February 23, 2001

Media coverage of 2.4 kernel: Generally fair

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -
It's been a month and a half since Linus Torvalds released the Linux 2.4 kernel in a classic bit of understatement -- an email with the subject, "And oh, btw ..." to the kernel mailing list.

No major press release, no worldwide tour, but the press coverage would come soon enough. The tech media's coverage of the 2.4 kernel has been a combination of accolades and doubts about the kernel and its importance. Generally, as you might expect, the Linux media has given the new kernel positive reviews, plus a plethora of articles on how to do something or another with 2.4. The more general technology press has been more skeptical about what this all means; all in all, a fair critique of 2.4, despite some misunderstandings of how Open Source products are released.

Deadlines? We don't need no stinkin' deadlines

Coverage of the 2.4 kernel goes back to pre-release coverage, much of it focused on why the kernel was a year behind its loosely defined schedule, with Wired.com even calling it vaporware. "Late," of course, isn't really a hard and fast concept in the Open Source world, which has the motto "it'll be done when it's done." That's kind of how the Linux kernel works, as several people explained in this ZD Interactive Investor article. "We don't do deadlines in the open-source world, which is a major reason our stuff is right when it comes out," the article quoted Open Source advocate Eric S. Raymond.

Not all coverage was so understanding of Torvalds' handling of Linux, however. A TechWeb story shortly after the 2.4 kernel was released asked, "Is Linus killing Linux?" While acknowledging that Linux's growth is making Microsoft nervous, the article questioned Torvalds' "sole oversight" of the operating system. "Some solution providers, vendors, and industry observers are beginning to question how long one man can steer the evolution of Linux, and whether Torvalds' sole oversight of the kernel, now at version 2.4, is slowing its corporate adoption." The article never really explains why Torvalds' oversight is bad, other than quoting those "industry observers" saying he lacks "formal accountability" for Linux and has a "casual indifference to market needs and capitalist concerns."

Woohoo, it's released

Generally, the first stories about the 2.4 release were positive, accenting its new features, like this article at DukeOfUrl.org, which said, "Not only is it faster, but it features a slick new device
filesystem (DevFS), better memory management, better process control, and much more. " A LinuxToday article, said 2.4 was more "enterprise level" than desktop focused. The changes "may not be immediately useful to many desktop users but work to strengthen Linux as a whole," the article said.

LinuxToday wasn't the only media outlet that questioned the importance of the 2.4 kernel to the average Linux user. NewsForge's own Tina Gasperson talked to several users who said they'll wait before installing 2.4.

The 2.4 release's impact on individual users even generated a bit of satire. SatireWire had this to say: "In a study hardcore computer enthusiasts find 'repulsive and unconscionable,' at least 99.9 percent of the general population will have no special recollection of Jan. 4, 2001, the day the Linux 2.4 operating system was finally released."

Corporate impact

Reporting on the 2.4 kernel's impact on business users was a study in mixed messages, especially from the semi-sinister Cnet/ZDNet Keiretsu.

ZDNet published an interview with Torvalds himself shortly after the kernel was released. The first question sent the tone: "With 2.4, is Linux an even more viable contender to Unix and Windows 2000? What does Linux 2.4 have that these operating systems don't, in your opinion?" Torvalds answered: "With questions like that, how are you ever going to write an interesting article? 'Is Linux an even more viable contender ... ?' What do you expect me to say? Give you the standard boring press-release about how we're changing the world, how we've innovated more things than those ancient Chinese dynasties with their gunpowder thing, and how everybody and their pets are going to live happily ever after thanks to the new release?" But the author also went on to highlight the improvements in 2.4.

ZD followed up with an article detailing the features of 2.4, and saying, "An open-source software release is essentially a milestone -- a declaration that what was already available is now stable. Thus, it's amusing to read uninformed opinions about how 2.4 was 'vaporware' and 'behind schedule.' In reality, the latest Linux is always constantly available!"

However, ZD's Sm@art Partner (what's up with those at signs in their name?) ripped 2.4 for missing several "goodies," such as a journaling file system and "serious management tools." ZD's Linux columnist said the release was not such a big deal because it didn't represent a huge technical leap from the 2.4.0 pre-release. That contradicted an early Sm@rt Partner report, which said Linux fans were "beside themselves with joy," although the "excitement for business deployments is still months away."

At IDG.net (not a part of the semi-sinister Cnet/ZDNet Keiretsu), a story said Linux 2.4 "finally brings a scalability level to the operating
system allowing it to compete with Unix in high-end systems and applications."

Back over here at NewsForge, business columnist Jack Bryar talked about 2.4.1's benefits to business, although some business were concerned with it being late. Bryar also wrote about a desktop revolution for Linux in places like Jakarta, Indonesia, and Mumbai, India.

More 2.4 coverage from NewsForge

We've had several stories about the 2.4 release this past month, as our part of OSDN's kernel month festivities.

Columnist Julie Bresnick has talked to a handful of Linux kernel contributors: Thedore Ts'o, Tigran Aivazian, and Geert Uytterhoeven.

Weekend editor Dylan Griffiths explained how decisions are made in the kernel team.

News editor Dan Berkes answered the question, "what the heck is this kernel thing anyway?

NewsForge editors read and respond to comments
posted on our discussion


  • Linux
Click Here!