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11/25/2007
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Torvalds On Where Linux Is Headed In 2008

The creator of Linux is excited about solid-state drives, expects progress in graphics and wireless networking, and says the operating system is strong in virtualization despite his personal lack of interest in the area.

In contrast, look at where Linux is used. Everything from cellphones and other small embedded computers that people wouldn't even think of as computers, to the bulk of the biggest machines on the supercomputer Top-500 list. That is flexibility. And it stems directly from the fact that anybody who is interested can participate in the development, and no single entity ends up being in control of where it all goes.

And what does that then lead to? Linux ends up being very good at a lot of different things, and rather well-rounded in general. It's also very adept at taking up any new niche, because regardless of where you want to put it, not only has somebody else probably looked at something related before but you don't have to go through license hassles to get permission to do a pilot project.

InformationWeek: Where will the Linux kernel gain added strengths in 2008?

Torvalds: We really are pretty much all over the map. One of the fun things about Linux, and certainly the thing that has kept it interesting over almost two decades now, is how different people have different goals and the hardware keeps changing under us too.

So a lot of the effort ends up being hardware-related. Both in terms of peripheral drivers and simply in platform changes. The bulk of the kernel really is about hardware support, and that alone keeps us busy. The situation in graphics and wireless networking devices -- both of which have been somewhat weak spots -- is changing, and I suspect that will be a large part of what continues to happen during 2008 too.

One of the things I personally am really interested in is the move over to SSD [solid-state drives] disks. I'm a huge believer in [reducing] latency, and some of the better SSDs are changing the whole game when it comes to access latency, which in turn has potentially big impacts on the kernel -- and while they are currently expensive enough to be a pretty minor player, that is certainly looking to change in 2008 and later.

And you already mentioned virtualization. It may not be my favorite area, but it's certainly a happening one ;)

But in the end, a lot of this is just a huge amount of individually small changes that may not be even interesting on their own - what is then really stunning is how big a difference all those small not-so-interesting changes make when you put them all together.

In other words, I'm a huge believer in the "99 % perspiration, 1% inspiration" rule. It's a lot of hard -- but happily, mostly interesting -- work, and there is seldom, if ever, any single big silver bullet. So 99 % of all the real work that will go on during 2008 is just more of the same, and that's really the important part!

InformationWeek: Do you think there is any way Microsoft, patent holders, or lawyers can take direct aim at the kernel development process and impede it?

Torvalds: I really don't know. I don't think they can impede the technology, and I really don't think there is anything real behind that whole intellectual property FUD machine. But nearly infinite amounts of money certainly goes a long way.

I'm again the wrong person to ask. I work on the technology, and I make sure we do that as well as we can (which does include the ways we do it, including things like doing all the copyright certification we do), but I think that when it comes to these issues, you're really talking about marketing and FUD, not so much anything I'm able to really answer.

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