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4/14/2010
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Linux Graybeards? Yes, But Also A Wisdom Circle

The annual Linux developer meet-up is underway in San Francisco, with code producers and maintainers looking at ways to improve the process and bring in new blood.

Linux is in a strong marketplace position, despite the graying of some of its key maintainers, thanks to cloud computing and other trends that favor it over Windows and older versions of Unix, claimed Jim Zemlin, executive director of The Linux Foundation.

Zemlin didn't bring up the fact that key maintainers of the Linux kernel are getting older. That was for Jonathan Corbet, editor in chief of the Linux Weekly News, to point out later during a panel Wednesday at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit, in San Francisco.

Greg Kroah-Hartman, maintainer of the sysfs kernel subsystem, noted, "Turnover at the upper level is not happening. We're all still there. But the rate of change still keeps going up If we're in the way, let us know."

James Bottomley, SCSI subsystem maintainer, added: "There are more gray beards. Coding wisdom is going up. The graying of the Linux kernel is going to continue, frankly, until people start dying," he said.

Andrew Morton, a key aide to Linux' lead developer Linus Torvalds and often referred to as the "Colonel of the kernel," put the issue equally bluntly: "Yes, we're getting older, and we're getting more tired. I don't see people jumping with enthusiasm to work on things the way that I used to."

But he added that meant the developers in the kernel process had gained deep knowledge of the code they're working with and are willing to tackle greater complexity in making additions.

"The people are more complex. The code is more complex. We have stuff getting in now that we would have run away from 10 years ago," he said. The kernel maintainers will encourage youthful enthusiasm, when they find it, he added.

Each two month release of the Linux kernel tends to include about 10,000 changes, with 1,100-1,200 developers contributing code, many of them for the first time. The process hasn't slackened, he said.

Linux remains a strong presence in the enterprise data center and Zemlin cited future growth in Linux' growing adoption in mobile devices. Google's Android operating system is an adaptation of Linux for mobile computing and is used on a new generation of smart phones and other devices.

Work continues on the MeeGo mobile device system, a combination of Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo projects, he noted. Linux also powers many netbooks and nettops.

Zemlin said Linux product makers need to learn a lesson from experts in software product "fit and finish," then flashed a tongue-in-cheek depiction of Apple's Steve Jobs (taken off YouTube) where his comments are run together until he says "it's magical, fabulous, great, unbelievable, great, gorgeous, super high quality, super responsive, awesome."

Despite poking fun, Linux developers need to learn from Apple's ability to listen to consumers and provide easy to use devices, he said.

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