, he said in his second podcast posted this week, citing Microsoft and patent trollers as the chief beneficiaries of a broken patent system in the U.S.

"I think that Microsoft really sees patents as a marketing thing and I think that for two reasons: it is what they seem to have used in the past. So far I don’t think Microsoft has ever sued anybody over patents. They have been sued for patents by other people, but I don’t think they’ve – not that I’ve gone through any huge amount of law cases, but I don’t think they’ve generally used patents as a weapon," Torvalds said. "But they’re perfectly happy to use anything at all as fear, uncertainty and doubt in the marketplace and patents is just one thing where they say, “Hey, isn’t this convenient? We can use this as a PR force.”

"Another reason why I don’t think Microsoft really seriously would go after patents is when you’re a convicted monopolist in the marketplace you really should not be suing your competitors over patents," Linus also said. "I think that most Microsoft lawyers would say, “You know, let’s not do that; that sounds insane. "

"They’re perfectly happy to use patents in the détente and cold war sense," Torvalds said about Microsoft.

Torvalds also acknowledged recent efforts by Microsoft to improve interoperability with Linux and open source, but he maintains the number of people supportive of open source software at Microsoft is relatively small. "I think there are people inside Microsoft who really want to improve interoperability and I also think there are people inside Microsoft who would much rather just try to stab their competition in the back," Torvalds said. "I think the latter class of people have usually been the one who won out in the end ... so I wouldn’t exactly trust them."

The creator of Linux was also somewhat suspicious of Sun Micrososystems' new open source direction.

"It’s generally hard to build a community around a commercial entity that also wants to be in control because everybody else around that commercial entity will always feel like they’re at the mercy of Sun ... And I’m not even going to go into Open Solaris because, quite frankly, I don’t even care. But I think you see some of that with a project that is considered to be completely open source and has been for a number of years, namely Open Office where the fact that Sun wants to have copyright assignments and exclusive control over the license ends up being something that actually drives away some developers," Torvalds said.

He said Sun's spotty track record with open source undermines trust in the community.

"In many ways, Sun has done a lot of things right. At the same time, they seem to often have trouble going the full last step. So, Java is an example of that where they have now ... and they finally did that and it is now really open source, but at the same time it took them something like six years to get to that point and before that they tried to push a failed license where they did try to maintain control and they always claimed the best of intentions," Torvalds added. "They claimed that they needed to be in control because they didn’t want to fragment the market and there was always this kind of rationalization for why they had to be in control."

"When it comes to projects like Open Office where, again, there are rationalizations for why you have to assign copyrights to some and they may even be valid, but it does undermine the community because it means that there is a first among equals," he said. "Sun ends up having rights that nobody else has. Even if they then act perfectly and they really behave well, just the fact that they have special rights makes people legitimately feel like they are second class citizens and that’s not how you build a community."

In his discussion with Zemlin, Torvalds said he cares deeply about the Linux desktop but he is not optimistic that it will gain much market share in the next five years.

"Well, I don’t know about broader adoption, but the Linux desktop is why I got into Linux in the first place. I mean, I have never, ever cared about really anything but the Linux desktop. The desktop is also the thing where people get really upset if something changes, so it’s really hard to enter the desktop market because people are used to whatever they used before, mostly Windows. And if you act differently from Windows, even if you act in some ways better, it doesn’t matter; better is worse if it’s different," he acknowledged.

"I also think the desktop just fundamentally takes a long time to enter and it certainly takes longer than people, including me to some degree, have ever expected. There’s just this huge inertia in that market," Torvalds said. "If you look at what the big picture is, things don’t really change that quickly. We don’t drive flying cars. And five years from now we still won’t be driving flying cars and I don’t think the desktop market or the OS market in general is going to move very much at all... But i don't think the OS market will really change."

Torvalds also said virtualization is "not that big of a deal" and he predicted that new ways of users interacting with operating systems will represent the key changes in the computing industry.

Virtualization has "been around for probably 50 years. I forget when IBM started offering virtualization on their big hardware. Maybe not 50 years, but it’s been all around for decades and it’s very interesting in niche markets - I think the people who expected to change things radically are just fooling themselves," Torvalds said. "But also, I’d actually expect that new form factor is in new input and output devices. If we actually end up getting projection displays on cell phones, that might actually change how people start thinking of hardware and that, in turn, might change how we interact and how we use operating systems. But virtualization will not be it.

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