Ask a group of computer enthusiasts today to name their
favorite operating system and the chances are it will
be Linux. Linux is the open-source operating system
that has prompted an outbreak of Linuxmania in the computing
world, where it is touted as a potential competitor
to Microsofts all-powerful Windows. The thirty-something
Finn Linus Torvalds didnt invent the open-source
movement, (much of the credit for that is given to Eric
Raymond and Brian Behlendorf) but he did turn the spotlight
on it as never before. In doing so he has highlighted
how the Internet has made it possible to rethink the
organization and the process of product development.
Torvalds was barely out of diapers when he started
programming computers. Aged 10, he was writing computer
games for a Commodore VIC-20 that his grandfather had
bought him. At Helsinki University, he graduated from
computer games to operating systems. He didnt
like his PCs pre-installed operating system (Microsofts
DOS), preferring the Universitys UNIX system.
The problem was that there was no UNIX version for PCs.
So he wrote one: "When I was 21, I was very self-assured
when it came to programming and not very self-assured
when it came to anything else. But I knew I was the
best programmer in the world. So I just decided Hey,
why couldnt I do this myself? And so I did."
He called the new OS "Linux". And then, astonishingly,
instead of making millions of dollars from his new program,
he gave away the source code. This instantly made him
a hero of the open-source movement.
Torvalds has moved to Silicon Valley, still continues
to have an input into the development of the Linux OS
and is also involved in a new project at Transmeta.
Transmeta is threatening to shake up the cozy coterie
of chip manufacturers, Intel and AMD. Transmeta (www.transmeta.com)
has come up with a revolutionary approach to micro processing.
In its new Crusoe microprocessor, Transmetas developers
have managed to combine the silicon chip with a microchip
instruction set executed entirely in software. This
means the processor can "learn" and be modified
over time, it also means high speeds with little power
drain. In other words its a mobile computer manufacturers
Ten years on from
Linux, Jorge Nascimento Rodrigues met up with Torvalds
in his corner office
at Transmetas Silicon Valley HQ.
Why did you decide to work for Transmeta? What was
Well, no-one does something drastic like moving to
a new country with his family for just one reason, so
there was certainly more than one thing that made Transmeta
very attractive to me. The main one, though, was simply
that of all the projects I'd heard of, Transmeta's was
the most interesting technically. To a large degree
what we did (and do) is basic research, which at the
same time has a very obvious and very immediate practical
application too. There are not all that many projects
around like that. Couple that with the energy and excitement
of working at a start-up, and I certainly still think
I made the right decision.
Is there any relationship with Linux?
Well, a lot of what Transmeta does is actually fairly
intimately tied in to what made me start Linux in the
first place. Linux originally grew out of my own project
to learn all about the Intel 80386 architecture, and
while my work at Transmeta has been very different from
my Linux work, there certainly are a lot of overlapping
How did you find adapting to Silicon Valley?
I personally had a very easy time to adapt to Silicon
Valley -- probably at least partly because of being
able to fit in with work so well. My wife took more
time to get used to it, although she's certainly done
so by now. And our eldest daughter was just ten weeks
old when we moved, so she never even knew Finland. Apart
from work, the climate has certainly been part of the
reason we've settled down so well. Coming from Finland
I can certainly tell you that it makes a huge difference.
What's your forecast for the Linux movement? Do
you think it's a true challenger of Microsoft market
Mostly I really don't think like that. To me, Linux
been about the technology, not so much about market
share. I certainly think that Linux is a true challenger
- I've done so for years, and the last few years have
obviously not produced any reason to become any less
Will your work with Transmeta affect the Linux movement?
It hasn't really so far. Oh, it's changed some things
on how I work,
not the least because now I'm in the middle of a lot
companies using it and some things are easier to do
from Silicon Valley than from Finland, but on the whole
things haven't changed much. You have to realize that
I had a life outside Linux even before I joined Transmeta
- people just didn't talk all that much about things
like having to get a degree etc at university.