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Time to fix the bugs?


© May 2006 Anthony Lawrence
May 2006

Almost two years ago I wondered about the negative aspects of companies like IBM and HP trying to control Linux by hiring top Linux developers. Well, part of the problem may be about to get some attention: Andrew Morton asserts that the Linux kernel is 'getting buggier' and that part of the reason may be from the strong influence of corporate money (from ZDnet article):


One problem is that few developers are motivated to work on bugs, according to Morton. This is particularly a problem for bugs that affect old computers or peripherals, as kernel developers working for corporations don't tend to care about out-of-date hardware, he said. Nowadays, many kernel developers are employed by IT companies, such as hardware manufacturers, which can cause problems as they can mainly be motivated by self-interest.

It's not even enlightened self interest. For example, SSH is arguably one of the most important communication protocols in use today, and OpenSSH is probably the most important implementaton. Yet Theo de Raadt (lead developer of OpenBSD) complains at https://news.zdnet.co.uk/software/linuxunix/0,39020390,39259042,00.htm:


OpenSSH, a secure network connectivity tool project that is developed by the OpenBSD project, has received no funding from vendors, despite the fact that the tool is used by many operating systems to encrypt Internet traffic.

"OpenSSH is included in every Unix-derived operating system, yet the total amount of assistance we've ever got from vendors is zero," said DeRaadt. "It's astounding. I don't know what to do about it."

Part of that problem comes from the licensing model of BSD: it doesn't require any "give back". Couple that with corporate interests and it would be surprising if they did get any assistance.

Corporate influence is not going to go away. Programmers are ordinary humans who need to eat, sleep, and pay their bills. Without employment by companies with a stake in Linux development, they'd need to treat their Linux work as a part time hobby and no doubt Linux would suffer even more from that.

And I'm not even sure that Andrew Morton's concerns are all that important. Support for old hardware surely isn't going to make or break Linux. It definitely isn't going to slow Linux adoption in the rest of the corporate world. Sure, it affects third world usage, but do we care about that? That's bleeding heart whacky liberal-think, isn't it? Who cares?

Well, I hope somebody does. In truth, I expect Andrew's call for a bug-fixing cycle will be met with silence and apathy. There's no money in it, so even if the developers themselves agreed, the folks who sign their paychecks may tug on the reins rather sharply and tell them to ignore it.

I hope I'm wrong.


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Mon May 8 05:19:24 2006: 2007   BigDumbDinosaur


Support for old hardware surely isn't going to make or break Linux. It definitely isn't going to slow Linux adoption in the rest of the corporate world. Sure, it affects third world usage, but do we care about that? That's bleeding heart whacky liberal-think, isn't it? Who cares?

In one sense, I don't care -- we have enough troubles right here in the USA to keep us occupied for decades to come. Our own poor folks -- not third world, to be sure, but still of limited means -- are (or should be) more important than someone on the other side of the planet.

Political rant aside <Smile>, a constantly-touted strength of Linux has been its ability to run in an acceptable fashion on old machines. I have here in my shop an ancient AMD 486 DX4-100 SCO UNIX (not OSR5) server that was recently retired after many years of faithful service at a client's manufacturing plant. We originally built this unit with an Adaptec VLB SCSI host adapter and a 1 GB Seagate Barracuda fast SCSI hard disk (a screaming 10 MB/sec transfer rate), with 64 megs of fast page mode RAM (which was a lot of memory in those days). A few years after this unit went into service, we added a second 1 GB disk and that was the last time anyone was inside the box. This machine holds the record for the longest continuous uptime of any UNIX server we ever shipped -- 1426 days without a reboot.

Anyhow, I was curious how it would run Linux -- if at all. So just for grins, I reformated both hard discs, dug up an old 3Com 3C509 ISA network card (I have a parts graveyard in the furnace utility room like you wouldn't believe -- anyone up for a AMD 386DX40 mobo with 8 megs of parity RAM?) and tried loading white box Linux on the machine. I really didn't expect the installation to complete because of the VLB host adapter but was completely taken aback when it was detected. Even more amazing, the equally ancient Diamond Multimedia VLB video card was detected as well. The kernel had no problem with the old 3Com NIC -- it worked just fine (if you can call 10 Mbps half-duplex operation okay <Grin>).

After doing a little fiddling, I was able to get Samba running and tried passing it some files from one of our PC's. The unit seemed to be pretty spritely. No match for my Opteron powered office server, of course, and the network performance downright sucked. However, the old machine's performance would be perfectly acceptable for a small office with two or three users connecting to it as a lightweight file and print server.

It would be a real shame if the Linux developers turned their backs on this unique capability. There are a lot of folks who would probably love to have a computer but can't come up with the scratch for a new Athlon 64 running MS Windows bloatware. For them, Linux running on old but otherwise functioning hardware would make a lot of sense.

In truth, I expect Andrew's call for a bug-fixing cycle will be met with silence and apathy. There's no money in it, so even if the developers themselves agreed, the folks who sign their paychecks may tug on the reins rather sharply and tell them to ignore it.

If there are two things programmers revile, they are writing documentation and fixing bugs. And, if there are two things that corporate bean counters don't want budget for, they are... <Smile>

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