September 18, 2007

Don't fork Linux because of Linus

Author: Joe Barr

I recently read a blog entry on InfoWorld.com that urged the Linux community to fork the kernel into desktop and server versions because, according to the author, all Linus Torvalds cares about is big iron. Sorry, but that's both wrong and stupid.

Author Randall Kennedy depicts Con Kolivas, touted as the "champion of all things desktop centric," as "the victim of an ideological rift within the Linux community" who has given up on Linux because his scheduler patch has been rejected. Kennedy asserts Torvalds and his "'geekerati' underlings ... are mostly concerned with promoting Linux within the enterprise -- i.e. Projects involving lots of parallel CPUs, massive storage and high-end TPC results."

Luckily, it's easy to see that that depiction doesn't match Torvalds' expressed opinions over the years. In 2003, for example, he told me, "I still use it day-to-day on regular desktops, and that's what I care most about. Obviously my 'regular desktop' tends to be a fairly high-end one, but it's not that high-end. I'm aiming for the high-end desktop, because that will be 'normal' in a few years. And we still do care about low-end machines too, so it's not like we're trying to leave those behind either."

Just this summer, he told OneOpenSource.it, "I personally tend to think most about the desktop, not because it's in any 'the primary niche,' but simply because the desktop tends to have much more varied and complex behaviour than most other areas, so desktop usage shows issues that many other -- more specific usage areas simply won't show."

That sounded pretty close to what he told me four years earlier, but given the gravity of the InfoWorld indictment, I decided to check with Torvalds one more time. Concerning the Con/scheduler controversy, Torvalds said, "Never mind the fact that Ingo's scheduler was better and he's got a proven track record as a maintainer. Yeah, I don't know why people who don't even know what they are speaking about made such a big deal about the scheduler.

"I suspect that the issue is that the scheduler is one of the few things
that a lot of people think they understand what it is doing. Schedulers are easy to argue about, and so people get into what the BSD people call 'painting the bikeshed'; there's a lot of discussion about the issue just because everybody feels competent to talk about it.

"The desktop is still what I personally care about most, and actually use."

Given the track record of the Linux kernel, and Torvalds' own history of integrity and straight-talking, the notion of forking the Linux kernel because of Con's wailing and gnashing of teeth makes sense only to those hunkered down in the executive bunkers in Redmond.

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