March 2, 2015

How the Linux Kernel is Like an Open Source Turducken

Turducken photoI have a complicated relationship with portmanteaus.

On the one hand squashing two words together, to make a new mega-word, is profoundly handy and, in general, rather fun. Thanks to portmanteaus we have such life-changing, food-based, words as “spork”, “brunch” and “turducken”.

Of course, on the other hand, portmanteaus are responsible for unleashing such horrors as “Brangelina”, “Jazzercise” and “Clamato” on the world -- crimes for which this linguistic bit of trickery should never be forgiven.

To say that portmanteaus are likely to be my “frenemy”, from here until the end of time, would be both accurate and prescient. Which, as it turns out, are two fun words to build portmanteaus out of.

Bear this in mind when I tell you that the first time I heard the word “coopetition” (“cooperation” and “competition” combined)... I wanted to kill it with fire.

But the idea… the idea is a glorious one. That two entities can simultaneously be fierce competitors and yet, at the same time, work together towards a common goal is just plain awesome. And it describes the Open Source world so perfectly.

Take OpenStack, for example. The top three engineers that contributecodetoOpenStack work (in order of reviewed code commits) for SUSE, HP and VMWare. SUSE, HP and VMWare each, as it happens, have built varied business models around OpenStack. Competitors? Sure. But, at the same time, companies (and people) working together for the benefit of all.

Ain’t Open Source grand?

When looking out at the Linux and greater Open Source world, examples of “coopetition” stretch out to the horizon. Ceph, Crowbar, Qt, GNOME and, heck, even the Linuxkernel itself are developed by individuals and companies (who would, often, be in competition) working together.

Live patching of the Linux kernel (being able to patch a running Linux kernel without needing to restart) being another great example. In April of 2014, the engineers at SUSE submitted the code for their solution (“kGraft”) to the kernel. Then, just one month later, the engineers at Red Hat submitted code for their solution (“kpatch”). Two different solutions created by software developers working at competing companies. In the months that followed, the engineers worked together to create a singlesolutionforlivepatching (based on the work already done) that would meet both of their needs.

That solution is now being released in the 4.0 version of the Linux kernel.

Two competitors working together (almost… cooperating, if you will) to the benefit of not only each other… but many, many others as well. This “coopetition” is at the core of how we, as an Open Source community, work together. Not just as companies and organizations -- but on the individual level.

Recently I was down at the SouthernCaliforniaLinuxExpo (SCaLE) -- spending several days giving (and watching) presentations, conversing and generally palling around with contributors to (and users of) just about every Open Source project under the sun. Even the (seemingly) fiercest of competitors band together -- the KDE and GNOME teams, for example, joined forces to have a single, uber-booth (with the openSUSE crew). It was... awesome.

Not “turducken” awesome, mind you. But still darn great.

Bryan Lunduke is a Social Media Marketing Manager at SUSE. See some of his previous columns on Linux.com:

The 5 Biggest Linux Stories of 2014

Spooky Linux Urban Legends

23 Years of Terrible Linux Predictions

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