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Pressure, progress flow at Linux Plumbers ConferenceJay Lyman, September 19, 2008 @ 2:51 pm ET
This week’s Linux Plumbers Conference in Portland was a great opportunity for many of the Linux kernel community people to get together, challenge one another, hash out some differences and hone their similarities and synergies. What strikes me as perhaps most interesting is that while there was some discord felt throughout the event among the different Linux camps, this conglomerate of developers representing a range of different vendors in a variety of different ways all do one thing common to all of them: push the kernel forward.
One of the biggest ripples at the three-day conference, which drew about 350 Linux plumbers (the developers who work on the kernel, libraries, utilities, interfaces and other code that are Linux), was Greag Kroah-Hartman’s opening keynote, which included some less than favorable references to Ubuntu distributor Canonical and its contributions to the kernel. Much of the discussion, like most of those from the LPC, centered on technicalities and distinctions. Talk about Canonical’s actual kernel system contribution, and it may be minimal compared to leaders Red Hat and Novell. However, consider Canonical’s work on Gnome, KDE, desktop packaging and installation, and its code contribtion is much more significant. So goes the reasoning of Canonical CTO Mark Zimmerman, who also complains that Kroah-Hartman was not prominently identifying himself as a Novell employee during his keynote and criticism of Canonical.
Kroah-Hartman — rightfully a respected kernel and Linux community contributor, participant and leader — does seem to be taking a bit of a confrontational approach to Canonical. Consider that much of the LPC discussion I heard and was involved in centered on his employer Novell, its partnership with Microsoft and lingering resentment and skepticism over the deal. While I think the partnership is proving beneficial to both vendors, particularly with a focus on interoperability over IP and patent issues, there is still some apprehnesion, particularly among up-and-coming developers, about what Microsoft’s involvement in Novell’s Linux business will mean. Novell continues to employ and support some of the brightest kernel hackers, including Kroah-Hartman and many others. It is the second largest contributor of changes to the Linux kernel, behind only Red Hat. Nevertheless, the developer focus of LPC offered a developer-centric view, and many of the people I talked to have higher regard for Red Hat, and some, yes, for Canonical because of Novell’s involvement with Microsoft. We must also consider other factors and contributions to fully appreciate the significance of the collaboration, multiple players and vendor-neuatral approach in Linux. As for Red Hat, it maintains perhaps the most enterprise-effective yet open Linux developer communities in the industry (including Fedora). Beyond its code contributions, Canonical has arguably done more for Linux usability than any other single entity, all while maintaining an open, active developer community.
In another example of free and open source software communities airing and ironing out their differences, we had the Firefox EULA brouhaha this week (subsequently resolved with little fanfare). Who was it urging calm, respect, practicality and patience: Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth. That alone speaks to not only his own leadership, but also to the leadership, positive impact and contribution of Canonical. It is one of many contributions made by many different organizations and individuals, all of which should be considered in the context of the larger Linux ecosystem and what they do for it.
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