July 8, 2003

Torvalds on OSDL, 2.6, and the future

- by Joe Barr -
Given Linus Torvalds's recent leave of absence from Transmeta to take a full-time position
at OSDL to work on Linux kernel development, and with the
approaching release of Linux 2.6, I thought now
would be a good time to quiz Torvalds by email. As always, Torvalds was gracious and
forthcoming in his replies.

NewsForge: Does the fact that you will now be working full-time on the kernel as
the result of your move to OSDL mean you'll be working more hours
per week on Linux, or does it mean you will be able to spend more time
being a husband and father?

Torvalds: Well, it won't mean more hours per week on Linux than what I
did lately, since I've been concentrating pretty much exclusively
on Linux anyway. That was, after all, the reason for the move. So if somebody is expecting me to suddenly start churning out stuff much
faster, they'll be disappointed. But it may be more reliable, in
that I won't have some other projects that I need to work on.

NewsForge: One news report I read suggested that you will be turning 2.6
kernel maintenance over to Andrew Morton a lot earlier in the cycle than
usual. Was that report accurate?

Torvalds: Yes. Historically I've turned things over after I'm happy with
the thing, i.e. it takes a while. With Andrew, we've already been working
pretty closely for the last few months anyway, so we're going to try
a new approach: he'll be the maintainer from the very get-go, and I'll
be as a co-maintainer.

We'll do it gradually, i.e. try to move him more and more into the
maintenance position starting with the pre-releases (probably this

NewsForge: You've come in for some criticism in the trade press for not
taking SCO's rants against Linux and "tainted" source code more
seriously. Are you now taking the SCO thing more
seriously than before?

Torvalds: I took the SCO thing more seriously when it first came out. It
seems to have degenerated into nothing but a contract issue between SCO
and IBM, and as such I no longer much care.

(Well, the lawsuit itself was always a contract issue, but there was a
lot of FUD from SCO about IP stuff etc., and that part is something I
do care about. The later stuff from SCO seems to make it clear that
the IP really was IBM's, so everything was done right on that level.)

NewsForge: With all the work on threading in 2.5, do you think 2.6 will
mean Linux scales better on bigger boxes?

Torvalds: Absolutely. Some of the improvements have found themselves into 2.4.x too, but 2.6.x
will work quite well on big iron. It's not just the threading stuff,
it's also things like much improved locking in various subsystems
(filesystems and the block IO layer come to mind).

NewsForge: Are you concerned that Linux's "sweet spot" will move so high
up the hardware ladder than ordinary users will begin to notice it's not
as quick on their machines as it once was?

Torvalds: No, mainly because I still use it day-to-day on regular desktops, and
that's what I care most about. For example, the latest patch that I
worked on myself (as opposed to working on merging other people's stuff)
was to get X11 and Mozilla to load faster by improving the read-ahead
heuristics for page faulting in the executable images. ;)

Obviously my "regular desktop" tends to be a fairly high-end one, but
it's not that high-end. So I have a gig of RAM and a 3GHz CPU in this
thing; that's what I'd expect pretty much any new machine to be in a
year or two.

So I'm aiming for the high-end desktop, because that will be "normal" in
a few years. And we still do care about low-end machines too, so it's
not like we're trying to leave those behind either.

NewsForge: What is the biggest single improvement you see coming in 2.6?

Torvalds: There are a few fundamental ones. The block layer and the VM are
some of the more important ones for me, but better ACPI and USB are
more likely to be noticeable for "normal users."

NewsForge: Did you leave Transmeta on good terms? Do you think you will
go back to work for them some day?

Torvalds: Oh, I didn't "leave" in the sense that I'm actually still
associated with them (leave of absense rather than quitting) and yes,
it was very amicable. I may not plan ahead all that much, but I also
don't see any point to burning bridges. ;)

NewsForge: Do you think more kernel hackers will be joining you and
Morton and the others at OSDL?

Torvalds: Hey, we'll just have to see.

NewsForge: Will the OSDL sponsors (the OSDL site lists those sponsors as
Computer Associates, Fujitsu, Hitachi, HP, IBM, Intel, NEC, and others)
now expect you to be more sensitive to their perceived needs
than you have been in the past?

Torvalds: I think people are pretty aware of the fact that I'm an
opinionated bastard, and that I tend to say "whatever" and just do what
I want to do anyway. But at the same time the environment you work in clearly does affect
how you work, so what you should really do is ask somebody else in a
year's time whether I seemed to change what I was doing.

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