October 27, 2011

Long Term Kernel Support for Consumer Devices

Different devices have different needs. Development moves fast in the Linux kernel, but that rate of change isn't appropriate for shipping products. Enterprise distributions have solved the problem with stable kernels supported for a longer lifespan, but what about companies shipping consumer devices with Linux kernels? The Linux Foundation Consumer Electronics workgroup now has those covered.

Servers, or at least server deployments, have longer lifespans. (Sometimes longer than the hardware they're running on, but I digress.) Enterprises want a stable platform that will be in place for years with no changes, except maybe some driver updates for newer hardware.

But Linux-based server devices are increasingly common – what about those systems? The Consumer Electronics workgroup, which includes Hitachi, LG Electronics, NEC, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba, Samsung, and others has decided to kick off the Long Term Support Initiative (LTSI) for consumer devices.

The LTSI will provide a kernel tree that gets updates for two to three years. A new kernel will be released every year, and then each stable kernel will get updates for two to three years. This should correspond nicely with the typical lifespan of a device.

This takes the load off of individual vendors having to maintain kernels. For the most part, the Linux kernel should be a commodity part of each device – vendors don't need or want to maintain their own kernel, because that's not where the competitive advantages are. Instead, they can pitch in on a single kernel and focus most of their attention on the rest of the product.

The kernel will get some features and drivers backported to the stable kernel, but it should help reduce the number of private kernel trees and encourage more collaboration.

Interested in learning more? Keep an eye on the Consumer Electronics Workgroup page on the Linux Foundation site.