Ignore the Linux hype, creator urges
April 20, 1999
by Nancy Weil
(IDG) -- Linux is gaining in popularity not because of the hype surrounding it, but "because it does what people want it to do," the operating system's creator, Linus Torvalds, said to a standing room-only crowd here today.
Torvalds urged the Comdex/Spring '99 trade show crowd of about 500 Linux enthusiasts to stay true to the roots of the open-source environment he champions: "Don't get too caught up in the hype .... Things get way overhyped so that sometimes when something new and real comes along, it's dismissed because of the hype."
His keynote address was moved to a larger room because it was expected to lure a sizable crowd, but it seemed clear that the Linux Global Summit, which his speech kicked off, will need a bigger venue in years to come, particularly given that Torvalds only half-jokingly predicts that Linux will achieve operating system world domination "about next year." That Microsoft Corp. and its Windows operating system are the enemy was made abundantly clear.
While Linux may have been created partially for idealistic reasons, there also were quite realistic needs involved in its creation. Torvalds wanted to run Unix on his home computer and couldn't do that, so he decided to modify it for his own use, and one thing led to another.
"I thought how hard could it be," he said of altering Unix. "The only reason it worked out is because I didn't have any idea what I was getting into. If I had, no way in hell would I have done it."
Linux isn't quite ready for small-scale home use by "mom and pop," Torvalds said, adding that he believes that will change within the next three years.
That anyone who chooses to has the power to alter Linux is its beauty, Torvalds said, emphasizing that the licensing agreement for developers of the operating system forces them to share their code. That, in part, will help keep the operating system from fragmenting the way Unix did, he said.
Torvalds isn't worried about fragmentation, and he's not worried about issues such as having Linux ready to run on Intel Corp.'s forthcoming 64-bit architecture. Linux has been running on 64-bit systems for years, said Torvalds, who was greeted by a standing ovation from the full house when he was introduced and another when he finished.
The connection he had to the crowd was evident throughout his hour-long talk. He started by encouraging the audience to interact, and they did, shouting questions and making comments. Torvalds said he needs that kind of feedback to continue developing Linux.
Calling himself "the kernel guy," Torvalds said he sticks with technical issues and development and doesn't care about marketing and distribution.
"People are sometimes surprised by how little I know about what's happening in the user space or how little I care, which is one of the strengths of Linux," he said. "Whatever you want to do with it, I don't care. If you want to run a nuclear power plant ..." He stopped talking as the lights flickered and went out, prompting a shout from the crowd: "That was a Windows 2000 demonstration."
Torvalds didn't confine his criticisms to Microsoft. When asked what he thinks of the Java programming language, he said, "I used to be really excited about Java." But the promise of "write once, run anywhere" hasn't been fulfilled, and Java, according to Torvalds, falls into the overhyped category. That's because its creator, Sun Microsystems Inc., "fouled up" in developing the language, he said.
On that note, Torvalds wrapped up his talk by noting that he was surprised by how many people showed up to hear him. Then he stuck around to chat and sign autographs.
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