What’s Wrong With Enterprise Linux?

SAN FRANCISCO — There are a lot of things that Linux users and developers say are good about Linux.

But at least one notable Linux kernel developer sees plenty not to love.

“I think the enterprise stable kernel model doesn’t work,” said Greg Kroah-Hartman, who works closely with Linus Torvalds and Andrew Morton, the keepers of the Linux kernel and its development.

“I think stable enterprise Linux is really an oxymoron,” Kroah-Hartman added during the recent LinuxWorld conference.

Kroah-Hartman, who sits near the pinnacle of the Linux Kernel development hierarchy just behind Linus Torvalds and Andrew Morton, works with Chris Wright to maintain the 2.6.x.y kernel patches.

He said the rapid rate of change associated with Linux is a strong point. But that speed also becomes a problem for so-called Enterprise Linux kernels.

In Enterprise Linux, stability is favored with releases coming typically every 18 or so months.

“So if you’re running on the same box with the same applications and you’re never going to change it and you think it’s secure and stable then use the enterprise kernel,” Kroah-Hartman advised. “But most everybody’s business doesn’t work that way.”

Kroah-Hartman also admitted a key weak point. “On power management we suck. The main problem is that hardware vendors don’t work with us.”

That situation may be changing now that Lenovo is working with Novell for Linux on its Thinkpad product lines.

Linux supports a wide range of equipment and uses, from supercomputers to cell phones. They all have different power management needs, which can be tricky for the kernel development process. Take notebooks.

Kroah-Hartman noted that with notebooks, shutdown and resume can be a problem as well as simple issues like the kernel shutting off power to a sound card when it is not in use.

But he was quick to praise the leadership of the Linux kernel, even though Torvalds is considered by many as the “benevolent dictator” of the Linux kernel, which begs the question: What happens when Linus Torvalds isn’t around?

“The ‘what happens if Linus gets hit by a bus problem?’ Well Linus doesn’t care cause he says he’ll be dead,” Kroah-Hartman joked.

In all seriousness though, the Linux kernel development process would continue, as it does when, for example, Torvalds is on vacation.

After all, Torvalds can’t track everything himself and as such trusts those underneath him like the maintainers and sub-maintainers of various sections of the kernel, Kroah-Hartman noted.

“Linux development is all just a Web of trust.”

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