Linux kernel hackers at O'Reilly Open Source convention

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Andy Oram
Jul. 28, 2004 07:24 AM

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The second annual Portland kernel hackers' BOF took place last night, bringing in five men and two women programmers to speak to a dozen serious, hard-core Linux enthusiasts. Portland is a major, if scantly appreciated, computing site, home to a large number of Linux kernel developers (mostly working on Linux drivers and driver-related subsystems) who meet socially once a month and are employed by OSDL, IBM, Intel, and a variety of other local companies.

It was a pretty self-assured and convivial bunch, offering such opinions as:

  • BitKeeper, a proprietary version control system used by the Linux project (and, incidentally, MySQL AB) is a necessity (although a couple of the hackers disagree) that is "tailor-made for what we do" and not yet approached in features or stability by any free software.
  • What's good for the desktop is good for the server, and vice versa. Desktop users are anxious to have faster boots, for instance, but so are server administrators. The improvements in the kernel made for one type of system enhances, rather than detracts from, the kernel's appropriateness for the other type of system.
  • On the other hand, many things that impact the performance of GNU/Linux systems lie outside the kernel and the kernel developers' control. For instance, version 3.x of the gcc compiler produces much larger executable code than version 2.x, so version 2.x is currently recommended. As for user-space systems such as GNOME, kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman says, "we regard themas load tests."
  • Do we need real-time Linux? Linux is already pretty darn good for real-time. Very few projects need hard-real time. Some developers have been persuaded to use vanilla Linux for real-time projects and to switch when they discover a need to--and have not yet discovered a need to.
Copyright issues raised their head, too, as one would expect. (A Moot Court on Monday night, led by professor Pamela Samuelson, laid out both sides of the SCO v. IBM case, not necessarily with equal respect for each side, and led to a lively discussion of the legal risks in free software development.) The kernel developers agree that one should ask contributors to verify that they have the right to donate their code, but think that the safeguards put in place by major contributors (notably IBM) are more than sufficient to ensure the code is clean.

Andy Oram is an editor for O'Reilly Media, specializing in Linux and free software books, and a member of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. His web site is