LinuxCon Roundtable: Kernel’s Future Still Bright


An all-star line-up of Linux kernel developers met with a packed room of Linux users and developers this afternoon at LinuxCon, to give their take on what’s right–and what’s wrong–with the Linux kernel today.

The panel’s members, Jon Corbet of, Chris Wright from Red Hat, IBM’s Ted Ts’o, Novell’s Greg Kroah-Hartmann, and Linus Torvalds, founder of the Linux kernel, manned the stage to answer questions from panel moderator James Bottomley of Novell as well as many questions from the audience.

Bottomley asked a number of questions about the state of Linux, the first being what each panelist thought was his favorite feature in the latest stable Linux kernel. Each panelist tended to focus on his area of expertise, though Kroah-Hartmann joked that his favorite feature was finally getting Torvalds’ laptop to work. For Torvalds part, he indicated that just in the last six months, Linux kernel development has become much easier.

“I think this shows the Linux development model is really working,” he said. “The merges are becoming much easier lately.”

One of the longer threads of discussion involved incoming talent into the Linux kernel developer group. many of the panelists noted that they have been developing on the kernel for many years, and there hasn’t been new talent in the upper tiers of the kernel in quite some time. Kroah-Hartmann pointed out that there have been many subsystems added, so a lot of younger maintainers were filling up those positions.

Ts’o added that while he hadn’t officially run the numbers yet, he estimated that nearly 50-60 percent of Kernel Summit attendees each year were new to the kernel. “So, we’re getting a lot of churn,” Ts’o said. “So I’m not worried yet.”

One of the things that does concern Torvalds has been the increase of bloat in recent kernels. For every new feature, he emphasized, there’s more bloat to the system. When pressed by Bottomley if this was acceptable, Torvalds replied: “There’s a big difference between acceptable and avoidable. I think the amount of bloat in the kernel is unacceptable… but I think it’s unavoidable.”

Still, the panelists did universally express an interest in tightening things down in the kernel.

One question that Bottomley tossed to the panel got a humorous response from Ts’o. Asked if he thought that next year would be the Year of the Linux Desktop (or would such a year ever come), Ts’o deadpanned, “Of course I think next year is the Year of the Desktop. Because there’s always a next year.”

He added that with the changes in platforms to accommodate virtualization and cloud applications, the question might be moot.

The panel marks a rare public appearance for Torvalds, who tends to shy away from such events, notably just attending the and Kernel Summit events in recent years. To see all of the panel, register for the free streaming video of this and all other keynotes at LinuxCon.