Legal challenges to Linux are major threat – Torvalds

Linux creator Linus Torvalds has expressed dismay over the legal challenges to the open source operating system, saying they represent a severe risk to ongoing Linux developments.

The Finnish programmer, making a surprise appearance at open source software company Novell’s user conference in the US, said that Linux is facing its most serious challenge because of disputes over where free, publicly-available software ends and commercial rights begin.

“I can solve technical issues no problem,” he said. “But the things that tend to worry me are software patents. When non-technical issues are used to stop software development, for me that is the scariest part.”

His remarks will be seen as a thinly-veiled attack on SCO, the Utah-based Unix developer that claims intellectual property rights to parts of Linux. SCO is currently suing IBM for alleged intellectual property infringements. It also wants to extract licence fees from major corporate users of Linux.

Torvalds warned that Linux’s strength lay in keeping it open source, which might one day enable it to achieve mass-market adoption.

“What I did do right was to not make [Linux] proprietary, and that is what has made all this possible,” he said.

He hailed the open-source model, where code is released for free with the hope other programmers will tweak and improve it, as the most efficient means of rapidly developing new software.

“The strength of Linux is because of its open set-up,” he said. “You don’t have just one niche to go after, you have different people, different companies, random crazy people who have an idea to make things better – and do.”

Asked where his work was taking him over the next year, Torvalds said that he would still be concentrating on Linux kernel 2.6, which was released a few months ago.

Version 2.6 offers a range of improvements including greater memory capacity. It will form the basis of the next iteration of Novell subsidiary SuSE Linux’s Enterprise Server – version 9.1 – which will be released in May 2004.

Torvalds was asked by a member of the audience where he hoped Linux would be in 20 years, to which he replied: “I don’t know. I cannot look that far ahead. I can only look at the short term and tackle any problems as they come up.”

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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