San Diego, CALIF. — Peter Galli reports that the growing popularity of Linux is starting to take its toll – most notably in lengthy delays in kernel updates and releases.
Developers last week placed Linux 2.4 Test Version 9 into the Linux kernel archives for evaluation, but the final release of the kernel is unlikely to be ready this year.
In many ways, the latest delays are indicative of Linux’s success, rather than its shortcomings. The development process of the open-source operating system could be the culprit, and it will get closer scrutiny as Linux becomes an enterprise staple.
Linux is developed under the GNU General Public License, and its source code is freely available. Modifications are managed through kernel releases, and while there is input into this process by a range of developers, the decision as to what is included in a final version lies exclusively with Linus Torvalds.
Work overload The latest delays, the Linux creator said, may have been the result of his taking on too much. In mid-1999, Torvalds said Linux 2.4 would be ready that fall. Earlier this year, he said October was more likely, and the latest goal is now the end of the year. “[I allowed] too much new code too late,” said Torvalds in an e-mail interview with eWeek last week. “I’m not always as stern … as I should be, and I end up accepting changes even after the point where I know I shouldn’t.”
How long this arrangement can be sustained is the subject of heated debate. Some developers have argued that as Linux gains ground in the enterprise, it’s essential that the release of new kernels conform to a formal schedule. Others argue that technological innovation and stability cannot be held hostage to release deadlines.
Torvalds said the ultimate responsibility for time-frame control and releases is with vendors interested in selling to enterprises. “I’m not much of a leader,” he said. “I see myself more as a guide. … The only thing I ever personally worry about is the technical side. This is what makes people trust me.”
But Torvalds said he’s seen what scheduled releases and missed deadlines have done to users beholden to the commercial software industry. “That doesn’t mean that my standard kernel should be seen as the only game in town,” he said. “If it was, the whole point of open source would be lost. I’d just be another Microsoft Corp..”
Most ISVs understand the delays. Volker Wie gand, president of SuSE Inc., in Oakland, Calif., said the delay of the 2.4 kernel had no impact on SuSE’s ability to deliver software. Given the advances in technology in the 2.4 kernel, particularly in the network and scalability areas, the stability of the system had to be ensured, Wiegand said.
“We are not going to push for an early release, as we are unprepared to sacrifice the potential technological advancements it will bring simply to meet a perceived deadline,” he said.
The big current issue is testing hardware bases. Torvalds said that among the most significant new features of the 2.4 kernel are SMP scalability to eight CPUs; large file system support, even on 32-bit architectures; the ability to address up to 64GB of physical memory on Intel Corp.’s large X86 servers; expanded hardware support, with various new drivers for hardware such as the Universal Serial Bus and three-dimensional accelerated graphics cards; and new architectures such as S/390, Intel’s IA-64 and, eventually, Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s X86-64.
“Many of the changes are actually infrastructure improvements and increased modularity. Users won’t see them, but it makes a difference to developers,” Torvalds said.