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Linux lab lands Torvalds

The creator of the freely available Linux operating system signs on with the Open Source Development Lab, a consortium that focuses on business-oriented features.

Linus Torvalds is getting down to the business of Linux.

The creator of the freely available Linux operating system will join the Open Source Development Lab, a consortium designed to bring high-end features to the software.

Torvalds, who will become an OSDL Fellow, will go to work full-time on future versions of Linux, such as its forthcoming 2.6 kernel, the OSDL said in a statement.

"It feels a bit strange to finally officially work on what I've been doing for the last twelve years, but with the upcoming 2.6.x release it makes sense to be able to concentrate fully on Linux," Torvalds said in a statement released by the consortium. "OSDL is the perfect setting for vendor-independent and neutral Linux development."

Torvalds will have his work cut out for him. Last fall, he had hoped to release the 2.6 kernel in June, with companies such as IBM expecting to see it in products in the second half of 2003. At the recent Enterprise Linux Forum, though, IBM told Linux customers it expects the kernel to arrive in the first half of 2004.

But he has released the latest test version of Linux, 2.5.72. The 2.5.x series is the development version that eventually will become the 2.6.x version for real-world use.

Torvalds will join OSDL on a leave from his position as a technical fellow at Transmeta, where he has been working on research projects. Torvalds was originally hired to help the Santa Clara, Calif., chipmaker launch its Crusoe processor.

Torvalds' leave of absence from Transmeta will last for an indefinite amount of time, but the chipmaker says the move could help its cause. OSDL projects include fine-tuning Linux for telecommunications environments and for data centers, areas in which Transmeta would like to sell more chips.

"We'll welcome him back when he feels his Linux activities are mature," said Art Swift, senior vice president of marketing for Transmeta.

Firing back at SCO
The transition for Torvalds comes at a tumultuous time for Linux. The operating system continues to ride a wave of popularity, especially among businesses, but it also has become embroiled in legal challenges from SCO Group.

In March, SCO sued IBM for $1 billion, saying the company had breached its contract by misappropriating Unix trade secrets for use in Linux. In the latest twist in the legal saga, SCO on Monday increased the damages it's seeking from IBM to at least $3 billion.

In an interview Monday, Torvalds lashed out at SCO's actions, which in part have targeted him. The company's amended lawsuit against IBM charges that "a significant flaw of Linux is the inability and/or unwillingness of the Linux process manager, Linus Torvalds, to identify the intellectual property origins of contributed source code...As a result, a very significant amount of Unix protected code is currently found in Linux 2.4.x and Linux 2.5.x releases in violation of SCO's contractual rights and copyrights."

Torvalds took issue with SCO's position.

"I care deeply about IP (intellectual property) rights. I've personally got more IP rights than the average bear, and as the owner of the copyright in the collective of the Linux kernel, I shepherd even more. It's what I do, every day. I personally manage more valuable IP rights than SCO has ever held, and I take it damn seriously," Torvalds said in an e-mail interview.

Torvalds is expected to help the OSDL work toward its original mission. The consortium, headquartered in Beaverton, Ore., was founded in August 2000 by Hewlett-Packard, Intel, IBM and NEC (and by Caldera Systems, a forerunner of SCO) to help create and test new business-oriented features for Linux, such as the ability to run on multiple processors. It operates two data centers for testing software features and also has alliances with commercial sellers of Linux, including Red Hat and SuSE.

The consortium has also been expanding its recruitment efforts of late, attempting to push Linux even further into the business space. OSDL's new chief executive, Stuart Cohen, has been seeking to increase its ranks with new members. A corporate sponsorship starts at $10,000, according to the OSDL.

"OSDL is a leading Linux-industry advocate with the single-minded focus of accelerating its use throughout the enterprise," Cohen said in a statement. "Linus' decision to join us is a confirmation of the importance of our mission. OSDL is the only organization where Linux developers, customers and vendors can all participate as equals. The addition of Linus' perspective and guidance to the Lab will enhance our value to all three of these groups."

In a posting to the Linux Kernel Mailing List, Torvalds said, "Transmeta has always been very good at letting me spend even an inordinate amount of time on Linux, but as a result I've been feeling a little guilty at just how little 'real work' I got done lately."