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September 30, 1998

LINUX: WORLD DOMINATION ANY DAY NOW

By CBR Staff Writer

Linux panels tend to be quite unlike other computer conference events, in that they are often funny and upbeat. Tuesday’s ISPCon panel discussion on Linux and the open source movement as the business model of the future was no exception. Netscape’s John Paul, Intel’s Sean Maloney and Red Hat’s Bob Young are able public speakers, but they were entirely upstaged on Tuesday afternoon by the self-assured and friendly creator of Linux, Linus Torvalds. When KRON talking head and panel moderator Catherine Heenan referred to Linux’s reputation as a brilliant implementation Torvalds cracked the audience up by nodding furiously. A mystified Heenan said: What are you all laughing at? What indeed. Torvalds himself, who wrote the Linux kernel in 1991 when he was still a student at the University of Helsinki, attributes the success of Linux to the fact that it fills a void. Before Linux there was arguably no powerful-yet-affordable operating system able to run on industry-standard PC hardware. I had a need that drove me to do Linux and it turns out that I was not so special after all, said Torvalds, other people had the same need. Developers picked up Linux because they liked the idea and because as the project’s lead, Torvalds inspired respect and confidence. Today most of the work on Linux is done by a world-wide grass-roots collective, sharing information over the internet and contributing to the project in their spare time. Asked about that amazing growth, Torvalds points out that it was much more surprising to watch Linux’s user base grow from five long haired hackers to one hundred users than from there to the estimated six to ten million users the platform has today. Lately everyone seems to think that Linux is this overnight phenomenon.It’s not. It’s just getting more press, he says. Fortunately that doesn’t seem to have turned his head. Torvalds doesn’t even work for a Unix vendor but for mysterious chip startup Transmeta, which recognizes that his Linux work is an important part of his job. I am not at all impacted by the groundswell, he said. I saw a lot of this coming. It’s not really a surprise to see Oracle admit that yes, a lot of our users are running Linux. Torvalds says he plans to spend the next two years the way he spent the last two and the two before: doing the best job I can of making the best operating system in the world. When vendors make such claims they are invariably greeted with a chorus of groans. Torvalds got an ovation. The familiar accusation that Linux lacks business applications reared its head, but Torvalds said simply: Linux will get the apps. There is a niche here that Microsoft doesn’t control. That gives software vendors some much-needed breathing space. They need some alternatives. In four or five years, Torvalds chuckled, that’s when world domination is.

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