Apple's free OS is no threat to Linux at all, Torvalds says

Torvalds will keep working on Linux until he gets bored or his doctor decides he cannot do it anymore

Apple's move to offer its latest desktop operating system, OS X Mavericks, for free isn't going to affect the Linux operating system at all, its creator Linus Torvalds said.

Linux has been giving its OS away for 22 years, said Torvalds during a question-and-answer session at LinuxCon Europe in Edinburgh on Wednesday. But Apple's decision to offer its OS for free as of Tuesday is entirely different from Linux' philosophy, he said. In fact, one of the reasons Torvalds uses the term open source instead of free software because there is a difference between open and free, he said.

While Apple's Mavericks update might be free it is not open source and people still need expensive hardware to use the OS, he said. "The fact that Apple gives the OS away is completely irrelevant," Torvalds said. "I don't think that it impacts Linux at all."

Torvalds is not thinking of retiring at all, he told the audience when asked what needed to happen for him to retire. "It needs to get not interesting and that hasn't happened yet," he said. But he would probably stop if he gets the feeling that he can't code anymore or the doctor tells him to quit.

While Torvalds doesn't tend to do a lot of programming these days, he still likes what he does, he said. "People just know who I am," he said. And while developers according to Torvalds can have "the attention span of slightly moronic woodland creatures" he likes to be responsive to developers and maintainers of the kernel who reach out to him. Nevertheless, he said, part of his role is to be able to say, "No, this is not how we do things."

Even if Torvalds gets hit by a bus, Linux will have no issues going on, he said. There are thousands of people involved with Linux for more than 20 years of which some from the beginning are still around, he said. "We have an incredible deep set of developers."

"I'm the person who people know and they know how I work. That means that they may not always like what I do and how I present things but they can trust that I act in a certain way and that is important," he said. "But there are other people that are impolite and can take patches," he added, referring to his flare-ups.

Torvalds said he has no idea where Linux will end up in five years. "I never had a plan. I still don't have a plan. It is kind of evolution in biology: there is no end plan. It is just that what works survives," he said. Linux will keep on evolving and improving in the same way, he said.

"I don't know which direction we'll improve in, but I don't feel I need to worry about that," he said.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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