Originally Published: Monday, 6 December 1999 Author: Heather Stanfield
Published to: enhance_articles_hardware/Hardware Reviews Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Linus Torvalds at Comdex '99

In speaking of the future, Torvalds observed that technology sets the boundaries, but it is users that decide what happens next. Convenience and price are driving technology, with four areas leading the way: wireless technology, specialized and embedded devices, more powerful desktops and servers, and common interfaces.

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Linus Torvalds at Comdex '99

This was Linus Torvalds' first year speaking at Comdex, and to open his keynote, he told a little story. He had three copies of his presentation on three different floppies, and he had a copy on the net to download in case all three of the floppies failed. He arrived an hour before his keynote to set up the computer that was supposed to be on stage. Emphasis on "supposed"; when he arrived, the computer was gone. With Bill Gates' keynote the night before, about 5000 people whispered, "Sabotage." =] Even with the unexpected difficulties, Torvalds gave a fabulous ideological speech about open source, the future of technology, and even a bit of information on the secrets behind Transmeta.

Torvalds focused on open source, but not just in the software side. One major point he made was that open source created open competition. This open competition drove development to new levels, for each company is competing with each other (example: Intel and AMD). This competition brought new and better products to the market much faster, but it also brought a larger variety, allowing the users to decide which was the best. "...Competition is good. That's why we have anti-trust lawsuits." He mentioned several companies that are beginning to embrace open source - Intel, IBM, and SGI, to name a few. He also proposed a "biological/evolutionary self-organising approach" to open up the technology world. He believed the top-approach was bad, and I have to agree with him. A more biological approach would be able to adapt to users' needs much more quickly.

In speaking of the future, Torvalds observed that technology sets the boundaries, but it is users that decide what happens next. Convenience and price are driving technology, with four areas leading the way: wireless technology, specialized and embedded devices, more powerful desktops and servers, and common interfaces. He saw that wireless and mobile technology need a "full-fledged OS"; he mentioned that too much important stuff was cut out of Windows CE to make it effective. He also noted that innovations in hardware would make mobile and wireless much easier and cheaper in the future. This is already here - the Palm-sized PCs, cell phones that do everything, and tiny notebooks. As for the "sexy" high-end servers, Torvalds noted Linux support for 8-way PIII and the ability to access 4 GB of RAM with a 32-bit CPU. He also foresees cross-platform scalable hardware, which would make everyone's lives much easier.

It's now time for rumor and speculation. We finally know something about Transmeta and what they are doing. Crusoe (an anagram for "source", by the way) - a "smart CPU", the first microprocessor built with software. Of course, that was all Torvalds said; full disclosure is 19 January 2000. After reading some older news articles and patent information ("code morphing"), my speculation is that this new processor will be upgradable with just software. The idea is that no one will ever have to buy a new processor, just the software to upgrade it. I know heat will be an issue for a few years after release, but I also believe that will be taken care of in time. You might have to buy a new CPU every now and then, but much less frequently, especially with advances in cooling (example: Kryotech). I'm thinking that Intel, AMD, and National Semi are very, very scared right now. This would force them to take a completely different route, but it would also force dramatic and needed changes in computers. Small and wireless computers would become much more widespread; there would be no need to buy a new Palm or cell phone when something better comes out - just upgrade it yourself. High-end servers could easily be upgraded when needs increase. If Crusoe is what I'm thinking it will be, it will revolutionize everything. Changes are afoot.

Kudos to Linus on an incredible speech. I can't wait for January 19, and I can see the changes that he expects will come. It was a great opening to a great Comdex.





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