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Linux progress on the desktop eyed by OS founder

June 17, 1999
Web posted at: 12:54 p.m. EDT (1654 GMT)

by Paul Krill


SAN FRANCISCO (IDG) -- Linux founder Linus Torvalds on Tuesday set forth goals for the open-source operating system, including a movement to the desktop and shorter release times.

But a one-size-fits-all implementation of Linux is not likely or desirable, since different levels of computing, such as embedded systems, will require varieties in functionality, Torvalds said.

Speaking at a meeting of the Bay Area Linux User Group, Torvalds said Release 2.4 of the Linux kernel is due this fall, featuring USB high-speed peripherals support and ensuring scalability to four CPUs in a multiprocessor system, with an eye toward eight CPUs.

Torvalds also said he plans shorter intervals between releases of the OS. The release date for Version 2.2, a predecessor to Version 2.4, slipped by a year as the growing popularity of Linux prompted developers to take more time to write code, Torvalds said.

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"What happened was people became more careful," he said.

Torvalds said he hopes to have a list of features for the upcoming release finalized in a month.

Boosting Linux on the desktop and in embedded devices is desirable, Torvalds said, although a major movement on the desktop will take a while.

"I don't expect the desktop to come quickly. It will take time," he said. Development of desktop Linux functions requires accommodating a variety of user behaviors, Torvalds said.

A major movement of Linux on the desktop could put the OS squarely into competition with Microsoft's ubiquitous Windows OS. Prior to Torvalds' talk, David Sifry, chief technology officer of the Linux technical support company Linuxcare, said he expects Linux will be more solid on the desktop in about 12 months.

"It's not on the desktop yet. It's getting there," with continued improvements expected to Linux user interfaces, Sifry said.

A fragmented Linux will emerge, albeit not as severe as what has plagued the Unix OS, Torvalds said.

"Do I see fragmentation for the Linux kernel? There is certainly going to be some of that," Torvalds said.

Some devices will require different levels of the OS, he said. "You shouldn't even try to enforce a single [kernel] on everybody," he said.

In addition to discussing imminent improvements, Torvalds detailed some functions that will not appear in the immediate time frame. High availability is one feature not planned for Version 2.4, although a goal is to make the OS crash-resistant, he said. Users are often able to devise superior high-availability solutions on their own, he said.

Scaling beyond eight or 16 processors in a single multiprocessor system at some point might not be a workable plan right now, Torvalds said. A 256- or 512-CPU Linux system is not realistic in the next five years, he said. A possible alternative to this level of multiprocessing is clustering of systems, Torvalds suggested.

"A lot of the hardware issues get so complex," when scaling to more processors in a system, he said.

Prior to the meeting, Torvalds expressed interest in watching what transpires as Linux vendors Red Hat and Caldera become public corporations.

"One of the questions I've always hated answering is how do people make money in open source," Torvalds said. "And I think that Caldera and Red Hat -- and there are a number of other Linux companies going public -- basically show that yes, you can actually make money in the open-source area."

Money can be made in areas such as support and infrastructure, he said.

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