"It's been a slower process than many people would like," he said, remarking that developers are no longer adding new features, only fixing bugs. "With luck, we'll see it in early December, and with not so good luck, I still hope that we can do it this side of the year."
Torvalds answered questions as part of a roundtable of experts, entitled "Quo Vadis Linux?" at the Linux World Conference and Expo here.
Many die-hard fans in the audience directed their questions at Torvalds, who grinned throughout most of the event and happily received autograph seekers afterward.
Asked what he saw ahead for the operating system, Torvalds replied that the most fun in his line of work are the constant surprises. "I'm hoping that in the next three years we'll see ... people using Linux and open source in places that nobody has imagined. That's the exciting part to me."
Other panel members offered more concrete predictions.
"I believe that in three years Linux will dominate the server market and will be a very important part of the desktop market," said Dirk Hohndel, chief technology officer of SuSE. He added, "We have won the game in the server space, and we are going to move on to expand to the desktop."
Jon "Maddog" Hall, director of Linux International and moderator for the panel, weighed in that the future of Linux lies not in the desktop market, but with servers and embedded and "ubiquitious" devices -- even, eventually, machines worn on a user's wrist. "I believe we will not succeed with computers until we create one I can use as easily as this bottle opener," he said, seizing a ready prop from the table.
Some on the panel were most concerned with protecting the open source model from encroaching commercialism in years to come. "I don't believe that market share or world domination is important," said Linux developer Lukas Grunwald. What's important, he said, is the idea of free software. "I don't believe in three companies sharing the market. Monopolism is a bad idea in any form."
Many in the audience applauded Grunwald's comments, as well as those of Bodo Bauer, principal software engineer at TurboLinux, who remarked, "There's a lot of money going around, investors looking for returns, who don't understand the open source model and are trying to push the traditional [proprietary] model into Linux space. That concerns me a lot." He added, "I'm very surprised to see lots of suits around here."
Hohndel, the only member of the panel wearing a suit, said that his company is doing what it can to protect the open source model. "Our focus is on European legislation. We are investing money into lobbying against current efforts to enable software patenting in Europe ... it's basically up to all of us to explain to the lawmakers that software patents are actually an evil thing." But he added that given broad reach of US software patents, there's a limit to the effectiveness of the strategy.
Torvalds also injected a note of realism. "I don't know of anyone who has a solution to software patents." Some of the most outspoken people against software patents, he said, suffer a "big disconnect from the real world."