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Linux Kernel is Good For Now

SAN FRANCISCO -- The man who maintains the Linux kernel says he's quite confident that the latest versions of the operating system are the best and most stable. For now.

Andrew Morton of Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) said the current builds of the Linux 2.6 kernel are being adopted by enough of the enterprise distributions in the market that work on a 2.7 kernel tree has been placed on hold.

"It will be some time before we need a 2.7 kernel," Morton said during a Q&A session at the Open Source Business Conference here. "The only reason we would start a 2.7 tree at this time is if we are unsuccessful with the current builds and it keeps breaking, or if someone comes forward and decides they need to rebuild their entire software stack."

The current build has close to 6 million lines of code and is separated into two build trees. Morton and his team of 50 to 70 project managers have stewardship over the enterprise-ready versions, while Linux creator Linus Torvalds oversees the other build tree with the latest changes.

Having both trees in operation satisfies both needs, Morton said. And having two trees working at the same time has shaved a considerable amount of time off the development and deployment process, taking it down to as few as 30 days, Morton pointed out.

"We don't need a three-year development cycle, because the developers are getting more comfortable with the code," he said. "The other reason is that the stable tree is slowly changing and the major vendors were carrying enough of the current builds, so we felt that we should make the release cycles much shorter."

This is not to say that Linux has forked, a controversial theory that would make most distributions incompatible. Morton commented that the trees are in no way an indication of forking, which to him would be highly unlikely.

"Forking of the kernel would result in a $100 million-per-year expense to maintain the forked version, thus making it undesirable for anyone to fork it," Morton said. "Besides, forking would require a massive fallout amongst the kernel development team."

Forking could also be disastrous for a Linux community that research firm IDC forecasts will be the engine behind more than $36 billion in annual IT revenues by 2008.

The push for Linux and open source software is still an uphill battle, because the vast majority is running on proprietary software, according to OSDN CEO Stuart Cohen.

"It has crossed the chasm, but it has some catching up to do," Cohen said. "Now we are looking at what is needed from an ecosystem standpoint."

Another kernel process that Morton is championing is Developers Certificate of Origin. The process, which has its roots in the SCO Group lawsuits, asks that contributors sign off at the developer window as a way to verify where new code has come from.

"We encourage those who are verifying builds to directly contact the person who last touched that code if there is a problem," said Morton.

Finally, to help with the virtualization process of Linux, Morton said Kernel.org would choose XEN by the end of this year.