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Linux Creator: Operating Systems Will Follow Internet Trends

Linus Torvalds told a packed house on Wedneday that the future of operating systems will follow the current Internet trend of personalization and customization.

Torvalds, speaking at Internet World, compared the open source experience to tinkering with a car engine. While "some people just don't like tinkering with their cars," he said that many will find that the customization possibilities which open source software presents will allow users to create a system which better fits their individual needs.

The open source leader expects that in the future, the software industry will move away from creating "standard block" systems, the preformulated and packaged versions which are mass produced for general consumer use, towards the development of specialized software for specialized needs. Torvalds compared this new direction to the pattern which the Internet has taken: first money was put into infrastructure, then personalization, portal directories, and individualized Web interfaces moved to the forefront.

ISPs also served as an example of Internet companies who had to build their own solutions and create a stable platform in order to compete in the market.

Torvalds said he expects that specialization and personalization will not be carried out through changing code or dialogue interface, but through the design of a system. He also forecast that user interfaces will diverge from the operating system in order to allow people to mix and match according to their own requirements, and to end the unnecessary development of interfaces for systems which do not require them, such as servers and embedded systems.

"You don't want tight coupling," Torvalds said. "[Developers] will decouple the two as much as possible to allow user flexibility to use different parts, and to allow a better understanding of how the whole system works. You will want to go for regularity and interchangeable parts."

Torvalds said he expects Linux to enter the market for embedded systems, citing some initial successes such as Tivo running on set-top box systems.

Responding to a question on what he felt contributed to the high cellular phone and Internet penetration in his home country of Finland, which ranks as the highest per capita population of Net users, Torvalds said that the country's small and homogenous population allowed it to quickly upgrade to new products and designs. In comparison to Finland's extensive high-end networks, he called the United States "a third world country in terms of infrastructure", citing American electronic banking's continued use of physical check transfers as an example of the country's over-reliance on paper records.

Torvalds also addressed the concern that Netscape is lagging far behind in the browser wars, saying that just because a product is based on the open source model does not mean it is better. While open source "is not a panacea", Torvalds credited the collapse of Netscape's Mozilla project with empowering more outside groups to get involved in taking the code and implementing new changes.

"More people want to push browser use, and Mozilla has also become less arrogant," he commented.

Torvalds also said he was "very happy" about Sun's decision to open its code for Solaris, saying that "while the license may not be a very good license, it's good that they are making their knowledge available to others."

He added that he would be thrilled if Microsoft chose to open some of its code, but called the development highly unlikely. Torvalds added that if the code publication did happen, it would probably only be a limited release for certain niche markets. However, Torvalds and several members of the panel confronted the persistent belief that the movement was formed in opposition to megalithic industry leader Microsoft (MSFT). Torvalds himself said that while he actually likes several of the Microsoft products, he would prefer to have them running on a "good" platform.

Torvalds refused to comment on the future of his current company, Transmeta.

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