May 8, 2006

Torvalds comments on kernel "overhaul"

Author: Joe Barr

News reports out of LinuxTag late last week have Andrew Morton, the second highest ranking Linux kernel developer, calling for a bug-fixing cycle to cut down on the growing number of bugs found in the latest kernel release. NewsForge contacted the number one man on the Linux project, Linus Torvalds, who acknowledged it might be the right time for a "bug cycle."

The story was first reported in a ZDNet UK story last Friday, then inflated by its Slashdot coverage. Morton was quoted as saying in his keynote at LinuxTag that "I believe the 2.6 kernel is slowly getting buggier. It seems we're adding bugs at a higher rate than we're fixing them." He also said, "Kernel developers will need to reapportion their time and spend more time fixing bugs. We may possibly have a bug-fix-only kernel cycle, which is purely for fixing up long-standing bugs."

Since the reports made it sound as if Morton is now the man making command decisions about the Linux kernel, and that the kernel is now in desperate straits, we checked with Torvalds to see what was what on both those issues.

In response to our first question, Torvalds said, "I think Andrew is listed as 'lead maintainer' simply because people take me for granted, so Andrew is the lead when you ignore me. The same way Alan used to be."

As far as the number and criticality of bugs themselves, Torvalds commented:

I think the story is somewhat sensationalistic (understandable -- it's
much nicer to write a story that way), but the worry is certainly real.
We've had a distinct lack of a "breather" when it comes to development
lately.

It may end up that 2.6.16 becomes that breather, simply because a lot of
the commercial folks seem to end up using that as the base, and they'll be
hunkering down to stabilize that.

Otherwise, we may end up just saying, "OK, no new features for 2.6.18" or
something, and forcing people to calm down a bit.

If the bugs in 2.6 are indeed the result of the pace of Linux kernel development, it hasn't always been so. It was only four years ago when Morton said in an interview at KernelTrap.org that "The rate of kernel development has always struck me as being quite slow. The 2.4 series has been in 'feature-freeze' for almost two years, and even now I'd say that it is in a late beta state."

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