Torvalds 'swings' at Linux wannabes

Linus Torvalds may be shy and retiring, but he doesn't mince words.

In an address at Internet World '99, the inventor of Linux took a dig at a couple of open-source wannabes as he predicted major changes in the way software gets sold.

"Talk is cheap," he said at one point, referring to Microsoft claim that it's considering opening up some of its source code. Torvalds also took Sun Microsystems to task, criticising the restrictive wording of the community license announced by the company last week. Sun last week said it would open up Solaris but declined to offer a timetable. The company also took heat from open-source advocates who say Sun's license violates the principles underpinning the open-source movement.

"But it still makes me happy that Sun is opening up and making its knowledge available to us," he said, without going into specifics about his problems with the license. Torvalds said he welcomed the increased attention open-source software is commanding in corporations. Often, he added, people ask whether that concerns him. "The answer is hell no," he said. "I want the commercial people to come in and open doors to places where Linux wouldn't have gone otherwise."

As an example, he cited the market for embedded Linux in devices such as set-top boxes. Tivo is one such company using Linux. Torvalds also told the audience that the business model for software will evolve away from selling standard blocks of software such as Windows toward a future where software is customised to meet specific needs. "What people will make their money off of is personalisation." Torvalds dodged questions about his company, a so-far top-secret Silicon Valley venture called Transmeta. He may reveal details of the company's plans and products at Comdex in November. And he couldn't resist taking a jab at Silicon Valley when an audience member asked why Finland is so advanced when it comes to technology.

"Silicon Valley is supposed to be the centre of the universe when it comes to technology," he said. "It's a third-world country." Torvalds cited online banking, saying it's still a slow, and often paper-based, process.

On the other hand, he quipped, Finnish companies are working on advanced technology because "winters are long and dark. There's nothing else to do."

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