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Linus Looks at His Crystal Ball 102

Magorak writes "There's an interesting article I found here about Linus Torvalds' take on the future of the software and hardware industry. There's tidbits about Linux's future itself, the competition with Microsoft, and about customized software becoming more important. It also gives us an interesting view on how Linus sees the future of computers and technology. "
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Linus Looks at His Crystal Ball

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  • Hi all, slightly off topic. What is Linus hired to do at transmeta, other than to possibly increses public awareness of the company(for which reason I am sure Linus won't agree to work for them.)

    Does it use Linux? Does it matter if it uses Linux? "There is no Wall that can keep the wind in." Maybe there is just nothing specific to leak out(yet)?

    Comments? inside info? broken NDA's? ANY THING!!!
  • Take a look at eCos, I think it's made by Cygnus. It's an embedded OS under the GPL.

    Wayne
  • I think there will be a steady need for new features as broadband reaches more and more people.

    This is certainly true. I think, however, more of the software will be running on servers or distributed invisibly to run on the client as an applet (Java or otherwise). Once the browser capabilities are fully fleshed out, the internet will become a big multimedia and database application server. The endless cycle of upgrades will continue unabated - on the servers. The brower will be the main app to update on the desktop. I rarely use anything on my home computer these days other than netscape, vi, telnet, ftp, and gimp. Other than the horrible memory leaks in netscape, I'm not really unhappy with anything on my desktop machine. My servers, on the otherhand, are constantly being upgraded and tweaked.

  • My favorite example for why software companies should fear GNU/Linux is the GIMP. Bye bye Adobe Photoshop. That won't be a price crash (ugh.. hundreds of dollars to touch up images?), it will be a total switchover from one product to another. :) It depends on the software, I suppose.. But still, it would be more of a drop than a /crash/..

    Uh..no. Photoshop is more than just "touching up images". Don't get me wrong. I've used the Gimp. I like the Gimp. But in a blow-by-blow comparision, it's still lacking. Is PS worth USD$600? That's up to the individual user's need to determine.

    Basically, if you run an OS that actually bothers to manage memory efficiently (contraty to the belief of the Windows-lovers I've met in my time, that is /not/ one of them) you eventually get to a point where getting the latest badass processor just isn't that big a deal.

    I'd be willing to bet that this is already happening.

    Just this evening, I was talking with a friend of mine about the whole G4 debacle that Apple kicked off this week. And he was bemoaning the fact that the G4 boxen were going to be hard to come by for the near future.

    Now, MacOS doesn't even pretend to manage memory efficiently, but I found my self thinking that I really had no reason to upgrade my G3 box (Gossamer) for at least another year. It's reasonably fast, unusually stable, and does everything I ask of it. The only reason I might have to upgrade is if MacOS9 or X bloats out - really bad.

    Now I wonder... I can't be the only one, can I?

  • Linux wouldn't be such a big deal with out MSFT

    Linux would be a big deal without Microsoft - because without Microsoft it would be competing with multi kilobuck Unix operating systems on the server side, it would be competing with MacOS on the desktop, and in all but high-end and specialized desktop app systems it would eat them both for lunch.

    Until MacOS 8 I hadn't seen an OS from apple that wasn't as unstable as Win3.x, and they're still barely even with Win95 systems in my experience, UI and stabilitywise. Do they have full memory protection and preemptive multitasking in anything but OS X yet? The last amusing anecdote I heard claimed they were using "guard pages" in VM in OS 8 between kernel memory and app memory so that at least "decrement and write to pointer" infinite loops wouldn't trash the system, but they couldn't actually use the MMU to protect kernel-used memory without breaking things.

    On the other end, I've watched $3000 Linux systems race past $15000 HPUX systems running the same software. This is after the HPUX systems have fallen in price due to NT Server influence. If the back office today was 100% Unix based (thus easy to port) software the middle end of it would be completely Linux today.
  • by KlomDark ( 6370 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @04:51PM (#1663689) Homepage Journal
    To those of you out in the real world, doesn't it seem more likely that instead of a total switchover and all this bullshit world domination crap that we instead focus on integrating Linux with other systems, whether NT or AS/400 or whatever? It's way difficult to find info about cross-integration of the different platforms. At my job, Linux is finally getting it's toes in the door - doing reporting on IIS web servers running on NT. We now have the proper SAMBA communication worked out between the Linux and NT boxes, but it was a major challenge rooting through all the "Linux Rules" "Only Linux" garbage all over the net!! It would sure be a lot easier if people would get off the political jihad stuff!

    Here is some info on cross-platform integration [cybermonkey] if you are interested.

    This message posted via NetScape 4.61 running on Mandrake 6.0 with a KDE window manager being ran via a Hummingbird X Client on a Windows 98 machine. Integration is fun! :)

  • of the momentum building behind a big wave. We just happen to be at the core.
  • I predict writing gigantic, all-purpose software in C++ for income is a thing of the past. To earn a living programming you'll need to consult and do small, specific, internal company projects in a scripted language. All-purpose software in legacy languages, to make grown women cry will be the domain of dorm hackers in their sophomore years.

    I doubt purpose built devices will benefit anyone but the manufacturers. I do everything on one computer because it's cheaper than having a dedicated TV for TV, a dedicated VCR for VCR, and a dedicated stereo for stereo, but Transmeta is of course in the embedded system business so his opinion is reasonable.
  • If you think QNX (cost-wise) is unreal, notice what happened to OS/9 when they got their first set-top box contract. BOOM, all support for small (20,000units/year) customers went away, and the prices went up for small unit volumes. We ended up writing a an OS from scratch that cost less over a small number of units than an OS/9 solution, back in the days before Linux was ready for prime time. There will be a rather large shake-out in the embedded market for the majority of applications where "hard" real-time is not required once Linux is sufficiently well-documented to be used in commercial development. The tools are almost there, and all it will take is for someone to release an embedded development kit with porting tools that support the CPUs normally used for embedded development. Then you will see a shake-out in the embedded market.
  • I hope that "most slashdot readers" did not find this segment of the market to be a "revelation." I would rather call it Real-Time than appliances. If the kernel works great in an embedded environment, there is an infinite market out there with less stringent requirements. Some vendors make a good living just providing an environment that bridges these worlds. Having Linux as this common thread makes sense to me. I encourage the slashdot community to seek more of these revelations [rtlinux.org].
  • Hmmm.. Might help if I put in the CORRECT URL!

    info on cross-platform integration [bloomnet.com]

  • rxvt is pretty nice, but it can't display reversed text correctly (at least not on a pixmapped background which is how I use it). I'm edging towards gnome-terminal for the gtk+ tie-in. konsole is cool, especially the ability to switch to/from mc mode quickly.

  • 'If you believe what Sun, microsoft, IBM etc... are saying by the time the upgrade crash occurs most of the infrastructure for web-based office suites/desktops will be in place for a massive shift away from desktop computing by the average user. (uh, if you're reading this you'r probably *not* an average user) '

    No I don't believe them. They've been signalling the demise of the desktop PC for years, while desktop PC's keep getting faster and cheaper. Just a pipe dream.

    I always felt powerful peer to peer,on demand, dynamic networks are the future. You connect to who has what you need. People connect to you when you have what they need. You can't do that with wimpy diskless PC's. Today they are called web and application servers, tommorow, who knows.

    Just my .02

  • ...and then we go 3d and the whole thing starts again, at least for the brave or stupid.
  • .. I won't even mention the gad-awful Karma-Dogma joke.
  • funny stuff ;-)
  • Hmm... TimeDigital says: "Most evidence suggests Transmeta is inventing a new kind of microprocessor so fast that it'll make a Pentium III feel like an abacus soaked in Jell-O." Perhaps Transmeta is continuing work on plastic transistors. Also in TimeDigital, everybody's favorite, Dr. Linus Torvalds, makes a slip (?) by saying "The work I do for Trnasmeta has not a lot to do with Linux." Not a lot? Some, maybe, but not a lot? Remember MicroUnity! Phyrkrakr
  • Dammit, I knew I should have previewed...

    I sit here at my desk at home and what do I have... A desktop, a notebook to my left, a calculator to the right of the mouse and paper and pencil. In front of the desktop keyboard is a musical keyboard. Why?

    Sometimes it's just easier to flip over and use the notebook rather than flip windows around or windowshade a few apps. The calculator is *FAR* faster to throw numbers around in than pulling up a calc app. Finally, the pad of paper and pencil (not pen!) are there because it's a thousand times faster to play with ideas on paper than it is to try to pull it up in a sketch app.

    Computers are very fast and do many wonderful things. However they will NEVER replace a calculator, nor will they ever replace paper. When I know what I want to do, I turn to the computer. But if I'm just playing with numbers or trying to shape something, it's paper or calculator... something lower tech and far easier to maniuplate than a keyboard/mouse.

    The MIDI keyboard? Well I like to play by ear when I'm listening to MP3s. :-)
  • by Sethb ( 9355 ) <bokelman@outlook.com> on Thursday September 23, 1999 @01:00PM (#1663705)
    I think there will be a steady need for new features as broadband reaches more and more people. Just as the Internet has caused many applications to become "net aware" and spawned many new features (such as your CD player to fetch track names from CDDB) the next level of access will do even more. I'm sure we'll all be disappointed someday when our favorite app doesn't yet support voice recognition, or application sharing over the internet, or doesn't support the newest lossless graphic standard.

    Not to mention that we havne't run out of ideas in the hardware arena yet either. Take a look sometime at the discussion over on Macintouch [macintouch.com] about Connectix not taking advantage of the Altivec instructions in the next version of Virtual PC. These people really are clamoring for every speed increase they can get, and the company does not want to bother to re-code it for free of course. As long as there is new hardware, there will be new software written to take advantage of it.

    On the flip side, of course I haven't really found anything new that I use in Microsoft Office since Office95 came out, unless you count Microsoft Frontpage as being part of the office suite. But, like I mentioned above, voice recognition, video-on-demand, and the ability to use VERY large amounts of data in your work without worrying about the amount of bandwidth of your audience will change a lot of things, I'm sure.
  • by SnakeStu ( 60546 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @01:02PM (#1663706) Homepage
    The debate regarding purpose-specific devices versus multi-purpose devices is neither "news" nor limited to computer products. You'll find the same issues in office products (witness the multi-purpose fax/printer/scanner/copier machines), stereos, etc. As long as there is room for consumer choice on both sides of the debate -- that is, as long as both sides can still make sense to a significant portion of any given market -- it is pointless to claim that one side or the other will be dominant. Instead, they simply subdivide the market into logical consumer categories.

    To use office equipment as an example, a combo fax/printer/scanner/copier/etc device makes sense for the small office/home office (SOHO) segment of the office equipment market. Single-function copiers will make sense to the "big business" segment of the office equipment market. For either combo units or function-specific units to dominate would mean that one segment or the other is not being properly served (i.e., the SOHO segment will be faced with spending a lot for unneeded functions, like collation options, various paper size trays, etc., or the big business segment will be faced with equipment that doesn't meet functional needs).

    The same applies to computing products (hardware and software). What makes sense to one segment of the overall consumer population (say, for example, the all-night hacker type) will not serve another segment (e.g., the "how do I print my letter to Granny" type).

    To put it much more succinctly, it's about using the right tool for the job -- and recognizing that the simply-described job (e.g., "copy a document") may mean radically different things in various market segments.

    Some tools to consider... [uninova.com]

  • by drig ( 5119 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @01:23PM (#1663707) Homepage Journal
    According to Linus, Transmeta "makes stuff". So, I assume, Linus was hired to help them make stuff. Linus will be bringing his expertise in stuff design and probably begin expanding into actual stuff manufacturing. With the team they have, I imagine they'll make quite good stuff. Maybe useful stuff. Definitely stuff of some sort or other.

    Perhaps the stuff will use Linux, but Linus was not hired to work on Linux (although this is not precluded by his contract). I wouldn't be terribly surprised to see some of Linus' work go into Linux (like a /dev/stuff file or maybe even /proc/stuff, a new stuff driver and an expanded stuff interface). I hear O'Reilly will be partnering with Transmeta to release "Stuff in a Nutshell" and the new "Stuff Administrator's Handbook".
  • "I believe in purpose-built devices," Torvalds said. "If you look, for instance, at the Nokia 9000 [Communicator], it is a cute thing, which I like, but it is not a good mobile phone and it is not a good PDA."


    He said he expects households to have not just one central multimedia box for digital television and Internet access, but several separate terminals that can share information with each other.
    Either Linus is contradicting himself here or I don't understand what he thinks will happen in the furture. So, is the general all purpose device going to stay or will it be replaced by specific purpose devices?

    I believe that devices will become even more multi-purpose. In the future the vcr, stereo, tv, computer, news paper ... [insert any other information source here] will all be combined into one device. Some large, some small, but in the end , there all going to be general purpose computers.
  • Drat... I had a calculator program that did that on the Amiga. Haven't seen any since. :(

  • by Bob-K ( 29692 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @01:32PM (#1663711)
    >> . There will ALWAYS be a need for constant upgrades while the proprietary software model reigns king

    Ah, but by the same token, the proprietary oftware business if pretty reliant on the need to upgrade. That's why I think Linus is right on the mark.

    As Microsoft continues to add features to Office, each new feature will appeal to a smaller percentage of users. And as PC prices drop, it's going to be harder and harder to justify a $600 word processor, much less a $300 upgrade every 24 months.

    I've watched PC software evolve since the beginning, and there has always been a sort of promised land on the horizon. We were always just a hair short of where we wanted to be. GUIs were unreliable at first, they were too slow. Upgrades seemed necessary, just to make it from Z80-CP/M to a stable 32-bit GUI platform with decent multitasking. It took time, and we bought upgrades along the way.

    Now, GUIs and multitasking just work, and we don't think much of it. Windows works pretty well most of the time, Gnome/KDE just need a year or two of polish. And then we're done. The PC has finally evolved to where you turn on a new computer, and no matter how cheap it is, you'll get a pretty snappy GUI interface. And making it twice as "snappy" is no longer a big deal. Most "new" features in current software upgrades are either bells, whistles, or advertisements.

    This situation will probably make it pretty difficult to charge a lot of money for the latest version of software in upcoming years. John Dvorak's article yesterday showed rare (for him) insight, when he observed that Linux's desktop challenge will eventually come in the form of a $199 PC that comes with a complete office suite.

  • I am sick and tired of having to pay $500 for programs I want. And companies wonder why the only 2 non-games I have bought are a copy of Mandrake 6 and BeOS R4. Still though I am planning on working in the computer industry and the thought of having interest in programmers bottom out because companies can't afford to hire new ones is depressing.
  • yea, why would anybody want to use monthly fee-based hosted apps when they can get them for free? ASP will be the next "push" failure.
  • I happen to be working with Photoshop every day for a few hours. I tried Gimp as well. Photoshop is the only windows program I'm using. So why am I not switching? Simple. Gimp can't cut it for professional graphics manipulation - far from it. I don't think any Photoshop users (except for maybe warez kids) switched to Gimp - those who payed $600 for Photoshop, need it's high end capabilities. I haven't been following Gimp development effort, but I *hope* in a year or so I will be able to switch. I plan to try the next big version when it comes out. It's a little annoying to see people knock Photoshop though - that pretty much means that you are not a graphics professional and have no business judging Photoshop to start with.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 23, 1999 @07:20PM (#1663715)
    yeah, i have one too.

    it was an accident when i was a kid, i had one of those bmx bikes and i landed bad, and did a full nutcrusher on the highbar. the left one is okay, but the right one is gone, gone.

    it was kinda embarrassing at my junior high, because they had those damn hardwood chairs, and if i wore thin shorts you could hear the "clink, clink, clink" as i settled in my chair. i was late to class a lot, so you can imagine what it was like.

    i guess they're using silicon now, but i don't wanna get in one of those fucking class action lawsuits if my hair and teeth start falling out or something.

    my crystal ball is doing fine, thx. it doesn't talk to me the way linus' does. maybe thats what the new transmeta appliances are, rf networked prosthetic crystal testicles or something.
  • ... and voice controlled
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I agree about the customized software angle, but I think you're completely wrong about the scripted language thing. Customization of large applications for which source is available will become the norm.

    You can't write large programs in scripted languages (and retain sanity). Scripts are good at tying together separate "black box" components, but are not effective for writing
    useable software. If the source for the components is available then you can do far more
    by using the native language for component.

    English is a legacy langauge too, it is harder to learn than esperanto, but I don't see it dissappearing any time soon. C/C++ have their faults but have a look at your system. How much of the software you are running right now is written in anything else ?

    Do not underestimate the persistence of standards. The distance between tracks on US railway lines is 4'6.5". Why - because the
    early railways were built by Brits and that is the distance for English railways. Why - because the original rolling stock for railways were build by coach builders, and that was the wheel distance for coaches. Why - because the ruts on the roads in England where 4'6.5" apart. Why - because the original roads in England were built by the Romans and that was the distance between wheels on Roman carriages. Why - because that is the distance across two horses ass.

  • "I believe in purpose-built devices," Torvalds said. "If you look, for instance, at the Nokia 9000 [Communicator], it is a cute thing, which I like, but it is not a good mobile phone and it is not a good PDA."

    I'm sorry, but who wants to have a separate PDA and Moblie Phone? Come on, these things would be much better as one device. So what if Nokia hasn't got a good implementation. Sometime someone will get it right.

    I think a PDA/Mobile Phone/Mp3 player/Voice Recorder/Digital camera/Web Browser/Email Client device would kick ass.

    All running on Linux of course.
  • Most of it has been heard before, but the interview does a nice job of pulling a lot of it together. Still worth the read.
  • Linus' vision depends entirely on the success of open source software. There will ALWAYS be a need for constant upgrades while the proprietary software model reigns king.

    I don't really care much about for-profit or not-for-profit motives, and I don't entirely subscribe to the FSF's moral obligation arguments....but I think the useless upgrade path created by MS is a great reason to get out and code....

    So I'll cut this comment short...i've got code to write :)

  • Not a whole lot of meat in that article. I did find it interesting that Linus is interested in "appliances", but that's about the only revelation in that article for most slashdot readers.
  • by sinnergy ( 4787 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @12:08PM (#1663723) Homepage
    Doesn't anyone else here think it's kind of odd that all of a sudden many stories are popping up about Linux on the newswires, when, if you look at it, there really wasn't a news event that predicated the need for an article? Now, I'm going to theorize on a few possibilities:

    1) Linux makes news. Good news makes money. Money makes people happy.

    2) The increasing amount of tidbits related to Transmeta (yet another reference!) and Linus' relationship to it are nothing but fodder to increase awareness about the obvious branding of Trasmeta's product without said product actually being even known. This awareness and publicity are precisely the kind of calculated moves I would take if I were trying to hype the Next Big Thing (tm). I might note that, for the most part, the actual news item, "Software Price Crashes" in this case, are really of secondary importance. If you'll notice, the discussion of Linus, precedes the implication of Redhat's IPO with precedes the blurb about Transmeta, which then precedes the meat and potatoes of the article. Granted, this is an often used trick in the news industry to make sure people have a background for the material to follow, but isn't this a bit much?

    3) (The least plausible ;) is that this is a plot by the OSS movement to Stick it to the Man and to create good vibes towards OSS and Linux in general.

    I admit that all of this is supposition and is baseless. I have no proof to back any of this up. IANAL. I'm just an avid slashdotter. AT the very least, it's good to not only read the articles presented, but to read past them and between the lines to derive the intent behind the posts in the first place.

  • What I got from his comments regarding upgrades is that he was referring to software "staples". It's an interesting concept. I mean think about it, what value can they add to office? It already does just about everything. The paperclip's about as sickeningly user friendly as you can get. I probably haven't used 10% of the features in Office. Why should I upgrade? Bug fixes? Sorry...not worth hundreds of dollars.

    Anyway, what I'm saying is that this concept probably won't apply everywhere. As new technologies and concepts develop, there is always a price curve. But the dramatic crash in prices for a mature piece of software like a word proccessor or spreadsheet will be pretty unique. And may teach certain huge software companies a lesson!
  • If you believe what Sun, microsoft, IBM etc... are saying by the time the upgrade crash occurs most of the infrastructure for web-based office suites/desktops will be in place for a massive shift away from desktop computing by the average user. (uh, if you're reading this you'r probably *not* an average user)

    So you won't need to upgrade, just pay your monthly fee. Your provider will upgrade automatically (hardware, not just software) for you becuase he wants your business. Otherwise you may go skipping off to a competitor.

    So in my opinion the upgrades will still occur. There will just be a shift in who is actually paying for them. The user's cost will stay constant year to year. The ASP would take the big $$ hit for upgrades.

    Assuming the rumors about Star Portal being closed off by Sun actually come to fruition... All we need now is the "Apache" of web application servers. Is this in the works? is it already supported by Gnome or KOffice?

    And how will this proposed upgrade crash affect something like the game industry? I'm much more willing to drop $30 on a new game or expansion set than for my word processor.

  • by Chexum ( 1498 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @12:02PM (#1663727) Homepage
    (transmeta revelation mode on)
    Did anyone notice how they talk about embedded stuff, customization, and many devices per home (appliances in buzzspeak, which he avoided of course :) He also criticized the Nokia 9000 as not a convenient PDA and not a convenient cell-phone either.. That might help us close on what the heck transmeta is working on :)

    Now, the only thing to hope that the three years he is talking about is not the announcement of their product (remember, on Comdex we will know, what it is or we will know when we will know :), but the final takeover worldwide, where there's not anything traditional left, but customized Linux devices running transmeta parts :)
    (transmeta reveleation mode off)

  • Could someone post a direct URL to a text-only or ``printer friendly'' version of this article? It crashes my browser when I try to view it.
  • by TheKodiak ( 79167 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @12:03PM (#1663729) Homepage
    "but Torvalds said he does not believe consumers want all-in-one systems."

    I fear Torvalds may have underestimated the powerful attraction between Americans and their chairs. I can think of several million consumers who want nothing less than the world delivered to their couch. Or car. Or CRT. Or PDA. Or forearm. Or brainstem.

    Then again, I certainly agree - in the near future, at least, I don't foresee all-in-one devices becoming any more usable.
  • I personally like to have my single system! I've had friends tell me I'd avoid a lot of problems if I got a second box and used it for my games, but I prefer the all-in-one approach! I've got one box at home that's a web server, database server, workstation, router, etc.

    I'm still undecided on "appliances" in general, but I certianly hope that this doesn't mean Linux will stop focusing on the more general boxes! I LOVE my dual celeron... I don't want to do anything to scare it! :-)
  • Even if all the software in the world was open-source, there would still be upgrades. Anyone who taked Programming 101 knows that there will always be a bug somewhere. Yes, prices will drop dramatically in the future, especially as open-source projects become more prevalent in everyday computer usage, and not because there will be no more upgrading.

    I really liked what he had to say about customization and embedded devices. Perhaps he is thinking of this all together -- you won't upgrade your software, but it maybe will detect when upgrades are available by itself and take care of it for you? An interesting idea...
    --
    Matt Singerman
  • I'm learning to code just so I can help out with the Open source developement model. I'm slowly getting there, but I promise that one day I will be a producer of open source code.
  • Did anyone notice how they talk about embedded stuff, customization, and many devices per
    home (appliances in buzzspeak, which he avoided of course :) He also criticized the Nokia
    9000 as not a convenient PDA and not a convenient cell-phone either.. That might help us
    close on what the heck transmeta is working on :)


    Transmeta... maybe. Every other major corporation definitely. That's what I get paid for at least.

  • The article didn't make this very clear, but I think what Linus meant was that the common practice of paying for bugfixes (oh, I mean upgrades!) would soon end.

    It's about time, too. I've seen plenty of bugs in Office 97 which prevented people here from doing their work. Microsoft acknowledged the behavior as a bug and recommended purchasing Office 2000 (which would come out seven months later) as a fix.

    To make an annoying story short, they ended up using the beta version of Office 2000 just to get work done. I won't miss that sort of thing.

    Compare that to the Linux kernel development model. How long had the 2.2 series been out before 2.0.38 appeared? And how much did the kernel maintainers charge for that?

    It's not the upgrades that are the issue. It's being "forced" to pay to upgrade software which should have worked correctly in the first place that is the problem.

    --
    QDMerge [rmci.net] 0.21!
  • by jflynn ( 61543 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @01:53PM (#1663738)
    The main reason developers can buy computers cheaply right now is that they're the same computer everyone has to buy.

    Suppose that home consumers all decide purpose-specific appliances are the way to go, and business decides thin-clients make sense. You won't be able to develop software from home very well on either -- a powerful box with a big hard drive is just much better for that. One of the main reasons is being free to choose your own tools, rather than subscribing to someone's "development suite." Even if you were willing to suffer development on a thin client it's likely that the usage fees would be prohibitive for such an uncommon activity.

    So if Linus and Sun are right, expect the price of the box you develop software on to skyrocket, as only enough for developers will have to be made. Note that corporations will develop happily on thin client solutions, internally served and administered. Only open source developers and kids trying to learn programming will really feel the crunch from this.
  • Not to be argumentative, but...

    Why is it that 50% of the people in my building have adding-machines on their desk - next to their computer? (Yet another reason I will never really comprehend my wife, who is one of the guilty.) And most of our engineers have Matlab, spice, who-knows-what-else, and must have their HP calculator.

    I tend to favor Linus' predictions.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Under the GPL.

    Those are big words. When you market a product that runs on QNX, you pay a smallish royalty on each item you sell.

    When you licence it under GPL, you give your competitors the source code.
  • by thomasdelbert ( 44463 ) <thomasdelbert@yahoo.com> on Thursday September 23, 1999 @02:09PM (#1663743)
    Computer software prices will crash when the need for constant upgrades disappears, and this is only a matter of time, leading computer and software expert Linus Torvalds said on Thursday.

    I don't think that the need for upgrades will disappear in the near future. There are two reasons for this:
    1. Demands on hardware/software tend to increase to fill the needs.

    2. Remember that developing the software is a human process and a business process. If a company waits until absolutely everything feature imaginable is implemented and the code is tuned to perfection before releasing a product, they will probably miss the market window. So what you will get is a product, maybe the best one on the market), that still leaves room or need for improvement.

    Purpose built devices are great, but I think that the future of purpose-built devices will be soft upgradeable as well.
  • thats why its called "open source". BTW, eCos is also dual licensed and available if you pay for it without the GPL.

  • Just had to ask. I use bc in a separate Xterm (Eterm actually, taking a look at rxvt one of these days). Mouse on calculator window, type in what you need, see all your past calculcations in the terminal window, cut&paste all you need (say, to cat | lpr), move back.

    Wield the power of the command line :)

    I can't help but think both are true. On one hand, application release fever should be slowing down once all necessary components are available (as components, me thinks). On the other hand, fixes, updates and new components will always be required. One day applications/appliances will become smart enough to fetch their own updates, and linkage between users needs and components required will become automatized (open problems there; think of a 'howto' command alike 'man' that acts as 'apt-get' - and a CPAN-like repository for all software components).
  • Wield the power of the command line :)

    I've been thinking along these lines lately. I discovered mh and instantly loved the philosophy behind it. For those not in the know, mh isn't a single program. You're never "in" mh, you're just "in" bash (or whatever you prefer). When you want to read the next mail, you issue a command, "next". When you want to see a list of messages, you issue the "scan" command. I'd like to take this kind of thinking a little further. For a long time, the move has been toward making everything graphical, because it's supposedly simpler, easier, and more friendly. However, think about how you talk to the ultimate data processing machines, those that we want our computers to ultimitely be able to mimic: people. Do you use any icons? Click anything? No, you just talk to them. When we want to start talking to our computers, all the work that's been put into GUIs is doesn't help one bit. The command line is the starting point for that work and I think there's a lot to gain by working on a smarter commandline right now. That's not to say that GUIs will or should die out. They have their place. It's just that that place isn't "everywhere".
    --

  • by Kitsune Sushi ( 87987 ) on Friday September 24, 1999 @03:08AM (#1663748)

    A lot of the features the GIMP lacks is due to nifty patents. Mind you, I'm not exactly "knocking" Photoshop, per se.. and I won't even begin to claim myself as a graphics professional, but aside from the really really serious stuff, the GIMP will handle most of your graphics needs (the other general alternative being Paint Shop Pro, which cute though it may be, lacks a lot of the more useful features of Photoshop, and so is rather pointless except for the low end.. certainly not worth the money for it - which is why I don't even bother to compare PSP with GIMP :).

    Besides, I think the chances of the GIMP being "on par" by the time GNU/Linux storms the desktop are fairly good, which is why I like it as my example. :)


  • In otherwise unsurpriseful "Future of Information Society" chat last wednesday quoth Mr. Torvalds:
    "I can not talk about what we do at Transmeta" as an answer to a lady who informed the audience that since 1950's the US government or like body has been implanting microchips in people in order to be able to read their thoughts and feelings.

    Thus, your revelation is wrong. ;P
  • by icing ( 94825 ) on Friday September 24, 1999 @03:09AM (#1663750)
    Your basic assumtpion is that consumers buy hardware because of need.

    If that would be true, how the heck did Furbies ever come into existance?

    In our western societies need is really at the bottom of the list when it comes to motivations for a purchase. (Which is a good thing, don't get me wrong)

  • Well, both the GIMP /and/ Photoshop are for more than "touching up images".. However, I thought it would conserve space if I didn't sound like I was trying to plug the hell out of both of them. :)

    I haven't used MacOS in a while.. From what I remember, it's not nearly as bad as Windows, though I'd prefer something else myself. I just figured if Red Hat ran fine on a box with 16 megs of EDO, and a 166mhz Pentium (no, not II, III, Xeon, or even Celeron.. just Pentium.. don't be surprised, it's still using EDO for the love a.. :), then I can't really see the incentive to upgrade from 128 megs of SDRAM and a 500mhz Pentium III to anything higher unless you absolutely /must/ have Win2k.. =P

    Therefore.. I'd bet you're right. Which was my point exactly, really. :)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I agree with your main point about the staying power of existing technologies, and the example you choose is a good one for showing how arbitrary and midirected they can be. Stevenson chose the distance between railway tracks by averaging the axle lengths of a few dozen different carraiges, and got 4'8.5" (not 4'6.5", but that's by the by). Since railways had to be built anew, and not just plonked down over existing roads, he could just as easily have chosen the distance that Brunel came up with, 7 feet. Brunel's trains could carry more, maintain a higher speed more readily due to the intertia of carrying more, and corner much faster without derailing. All of these made his railways better than Stevenson's existing standard, but more expensive in terms of land, trees for the sleepers, and labour. Most of the proprietry software we have at present is the result of the same kind of decisions. Free software bucks this, since if you're giving it away you might as well use a good design instead of a bad one. This is a total win because it results in better design costing less. This applies for both large general purpose computers, and lots of small networked computers. Pick whatever suits you, but design it well, make it free, and improve the life of computer users everywhere.
  • Computer software prices will crash when the need for constant upgrades disappears, and this is only a matter of time, leading computer and software expert Linus Torvalds said on Thursday.

    I'm ignorant on this subject (among lots of others :D). Can somebody explain to me why the need for constant upgrades is going to disappear and how that's supposed to translate into crashing software prices?

    I keep praying Adobe will drop the single-seat price of FrameMaker to around $200, but knowing Adobe, that's just not going to happen, no matter how infrequently necessary software upgrades become.

  • I haven't seen a calculator program that shows you a log of your recent entries like you'd see on the ribbon either.

    The built-in calculator applet on Windows CE handheld devices (the larger ones with keyboards, not the palm-sized ones) has this feature.
  • "I'm ignorant on this subject (among lots of others :D). Can somebody explain to me why the need for constant upgrades is going to disappear and how that's supposed to translate into crashing software prices?"

    I think what he is saying is that software will be distributed with a piece of hardware, and rarely upgraded, you'll rebuy the hardware and new software together when you upgrade. When was the last time you replaced the ROM firmware running your microwave oven or tv?

    The per unit price on the software will be have to be extremely low, basically cost to develop divided by units sold, very little markup, because its critical to profitability of the consumer product. MS will find it very hard to compete with Linux in this regard.
  • I really meant the adding-machine reference as a metaphor. I didn't really want to know why people use them rather than their computer (believe me, my wife has already explained that to me many times.) For me, the calculator on my PC is more than adequate for most things, but for some, the specialized adding-machine is a necessity.

    What I'm saying is that total integration often is not the best solution. There will always be special tools that complete a particular job better than a large tool that tries to do everything. Even over the course of generations, this will not change. Heck, I still wash some of my clothes by hand (rather, my wife, sexist pig that I am) even though the washing machine has been with us for years. Even the ubiquitous automobile - while basically the same technology across many incarnations, has different breeds to do different tasks. Can you image a 0-60, 1g skidpad auto pulling your boat to the lake, and delivering cement to build the basement for your neighbor's house?

    Linus is right - dedicated appliances that do one job, and do it very well, will be with us for a long time, and the preferred tool for many.

    Of course, a perfect analogy can be seen in the failings of NT...
  • "Can you image a 0-60, 1g skidpad auto pulling your boat to the lake, and delivering cement to build the basement for your neighbor's house?"

    I've seen people try. Really and truly, I should use my bicycle whenever I want to go down the street, a motorcycle when I want to go to Corsicana, a truck when I want to haul construction equipment, and a sedan when my friends and I go out to eat. Indeed, I could do all this for less than the cost of my sport-ute, which does them all.

    I think, in general, we agree : there is often one best tool for a given job, and there will always be a market for tools that do one job exquisitely. These will be the tools we love and respect.

    I just feel equally confident that there will also always be a strong market for tools which do a large number of tasks very poorly.
  • Linus has lost it in this one, and I would guess that its his work with Transmeta causing him to say such things as "I believe in purpose-built devices."

    His legacy as an OS creator will be in that it enabled legions of general purpose devices to be made more effective.

    "What if one family member wants to watch television and another wants to browse the Net?" Well then you have two Net-TV devices Mr. Torvalds. It is much easier to support and understand one type of device than a seperate interface for every function that an information appliance could potentially be useful for.


    Hotnutz.com [hotnutz.com]
  • The idea of a all in one device sounds good at first thought. I'd love not to have to carry a bunch of gadgets around with me, but then I got to thinking about it. Some things just don't work well when integrated. For example - a cell phone pda combo. If you're talking on the phone, you can't look at the calendar, or addresss book easily at all (at least not in any of the setups I've seen), so I'll carry both a phone and PDA if I have too.

    As far as home appliances go, I don't see an all-in-one box their either. The set-top internet boxes for example sound great in theory (internet browsing from the comforts of your couch), but they have a lot of problems yet (IMHO) (ie not supporting javascript/java, low resolutions due to TV, etc..). I dunno.. I guess they're young yet, so those problems may be ironed out.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Keep in mind this is all 'online news stories'. The departments that run these news sources are motivated to apease upper management.

    Linux + /. = more site traffic.

    That's the effect :)

    Erik
  • Howzabout that? Linus gets quoted on the upcoming devalutation of software the same afternoon that Ballmer admits [zdii.com] that Microsoft stock is overpriced. Market tumbles.
  • > He also criticized the Nokia 9000 as not a
    > convenient PDA and not a convenient cell-phone
    > either..

    Perhaps the Nokia 9K is just Transmeta's choice for the corporate cellphone, and it pisses him off. I constantly complain that my PDA is too huge; Does that mean my company is going to be making smaller PDA's? Nope. Mabye he was just using it as a fairly recent example to further his point on purpose built devices!

    Quit jumping to conclusions! Transmeta is not the CIA! You don't have to read between the lines constantly. As Freud is oft quoted, 'Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.'

  • Where I work they are considering switching to StarOffice because the cost of converting the entire company to Office2000 would be too high (after all they have to pay my bloated salary also ;-) So this Linus guy may have a point!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Maybe I'm just not up with it, but I never really thought before how recent changes in computing would affect software prices.

    With the growing popularity of many types of free/cheap software (not just linux) as well as the web, we're seeing definite downward pressure on prices.

    Also, cheap hardware is forcing down software prices too. You can't charge $300 for a PC and then ask for $499 for Microsoft Office.

  • So you want two Net-TV devices instead of a heap of networked appliances? Maybe your paradigm is still locked onto the Intel/Microsoft "we will build what you need; next time for sure" mentality.. Only (near) monopolies, and in very mass production can afford to build general purpose devices, appropriate for many use.. It seems to me, PC's really good for Linux are still cheaper than a TV I really would love :)

    Maybe the "multimedia convergence" finally really turns into divergence later on, and we will have specific devices much better suited to the task as a PC with a limited output (monitor, stereo speakers), and even more limited input (mouse, 10x key keyboard). Maybe the geeks of the future still will have a central remote control, which could well be more powerful than a current server, but still have his house populated by many more devices. After all, you can't have a single device for two people, it simply isn't fun to watch a PDA style device with another people in the same room. Why not have videowalls, remote controls, status displays, toys all around in the place?

    IMHO it will be much easier to replace a faulty videowall, or control handset of all the wirelessly interconnected future room than to call a technician to fix the net-tv-holophone-security system, and find out that you can't open the fron door without the central unit :)

    Remember, you can't predict paradigm shifts when you abhor change. But change will come :).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 23, 1999 @12:36PM (#1663769)
    I work for a company that works with embedded systems, and it's surprising how much some of the embedded operating systems cost. QNX is damn-near unreal. They do have a good product, but I can't afford to purchase the damn development kit to even start working on a design, let alone make and sell the 50 thousand or so units needed to pay off the developers toolkit.

    I think that the embedded Linux operating system distros are the future for Linux. The article posted here a while back suggesting that Linux be sold (or downloaded :) in server and workstation distros was absolutely correct. I think there should be another one for embedded systems.

    The major push for IPv6 is to give damn near everything (lights, toasters, microwaves, etc) an IP address, and if Linux gets a robust IPv6 stack and a little marketing, it will be in everything, simply because the manufacturers of those products don't have to pay any license fees for it.
  • by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Thursday September 23, 1999 @02:41PM (#1663770)
    So, is the general all purpose device going to stay or will it be replaced by specific purpose devices?

    Torvalds appears to be saying the latter - I don't see the contradiction in what he's saying; he says the Nokia 9000, which tries to be more general-purpose than just a cell phone or just a (wireless-connected) PDA, isn't as good as a mobile phone that's just a mobile phone or a PDA that's just a PDA, and he says that there won't be a single box that tries to be more than just a digital TV and more than just an Internet access box.

    In the future the vcr, stereo, tv, computer, news paper ... [insert any other information source here] will all be combined into one device.

    I'm somewhat in Torvalds' camp here; I might have a single unit that serves as VCR, stereo, and TV, but I probably wouldn't want to use that unit to do all my Web access, mail reading, (on-line) newspaper reading - I might prefer, say, one of the "slates" (flat display and stylus, plus wireless connection to something) that have been popping up as prototypes (Cyrix's WebPad, that Norwegian device mentioned a short time ago on Slashdot, etc.) for much of the latter, and I might use my home computer for doing personal finance, document writing, e-mail, software development, and Internet access involved with those.

    Some large, some small, but in the end , there all going to be general purpose computers.

    I'm not sure I'd want or need them all to be general-purpose computers; it might be sufficient to allow a general-purpose computer to tell them stuff - or to tell a general-purpose computer stuff, e.g. letting the computer query a CD jukebox to see what CDs I own, or having the CD player, when I insert a CD, look up in my database of CDs I own to see if this is one of them and, if not, add it to the database (or not, if I tell it I've just borrowed it from somebody - and maybe another button lets me say "I like this one, remember it as one I should get").


  • I'm partly with you, partly with Linus there. Eventually the Unix model of small programs for special purposes joined together for all needs will reach appliances too.

    We'll have separate units for

    • power (wall connectors, batteries, rechargers),
    • networking (Ethernet, GSM, IR, radio),
    • viewing (pads, monitors, overheads),
    • sounding (earphones, loudspeakers),
    • sensing (microphones, cameras, scanners, detectors),
    • number-crunching (PC/playstations),
    • data storage (HDD/flash),
    • movement (wheelers, limbs),
    • control (rcpads, keyboards, joysticks, mice).


    One should be able to combine those in appropriate ways to get what you want, from mobile to wall-planted. Once those devices recognize each other and communicate, funny possibilities should emerge.

  • by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Thursday September 23, 1999 @02:56PM (#1663772)
    ...and he says that there won't be a single box that tries to be more than
    just a digital TV and more than just an Internet access box.

    If all this "Internet everywhere" talk isn't just noise, presumably nothing would be "just an Internet access box" - by and large, we don't have anything at home that's "just an electricity access box", various home appliances do various different things with the electrical power that comes into them. Your TV might get some or all of the audio/video programs it displays from the Internet, and your stereo or TV might get some or all of the audio programs it plays from the Internet; your CD player might get at a CD database over the Internet, your home computer(s) might get new software releases/distributions, financial information, e-mail, netnews, etc. over the Internet; and some or all of them might display Web pages fetched from over the Internet.

    However, I don't think it's a given that there will be a single box that'll do all of them. If they all can put packets onto the Internet and get packets from the Internet, as well as putting packets onto and getting packets from an in-house LAN, there may not be any need to have a single box that Does It All.

    Little, if any, of the above is original with me - it sounds like the standard Networks Everywhere noise that I seem to hear all around.

  • *Free* is Linux claim to marketshare. Linus is going to have to obsolete old solutions with something other than price. Many, many mortals before Linus have predicted the movement of markets... and were wrong.

    Steve Jobs ~1993 predicted monolithic applications would move to component paradigms. Users simply load features needed, when they need it. Rulers, dictionaries, editors, etc... are simply an *install* away. Bad mesenger, you're right.

    Dependancy upon web-based apps is not going to happen in the business sector. Productivity apps stay desktop bound. Sure prices could crash but why? Intuit is an excellent example of a marginal application upgrade with added new functionality. These apps are now cross-marketing vehicles more than productivity tools. Smart money has these *old* apps repurposed.

    Embedded? SmartQuicken? People are going to buy into smartcards, BIG! It doesn't hold that *free* can crash the rest of capitalism.
  • by Andy Tai ( 1884 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @03:31PM (#1663775) Homepage
    Software price will crash indeed, except we have already known that from what Richard Stallman declared in 1983.

    The goals outlined in the GNU Manifesto [gnu.org] are being reached. It takes time to change the world, but it would be done and is being done.

  • Don't forget the third option: buy the generic CD from cheapbytes or equivalent. Fast, painless, and *cheap*. At about $7US, including shipping, it's probably cheaper than the download for most folks.
  • I did find it interesting that Linus is interested in "appliances", but that's about the only revelation in that article for most slashdot readers.

    Indeed! I think that's the first time I've ever heard Linus talk about specific [small] pieces of hardware..

    "If you look, for instance, at the Nokia 9000 [Communicator], it is a cute thing, which I like, but it is not a good mobile phone and it is not a good PDA." Then again, I'm no expert on Linus-lore, but,.. you know....
  • It's the paper ribbon. You can tear it off and staple it to the relevant documents. I found these things useless at first (plus, their user interface doesn't work like I expected) but they're actually much more handy than any calculator program I've seen. With a program, you need to start or switch to the program and maybe put the keyboard focus in the right place before you get to do your calculations and when you're done, you need to switch back to whatever you were doing before. I haven't seen a calculator program that shows you a log of your recent entries like you'd see on the ribbon either.
    --
  • How billion dollar software houses are there?
    (answer few)

    How many billion dollar hardware houses are there?
    (answer many)

    Now, how many of the billion dollar hardware companies do not add value to their product with software?
    (answer few)

    Software is the big business.....most of them add some hardware to the software to add value.

    So it is a NO BRAINER about how the future is embedded processors. (Like the 'market' for the Transmeta product) Writing for embedded environments is VERY BIG business.

    Now, the embedded market is ripe with IP (Intellectual Property) With GNU/Linux you run the risk of having your IP released. Or, a torrent of flamage , like that heaped upon Corel.

    Linus IS correct about the embedded market, but wrong about how GNU/Lunix will lead the charge. The BSD license is better suited for the embedded task.
  • by TheKodiak ( 79167 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @12:45PM (#1663780) Homepage
    The same reason people keep coffeemakers next to their stoves - stoves make coffee, too, but coffeemakers make it better, faster, and with a more appropriate UI.

    But all of those are things that can be overcome. No one I know keeps a manual typewriter next to their computer. A lot of people with good internet access don't keep cd players, cassette players, or radios next to their computers. I no longer keep a newspaper in my house - it has been completely integrated with my computer. I know longer keep a TV guide next to my television - even though the TV guide has more information and a better UI than my digital cable, it's easier to find the TV than the TV AND a current periodical.

    By contrast, I don't watch TV on my computer - that's too frustrating and expensive. I still keep maps in my car - again, the alternative is too expensive. I don't send e-mail through my cellphone, and even though I wish I could, it wouldn't be the only way I sent e-mail.

    In summary - my girlfriend uses a knife to cut food, and scissors to cut paper and cloth, because she often has to do things requiring the precision scissors afford. I will use a knife to cut anything, because it's easier than looking for scissors, and I'm a lazy sod. There are many people who don't want all-in-one devices, but a lot of them will use them once they have them.
  • by Kitsune Sushi ( 87987 ) on Thursday September 23, 1999 @12:45PM (#1663781)

    Software price crash? I'm not so sure.. Well, depends on how you look at it. My favorite example for why software companies should fear GNU/Linux is the GIMP. Bye bye Adobe Photoshop. That won't be a price crash (ugh.. hundreds of dollars to touch up images?), it will be a total switchover from one product to another. :) It depends on the software, I suppose.. But still, it would be more of a drop than a /crash/..

    The only crash I might suspect would be in the hardware end of the computer industry. After all, the Wintel connection will be for naught if Microsoft bites the GNU/Linux bullet. I mean, if you don't constantly have OS upgrades that are totally monolithic and suck ever-increasing amounts of resources, what's the incentive to upgrade your hardware? Mind you, I'm talking about the desktop. Scientists and other people who require /extreme/ computing power will always need more.. Richard Stallman in particular finds less and less of a need to upgrade all the time as hardware gets more powerful and his computing needs stay around the same. Hardcore gamers might find fault in my theory, but not all end-users are hardcore gamers. :)

    Basically, if you run an OS that actually bothers to manage memory efficiently (contraty to the belief of the Windows-lovers I've met in my time, that is /not/ one of them) you eventually get to a point where getting the latest badass processor just isn't that big a deal. Therefore, in order for, say, Intel, to get you to go buy one, it has to be just a /little/ less than $500 or so.

  • I agree with LT that software prices will go down, but I cant see how software prices can fail because of a reduced number of updates. The current update system is more like renting software. When you buy Windows, for example, you update it every 2-5 years, and pay for the development by doing this. Essentially this is renting. If there wouldnt be a need for updating, MS had to demand a much larger one-time-fee, so prices would go up.
    The reason I can see for lower software prices is increased competition. Large cooperations are fighting for market share (see Netscape vs. IE and MS Office vs. Star Office), and increasingly Open Source software takes market share from commercial software. Someday the Open Source model will win, not only because of its lower prices, but also because it offers advantages like the possibility of custom modifications. Commercial software cannot beat this, its only chance is better marketing or throwing more programmers at a problem (resulting in products that are bloated and usually worse). In the long term this wont help, and software companies will get their revenues by support&training, doing custom modifications for customers or developing software that is so specialised that the open-source development is not economical.
  • Why is it that 50% of the people in my building have adding-machines on their desk - next to their computer?
    It's because the keypad on the adding machine is big enough to be keyed quickly, and it probably has a tape-printer for verifying that all the numbers are correct. It's fast and convenient for what it does, and the users can go a lot faster with it than they can with the computer.

    It's the same difference with a calculator vs. Matlab, or the omnipresent editor wars. I'm currently waiting for delivery of new editor software because I refuse to waste my time learning the obscure key-chording of MultiEdit; I can get something with vi emulation, and it's much more efficient to spend a bit on software than to take the huge performance hit involved with re-training all of my reactions. Experienced users can get their stuff done with vi, HP calculators, and adding machines without having to think about how to get there. The savings in time more than pays for the additional hardware, software and desk space.

Regardless of whether a mission expands or contracts, administrative overhead continues to grow at a steady rate.

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