Summit: Linux Advances Into Enterprise, Seeks Better Fix For Bugs - InformationWeek

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4/9/2008
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Summit: Linux Advances Into Enterprise, Seeks Better Fix For Bugs

Business users and Linux kernel developers hashed out issues like reliability, kernel patches, and bugs at the second Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit in Austin, Texas.

Another audience member cited the risk of finding 20 "flame mails telling you the inadequacy of your code" when you come to work the day after submitting a patch. Ted Ts'o, an unusually even tempered developer hired in December by the foundation for full-time kernel work, conceded that receiving intimidating e-mail was one risk of being a submitter. The kernel developers are trying not to feel so hard-pressed that they respond brusquely to contributed code, he said.

"I would rather that you be flamed by me than by Arjen over there," Ts'o added to a round of chuckles in the audience.

Another problem area between kernel developers and Linux users is troubleshooting bugs. The kernel developers want the broader community to report bugs and submit recommended fixes. "How many of you know how you report a bug?" Bottomley asked the audience, which included many Linux users. Only a few parties raised their hands.

Go to http://bugzilla.kernel.org, he instructed, and use the Web site's form.

Bug reporting is a priority of the kernel developers. Responding to prompting by lead kernel integrator Linus Torvalds 3 years ago, they began worrying less about catching each bug and more about incorporating changes in each iteration of the kernel. Let the larger community help detect and correct bugs, was the thinking at the time, several developers said.

The practice ran into a response last year from Dave Jones at Red Hat, who said he feared the number of bugs in the 2.6.21 kernel was going to lead to problems as it became part of Red Hat's community Linux, Fedora. "I was incredibly nervous" about shipping Fedora 7, he recounted yesterday, and in a blog on June 7 last year he acknowledged the reason he was nervous: "Looking at the first round of bugs that came in during the week after F7's release, it's pretty horrific."

Jones, Bottomley, and Corbet yesterday said the kernel developers are trying to catch more bugs in the code-building process prior to kernel releases. Kernel releases have slowed from a frenetic every two months to every 2.7 months, according to a recent report from the Linux Foundation by kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman and foundation marketing director Amanda McPherson.

"A lot of people don't report bugs [when they encounter them]. That's a problem," scolded Arjen.

Bottomley replied, "Finding bugs is a partnership. If you're an early tester and you find them, report them and we'll fix them."

Added Ts'o, "Even if there is only a one in a thousand chance they will hit, that's unacceptable to an enterprise." Linux kernel releases are subject to testing by Red Hat and Novell before going into an enterprise edition, with no or few changes to the kernel once an enterprise edition is launched.

Another area of ongoing concern is building drivers for peripherals that users want to work with Linux. Kroah-Hartman announced a year ago that he had 200 volunteers who would write drivers for manufacturers who cooperated with the effort by providing specifications and other support. This year there are 300 volunteers, but "there's not much for them to do."

Manufacturers sometimes publish specifications for their devices on which a drive might be based, but they don't tell Linux kernel programmers where they have deviated from their own specifications. Without manufacturer cooperation, reliable drivers can't be created, said Chris Wright, a kernel maintainer working on security. Manufacturers not used to the open nature of Linux kernel development are sometimes reluctant to divulge what they consider trade secrets.

The first day of the summit ended with energetic debate among mobile device makers who use Linux. Sean Moss-Pultz of OpenMoko, Derek Speed of Intel's Moblin project, Andrew Shikiar of the LiMo project, a consortium of Vodafone, Motorola, NTT DoCoMo, and other mobile vendors to develop a common, open mobile platform, David Schlesinger of Access, and Eric Chu of Google debated who was following standards and how mobile Linux devices should be developed.

"There was an amazing amount of contention. I love to see the passion," said Linux user Stefano De Panfilis, laboratory director at Engineering Informatica in Rome. Don't worry, said veteran Linux observer Michael Schultheiss, Unix systems specialist at Indiana University in Indianapolis and president of the local Linux user group. "The marketplace will sort it all out."

The gathering took place in The Commons meeting hall on the J. J. Pickle Research Campus of the University of Texas. IBM held its first company-wide strategic meeting on Linux in secret in the hall in 1999. Many of its Linux developers are based at IBM offices in Austin.

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