Open-source software revolutionaries - the finale of George Orwell's Animal Farm


Fully vaccinated are you?
BOB METCALFE: "From the Ether" February 15, 2000


LINUS TORVALDS gave the keynote speech at LinuxWorld Expo last month, right after announcing Transmeta Corp. Am I the only one to see that Torvalds and other open-source software revolutionaries are acting out the finale of George Orwell's Animal Farm?

Orwell's farmhouse is full of open-source pigs, which are now almost indistinguishable from the proprietary humans they recently overthrew.

It's true that I have been unkind to the "open sores" movement. But to be clear, anyone is welcome to beat Microsoft with better software, even a utopian community of volunteer programmers.

May the best software win.

And don't get me wrong, even if he disappoints Richard Stallman by not always referring to GNU/Linux, Torvalds is a genuine hero of the open-source revolution.

But with Torvalds saying some animals are more equal than others, why is the sanctimonious open-source press still cheering him on? Are the likes of, just gobbled by VA Linux, also porking out in Orwell's farmhouse?

Torvalds wrote and now controls Linux, the open-source operating system, due this summer in Version 2.4. By day, he is a programmer at Transmeta. Transmeta just announced Crusoe, its low-power microprocessors for mobile computers.

The architecture of Crusoe chips is based on VLIW (very long instruction words). It has "code morphing" to convert and cache software in speedy VLIW codes. And it comes with Mobile Linux, with Linux extensions for power management. According to Transmeta, Crusoe is two-thirds software and one-third hardware.

So what I want to know is, if open-source software is so cool, and if Torvalds "gets it," why isn't Crusoe open source? For a start, why aren't the Crusoe chip's mask sources published for modification and manufacture by anyone?

And yes, Mobile Linux is open source, but not the "code morphing" software Torvalds helped write. Transmeta has taken the phrase Code Morphing as its proprietary trademark. And what the code does, according to Transmeta, has been ... patented.

Worse, Crusoe is touted for running Intel X86 software, and in particular, Microsoft Windows. Doesn't the open-source community say Windows is beneath contempt?

Torvalds showed up at LinuxWorld Expo touting open source, of course, but then went on to revise two of its bedrock principles.

Torvalds talked at LinuxWorld about fragmentation -- the emergence of too many Linux versions. Being old enough to have watched Unix fragment during the 1980s, I worry.

But instead of holding to the party line that Linux will not fragment, Torvalds now says there is bad fragmentation and good. One can assume, because he's in charge of both, Transmeta's Mobile Linux will fragment Linux 2.4, but in a good way.

Then Torvalds talked about commercial companies, which aren't so bad after all: Take for example Transmeta. His audience, packed with employees, friends, and family of newly public Linux companies, did not boo him back out into the barnyard.

Where is the outrage?

So just to keep Torvalds honest, I'm thinking that Crusoe chips, which are mostly software, should be open source and basically free. Chips have to be manufactured -- with white coats, ovens, and stuff -- so maybe it should be OK to sell open-source Crusoe for the cost of its silicon, trace metals, media, and manuals.

And how about this? To keep pigs out of the farmhouse, how about bundling Crusoe chips with Transmeta shares? This would cement commitment to Transmeta products and its inevitable IPO.

Until the Internet stock bubble bursts, this would provide Transmeta with funds to pay to make the chips and to pay for Super Bowl ads. This would be breaking new ground in The New Economy.


Copyright 2000 InfoWorld Media Group Inc.
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