Computers, Science, Technology, Xen Virtualization, Hosting, Photography, The Internet, Geekdom And More

The beauty of patches

Posted on | September 24, 2007 | 1 Comment

There seems to be quite an uproar over the future of the Linux kernel. In particular, the adversity that Con Kolivas met when sending in his scheduler patches for main stream inclusion. Apparently, its causing quite a few rifts (and nastygrams) for and between Kernel developers.

I, frankly, don’t get it. Well, I kind of get it (I, too, have been called “terminally stupid” by Linus Torvalds) however I didn’t get upset, that’s just .. well .. Linus. What amazes me is a community of people now complaining that Linux is commercialized because some improvements for older hardware were not included.

Folks, Linux has always been commercialized, that’s why Linus wrote it. Linus hates the ideals and notions of free software. Linux is GPL2 because the license permitted Linus to ensure that his Kernel was widely adopted with plenty of room for commercial industry to help develop and use it. This sparked hundreds (even thousands) of people to send him improvements which made Linux what it is today. Linus had quite a bit to do with that process, he managed the project extremely well.

Torvald’s method worked, his Kernel is the only viable alternate to Microsoft and its (thanks to Dell) headed for quite a few servers and desktops. Linus is today’s “Tom Sawyer”, we all white-washed his fence for free. This was fine, we got a Kernel in the process. Richard Stallman already had the operating system developed. (You might have heard of him, he wrote ‘gcc’, used to build the Linux Kernel).

Linux changes in an anticpatory fashion. Right now, every desktop is not a new dual core machine, but they soon will be. The life cycle for x86 based machines is about 3 years, slightly more (closer to 5) for the newer stuff. If the Kernel does not start adopting and focusing on new stuff now, in three years the Kernel will not be very useful. Part of this process means focusing attention on newer stuff, while leaving the hacking and tinkering for better performance on old hardware up to others.

There are some distinctions and separations that many fail to make when it comes to describing a free Unix-like operating system, especially those who describe the “future of Linux”:

  • Its GNU + Linux, Linux is a kernel, GNU gave us the OS. We should realize, yes, the Kernel is important however your free OS came from the GNU project, not Linus. This uproar effects only the Kernel, not the OS that you get from the GNU project.
  • Every single distribution that packages GNU + Linux changes things. They take the base GNU operating system, the Linux Kernel then modify both with a nice clean polish that suits the goals of their release. If you use Ubuntu, you get GNU, you get Linux and then you get the efforts of Ubuntu programmers who combine and modify the two in order to produce their OS. Its up to them, not Linus to decide on what improvements to include or exclude.
  • All of this is made possible by something called a patch, a simple text file that is interpreted by a program and applies changes to the source code of other programs.

The ‘ck patchset’ (said patches that are causing said uproar) are just that, patches. They are instructions for a program to run to modify the Linux Kernel by changing the source code of the Kernel. Anyone can apply them and use them. While Con is no longer actively developing the patches, the community is maintaining them. Its not like anything was lost.

Why are we yelling at Linus? Why are we complaining to Kernel developers? Why not ask our favorite OS packagers to make a program to let us easily apply these patches, or to maintain Kernels specifically designed for older desktop computers?

The patches in question are indeed useful, they significantly improve desktop use, especially on older hardware. I, too, would love to see them widely used, but I’m not going to argue with Linus to make it happen. Arguing with Linus is (as he puts it) “stupid”, your better of arguing with a fire hydrant.

I’m a little concerned with how quickly tech media knee-jerks into forecasting doom and complaining, without offering any kind of a solution. I hope that this trend does not continue.


One Response to “The beauty of patches”

  1. A year of Echoreply : Echoreply
    September 24th, 2008 @ 5:34 pm

    [...] Echoreply turns 1 year old. The first post was a year ago today. Hurray! I managed to avoid hosing the blog database for 365 days and kept up [...]

Leave a Reply

  • Monkey Plus Typewriter
  • Stack Overflow

  • Me According To Ohloh

  • Meta