Torvalds Speaks Out on SCO, Linux

By Peter Galli

June 23, 2003

Linus Torvalds, the founder and lead developer of the Linux open-source operating system, has some strong views about the legal dispute between The SCO Group and IBM, which he shared with eWEEK Senior Editor Peter Galli in an e-mail exchange last week. Torvalds also last week announced he was taking a leave of absence from Transmeta Corp. and becoming the first full-time fellow at the Open Source Development Lab, where he will continue to drive the next version of the Linux kernel, 2.6, due later this summer.

Do you expect anything to change now that you are working for the OSDL in terms of your focus around Linux?

I don't foresee any particular changes. That said, I remember when I first joined Transmeta, and some issues Transmeta ended up having with SMP ended up being how I started getting into Linux SMP [symmetric multiprocessing] development—not because Transmeta asked me to per se, but because the situation was just different enough from my situation in Helsinki that my priorities shifted. In other words, we're all creatures of our environment, and in that sense any change will obviously reflect some way in what I do.

There has been some talk that the members of the OSDL, like IBM, HP or others, may try and sway your focus and get you to include technologies they want to see in the kernel. Are you concerned about this?

No. But part of the reason I'm not concerned about it is that we were pretty proactive about it. Exactly to not raise these kinds of concerns, my contract says that I have final word on the kernel, and the copyright remains with me personally. I've always felt it was important to let people know that there aren't any direct commercial influences on the maintainership of the kernel, and that the maintainership is done on purely technical grounds.

Your current focus is obviously on the 2.5 kernel and bug fixing so it can become 2.6. Are you still on track for a release this summer?

I'm never on track, and maybe I'll have to move to Australia to make good on it, but on the whole I'm actually pretty happy with where we are. Delayed (as usual), but there are no big show-stoppers. We're getting to the point where I'll start doing the so-called "pre-kernels" to encourage more people to start testing stuff heavily.

Where are you at with the kernel and what are you currently concentrating on?

Right now there's nothing particularly worrying going on, and it's mostly a lot of "locking down the hatches." Sometimes too much of it, since some of the bug-fixing has degenerated into "cleanups" again, so I'll have to try to convince people to let it go and just fix bugs.

The OSDL's focus has been to drive Linux further into the enterprise, yet yours has always been more broad than that. Is the enterprise focus something you are going to push more and focus greater effort on?

I've always focused on the desktop (a fairly high-end desktop, admittedly). I think that's still where the most interesting stuff is, and the reason is largely still the same: It's the area that sees the most varied usage patterns. Obviously, scalability is always sexy, so I enjoy that part, too, but on the whole, I think there are enough people looking at the high end that for the good of Linux we should still concentrate on the "lower" end of desktops. The high end, to a large degree, is the easy part. The problems are well-known; the solutions are out there, too, and the workloads tend to be well-behaved. So it's not something I worry about.

SCO alleges that you need to focus more on getting clarification as to where the code that goes in the Linux kernel comes from. Do you plan to change the current Linux development model?

No. I allege that SCO is full of it and that the Linux process is already the most transparent process in the whole industry. Let's face it, nobody else even comes close to being as good at showing the evolution and source of every single line of code out there. The only party that has had serious problems clarifying what they are talking about is SCO.

Some in the open-source community say SCO may itself have taken Linux code and included it in an unauthorized way in Unix System V, while others say its use of and contribution to Linux means it essentially open-sourced those products. What is your opinion on these claims?

I think it's a lot easier (and thus more likely) to integrate open source code into a proprietary platform than the other way around. That said, I don't like the SCO FUD, and I don't have any huge reason to spread FUD around myself. In other words, I don't personally know of any such code.

SCO said you need to sign the nondisclosure agreement to look at the alleged copied code in question. I assume you're not going to sign it.

I don't generally sign NDAs ... because it can hinder my work. I'd be crazy to sign one with SCO. Especially as signing an NDA would make the act of then seeing their claims totally useless, since I couldn't then go out and search the public for the sources. However, now that SCO is starting to talk a bit more about what they seem to object to, I have less and less interest in seeing the code. As mentioned, the stuff they seem to be complaining about they have absolutely no IP [intellectual property] rights to that I can tell.

Copyright 2003