Torvalds: Microsoft is bluffing on patents

Microsoft isn't serious about going after those it says violate its patents, Linus Torvalds contends in an interview conducted by the Linux Foundation.

Microsoft's aggressive defense of its intellectual property, which includes claims that Linux violates a number of its patents, is nothing more than "a marketing thing," according to Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux kernel.

"They have been sued for patents by other people, but I don't think they've -- not that I've gone through any huge amount of law cases -- but I don't think they've generally used patents as a weapon," Torvalds said. "But they're perfectly happy to use anything at all as fear, uncertainty and doubt in the marketplace, and patents is just one thing where they say, 'Hey, isn't this convenient? We can use this as a PR force.'"

Torvalds made the comments during the second half of an interview conducted by the Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin on October 16. The foundation is expected to make the rest of the interview publicly available on its Web site Monday. The foundation released the initial portion of the interview in January.

"Another reason why I don't think Microsoft really seriously would go after patents is when you're a convicted monopolist in the marketplace you really should not be suing your competitors over patents," Torvalds continued. "I think that most Microsoft lawyers would say, 'You know, let's not do that; that sounds insane'."

Microsoft's recent work around improving its platform's interoperability with Linux left Torvalds largely unmoved.

"I think there are people inside Microsoft who really want to improve interoperability and I also think there are people inside Microsoft who would much rather just try to stab their competition in the back," he said. "I think the latter class of people have usually been the one[s] who won out in the end, but -- so I wouldn't exactly trust them."

Microsoft spokespeople on Friday declined to comment on Torvalds' remarks. The company has said it believes that Linux infringes on its intellectual property, although it has been criticized for not being more precise with its allegations.

Torvalds is instead focused on improving Linux, he said. "I work weekdays, I work weekends, I work 52 weeks a year. I don't want there to be any question of who's the best maintainer," he said. "And at the same time, I actually also do want to encourage competition. ... So, I actually enjoy seeing all these other kernel trees happening. All the vendors have their own."

However, the Linux kernel community overall could be more welcoming to new ideas, he suggested. "One of the problems is we have people who have such high criteria for what is acceptable or not that it scares away people who want to do new code and do new experiments," he said. "We mustn't set the bar that high. New code, new drivers, there will be problems and I'd rather take them and then improve them."

Even as Linux matures as a technology, it has yet to make a major impact in the mainstream desktop market. "It's really hard to enter the desktop market because people are used to whatever they used before, mostly Windows ... There's just this huge inertia in that market," he said.

In contrast, he said, it was much easier to sell Linux in the context of a server: "There's just a few loads, they're fairly simple, they're fairly well-understood, people have much less inertia in upgrading a server than they have in upgrading their desktop."

At one point, the discussion turned to Sun's work to create an open-source community around Open Solaris. Torvalds expressed deep skepticism toward the effort.

"It's generally hard to build a community around a commercial entity that also wants to be in control because everybody else around that commercial entity will always feel like they're at the mercy of Sun," he said.

This dynamic is reflected in Open Office, "where the fact that Sun wants to have copyright assignments and exclusive control over the license ends up being something that actually drives away some developers," he argued.

Overall, Torvalds expressed ambivalence toward Sun, which recently has developed an image as a particularly open-source-friendly company. "In many ways, Sun has done a lot of things right. At the same time, they seem to often have trouble going the full last step," he said.

Ian Murdoch, vice president of Sun's Connected Developer group, defended Sun's commitment to the open-source model. "An open-source project has to have coordination, it's not anarchy," said Murdoch, who earlier in his career founded the Debian version of Linux.

"If you look at the Linux kernel itself, Linus is firmly in control of that, and the only difference is he's an individual and Sun is a company. ... Some of the most successful open-source projects are being driven by companies, like MySQL for example," he said.

Torvalds also pulled out his crystal ball, offering predictions on how technology will change in the next five years.

While hardware will be "hugely better," software's power and complexity will grow alongside it, he said. "I suspect things will be about the same speed because the software will have grown and you'll have more 'bling' to just slow the hardware down."

Virtualization is "not that big of a deal," according to Torvalds. "It's been all around for decades and it's very interesting in niche markets -- I think the people who expected to change things radically are just fooling themselves."

Real change will come from entirely new uses of computers, he predicted.

(James Niccolai in San Francisco contributed to this report.)

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Chris Kanaracus

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?