Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Linux

The Scalability of Linus 239

Posted by kdawson
from the single-point dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Katherine Noyes writes at LinuxInsider that it may be time for Linus Torvalds to share more of the responsibility for Linux that he's been shouldering. 'If Linux wants to keep up with the competition there is much work to do, more than even a man of Linus's skill [can] accomplish,' argues one user. The 'scalability of Linus' is the subject of a post by Jonathan Corbet wondering if there might there be a Linus scalability crunch point coming. 'The Linux kernel development process stands out in a number of ways; one of those is the fact that there is exactly one person who can commit code to the "official" repository,' Corbet writes. A problem with that scenario is the potential for repeats of what Corbet calls 'the famous "Linus burnout" episode of 1998' when everything stopped for a while until Linus rested a bit, came back, and started merging patches again. 'If Linus is to retain his central position in Linux kernel development, the community as a whole needs to ensure that the process scales and does not overwhelm him,' Corbet adds. But many don't agree. 'Don't be fooled that Linus has to scale — he has to work hard, but he is the team captain and doorman. He has thousands doing most of the work for him. He just has to open the door at the appropriate moment,' writes Robert Pogson, adding that Linus 'has had lots of practice and still has fire in his belly.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The Scalability of Linus

Comments Filter:
  • Egos don't scale (Score:1, Insightful)

    by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday July 23, 2010 @09:30AM (#33002142)

    Arrogant people who achieve power never give it up voluntarily. They hold onto every little bit of it for dear life. Torvalds would no more voluntarily give up his ultimate authority than he would jump off a cliff. You can make all the reasonable arguments in the world, it's not going to change who he is. Linux is his baby and he's a jealous parent.

    What is needed is a good new fork with strong support. Unfortunately, for all the bitching and moaning about Torvalds, that has never really come together. He is a driving force and developers have accepted his Linux kernel as the standard for a long time. There are a lot of branches out there, granted, but at the end of the day they all ultimately go back to the same tree. Getting developers to accept a new mainline kernel as the standard (and to give up the "Linux" name), and getting some superior distros out there (you would need an equivalent of Ubuntu) would require a lot of work, organization, and some charismatic leadership. The OSS community could handle the work part okay, but the organization and charismatic leaders parts--not so much.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 23, 2010 @09:33AM (#33002174)

    A good new fork will only be needed if and when Linus stops scaling. Until then, the reason that a fork has never really come together is because Linus' Linux is the best all round solution.

  • and what (Score:2, Insightful)

    by segin (883667) <segin2005@gmail.com> on Friday July 23, 2010 @09:34AM (#33002176) Homepage
    Linux is Linus's creation, he should have ultimate commit decision power
  • by soupforare (542403) on Friday July 23, 2010 @09:34AM (#33002184)

    Arrogant people who achieve power never give it up voluntarily.

    Any fork would either immediately or very quickly suffer from the same fate. If there's anything the open source community has a surplus of, it's egos.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 23, 2010 @09:34AM (#33002188)

    Shut up and fork off.

  • Re:and what (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 23, 2010 @09:41AM (#33002260)

    just because he started a open-source project does not mean he owns it. It's like the stock market, as soon as the comited patches dwarf your original work, you are not the dominant share holder.

  • Re:and what (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Friday July 23, 2010 @09:44AM (#33002302)

    It's his project, no matter the contributions of others. Anyone is free to fork it. They are not free to take the actual project from him.

    He is free to run it as a dictatorship or a democracy. It's his project.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday July 23, 2010 @09:46AM (#33002312) Journal
    Given that, in practice, virtually every distro maintains its own kernel, or set of patches, to suit their needs, I don't really see the big deal.

    As long as Linus is performing his role of keeping the "official" repository basically the easiest and most standard starting point, all the peripheral kernel tweaks maintained by other entities will cluster more or less closely around it for cost reasons.

    If he starts to slip, the center of gravity will shift toward one of the distro kernel repositories, or whatever other third party is doing the best job of filling the role, and the "official" repository will fade in prominence a bit.

    Because of how kernel code is licensed, the "official" repository could either come back quickly(if Linus or his chosen successor get back on the ball, they could update from the prior leader, and start taking the comit lead again), or it could just fade away, mostly, and development could center around the RedHat tweak of the kernel, or the Debian one, or whatever...

    More dangerous are situations(like the X11/X.org one) where there is a major licensing split that actually requires a decisive move one way or the other. Linux graphics are certainly not its strongest suit; but, had the defection to X.org not been so complete, things there could have been a lot uglier today.
  • by AbbeyRoad (198852) <p@2038bug.com> on Friday July 23, 2010 @09:47AM (#33002316) Homepage

    The Linux kernel is not a company. Free software projects are a new kind of entity.

    The debate is still open about whether it is correct to level "They should..." instructions at this kind of entity.

    Possibly "I should..." statements are more appropriate.

    -paul

  • Re:whiner (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bsDaemon (87307) on Friday July 23, 2010 @09:59AM (#33002440)

    Isn't that what blogging is for?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 23, 2010 @10:04AM (#33002490)

    You mean all this time while on the island Benjamin Linus was able to do more things than he led on? Who knew. ;)

  • by thegarbz (1787294) on Friday July 23, 2010 @10:05AM (#33002494)
    The problem is not if it will die. Linux itself will likely live on. The question lies in what will ultimately happen to it. There needs to be a succession path, even if it's just that Linus keeps 100% of the control while he's on work, and passes it off only when he gets burnt out or worse.

    Supposing he does get hit by a bus, there will be months of infighting as big egos clash trying to decide who gets control of the kernel. There'll be those who think the official repository should be managed by committee, those saying the single person structure maintained. The subsequent fight will blow out of proportion which will generate many forks and ultimately and dangerously you will end up with uncertainty.

    The best outcome is that there's a plan in place for exactly this kind of situation. That way Linux can remain what Linus wants it's to be in case of his demise rather than to throw it to the dogs and then see what's left over after the frenzy dies.
  • by dangitman (862676) on Friday July 23, 2010 @10:11AM (#33002556)

    A good new fork will only be needed if and when Linus stops scaling.

    If? You say this as though it isn't inevitable. Linus could be hit by a bus tomorrow, or (more likely) die of cancer in 10 years. He could even retire from the project! Either way, there will eventually be an end to his influence.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday July 23, 2010 @10:17AM (#33002632) Homepage Journal

    Arrogant people who achieve power never give it up voluntarily.

    Er, didn't Bill gates step down at Microsoft?

  • by GooberToo (74388) on Friday July 23, 2010 @10:23AM (#33002706)

    Arrogant people who achieve power never give it up voluntarily. They hold onto every little bit of it for dear life.

    Why must a pet project, the owner from inception, held in high regard around the entire world, which has provided both personal and professional benefit, as well as providing much prestige, be attributed to arrogance? Unless your Buddhist or some such thing, most reasonable people would argue you're foolish to give up such a thing until your damn well ready.

    Really, in exchange for giving up all that, what does it get in exchange? Nothing aside from more free time, as far as I can tell.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Friday July 23, 2010 @10:39AM (#33002928) Homepage

    Most of the bitching and moaning about Linus seems to be along the lines of "he didn't accept my patch" or "he tore me a new one for suggesting something", not "Linux sucks, I'm going to use HURD or FreeBSD instead". And that's an important distinction, because Linus' primary goal is to make Linux and its codebase as awesome as it can be, not stroke developer's egos.

    So yeah, if you write up something that you think is a great memory management scheme that Linus decides isn't the best approach, you're going to be pissed at him, because you thought very carefully about it and worked very hard to create a patch. But that doesn't mean Linus is necessarily wrong, and also doesn't mean he's arrogant - it means he thinks there's better choices available. He's picking not from the best that you can come up with, but from the best that the much larger set of people who've ever considered this problem can come up with.

  • by Eil (82413) on Friday July 23, 2010 @10:47AM (#33003010) Homepage Journal

    A couple of quick points:

    The Linux kernel is open source. Anyone who thinks they can do better can just clone it in git and start their own fork. You don't have to replace Linus, you can just be your own kernel maintainer. There's no part of the mainline Linux kernel development that takes place in private, so you can even "play Linus" and just merge only the patches that you like from the kernel mailing list into your own personal tree.

    The kernel that Linus releases is not meant to be used directly by end users. Distributions are responsible for integrating the kernel into their operating systems as they see fit. They can choose to track Linus' tree closely or not at all. Red Hat, for example, rolls their own kernel that bears little resemblance to any of Linus'.

    Linus' tree is widely regarded as the official Linux kernel mainly because he invented it and has stuck to his vision of how the kernel should be developed over the past 18 years or so. Most of the top developers and open source companies trust Linus and his management over the mainline kernel. Many have been around from the very beginning. Suggesting that they would "dump" Linus as the core maintainer is outright laughable.
    \

  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Friday July 23, 2010 @11:03AM (#33003190) Journal

    Arrogant people who achieve power never give it up voluntarily. They hold onto every little bit of it for dear life. Torvalds would no more voluntarily give up his ultimate authority than he would jump off a cliff. You can make all the reasonable arguments in the world, it's not going to change who he is. Linux is his baby and he's a jealous parent.

    Interestingly, humble but smart people would end up in the same situation : they know that arrogant and power-hungry people are there and want power for the sake of their ego. I don't know if Linus is humble or arrogant, but he gave up power a long time ago when he put his OS under an open-source licence. He has never hidden the fact that he was a "benevolent dictator" (some even say the expression comes from his second surname : Benedict). If Linus is a bottleneck and slows down kernel development, there will be a fork. Right now, as much as people say he is a problem, he is still the only solution available.

    What is good about open-source is that you can say to power-hungry people "Want to be the boss of a team ? Well go find a team that will respect your work !".

  • by somersault (912633) on Friday July 23, 2010 @11:03AM (#33003198) Homepage Journal

    Actually, thinking about it logically I suppose the actual meaning of the structure does in fact simply equate to "if". When when is true, if will be true, and vice versa.

    if ($if_) { $when = true; }
    if ($when) { $if_ = true; }
    if ($if_ && $when) { return true; }

    # better written as

    if ($if_ | when ) { return true; }

    So the "and when" logically equates to "or when", both of which are completely pointless additions to the if, but the "and when" still somehow manages to make it sound like the speaker or writer believes that the situation is actually inevitable, something they've only just realised after saying "if"..

  • by Richard Steiner (1585) <rsteiner@visi.com> on Friday July 23, 2010 @11:22AM (#33003438) Homepage Journal

    If there's anything the open source community has a surplus of, it's egos.

    This is true of programmers ... or humanity ... in general.

  • by shadowofwind (1209890) on Friday July 23, 2010 @11:29AM (#33003526)

    Then 'when' part tells you that you mean to wait for the event to happen, rather than act beforehand in anticipation of the event.

    Not like any of this matters much.

  • Re:and what (Score:4, Insightful)

    by amorsen (7485) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Friday July 23, 2010 @11:31AM (#33003550)

    Never the less he and he alone maintains the reference kernel source. That's a potential problem. Or- explain to me why it isn't.

    It is only the reference insofar that distributions tend to work off of it. It would be just as easy for them technically to use a random other git tree as the reference, if they chose to do so. However, Linus is doing such a good job these days that non-enterprise distributions just stick with his sources + a limited set of patches. If he stops doing a good job (like in the hit-by-bus scenario which seems so popular), there are several well-maintained trees to pick from, and Linux would only be a little worse off.

    The most important advantage of Linus is that his decisions are almost universally respected. It would be difficult even for David Miller and Alan Cox to get the same universal buy-in, and Andrew Morton is possibly too nice for the job.

  • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Friday July 23, 2010 @11:37AM (#33003618) Journal

    He realized that charity was a much better ego-booster than being the much-maligned head of a big corporation.

    Wow! Some people just can't win, can they? Get involved in big charity work, you're just feeding your ego. Anyway, those were some pretty strong words about Linus that you kicked off this discussion with. I take it you either know him personally or have worked with him fairly closely?

  • by StuartHankins (1020819) on Friday July 23, 2010 @11:48AM (#33003742)
    And yet some of this behavior is required to keep things going as well as it has. Just imagine a day in his life, a mix of technical issues, coordination, flames and people wanting attention because they think their idea is the best. That's assuming you ignore personal issues and demands for time.

    I don't have anywhere near his skills / reputation / influence / pressure, and the days when I have to fend off multiple groups of people demanding time, technical issues, and balance that with my schedule are draining for me. Some days I get to relax with hands-on physical work instead of managing systems, even if it's crimping cables, moving equipment or rearranging my office. Having his responsibility and maintaining his pace long-term would probably (understandably?) increase my self-worth (ego) and frustration to the point that I'd be seen in a negative way.

    When you work in a high-performance way you can become very intolerant of others' shortcomings because you just assume that if you can do something that they can do it too, and if you "get it", then they of course should be able to comprehend it too. The limitations of language and slow communication speed are bothersome, you want to do a brain dump but teaching one thing requires a host of background on other issues so you have to start from the beginning, which takes time and effort you probably don't want to spend.

    So perhaps with his imperfections he is the best person for the job at this time, and perhaps that will be delegated more to others in the future. All we know is that at some point passing the baton will be required and hope for a successful switchover.

    The same can be said of influential people in various sectors of industry. What happens with Apple when Steve Jobs is no longer there? Microsoft after Bill Gates (I know he's out of the picture somewhat, but really he's not totally out of the loop yet). Samba team after Jeremy Allison. There are so many more influential people in huge roles that I see this as part of the necessary burden of being so good at what you do that others pale in comparison. Future generations will have to sort it out when these people leave, and hopefully they're grooming the apprentices so they can be ready when needed.
  • by BrokenHalo (565198) on Friday July 23, 2010 @12:13PM (#33004048)
    Any fork would either immediately or very quickly suffer from the same fate.

    People like Alan Cox and Marcelo Tosatti have maintained well-established patchsets of their own, comprised of the features they happen to think are important. This is part of the natural order of things ("managing senior programmers is like herding cats" - Dave Platt) and not to be discouraged.
  • by mewsenews (251487) on Friday July 23, 2010 @12:17PM (#33004096) Homepage

    Supposing he does get hit by a bus, there will be months of infighting as big egos clash trying to decide who gets control of the kernel.

    Respectfully, this isn't what I see happening. Linus seems to be a nose-to-the-grindstone pragmatist and the only person who hopes to succeed him will not arrive through politics. The currently official kernel organization might collapse in bickering if Linus gets hit by a bus, but the true workers will quickly find someone like Linus to quietly organize their efforts and it will be quickly apparent where the actual development is happening.

    In fact, the official kernel already has leaders like Greg Kroah-Hartman that perform jobs similar to Linus' current role and could pick up almost seamlessly if Linus vanishes. This is such a non-story

  • by maxwell demon (590494) on Friday July 23, 2010 @12:57PM (#33004574) Journal

    * some people have clever ideas put bad way. linus is (unfortunately) too busy, to check every idea, so he skips them (sometimes), if they are not polished (enough for him)

    Which sounds exactly like a scalability problem.

Life would be so much easier if we could just look at the source code. -- Dave Olson

Working...