Linux kernel luminaries talk enterprise, embedded and why they're coming together

Linus Torvalds, Greg Kroah-Hartman, Sarah Sharp and Tejun Heo cover what’s happening with the Linux kernel.

NEW ORLEANS - Developing the Linux kernel, according to some of the community's leading lights, is a difficult, complicated process – but it's also one that's moving forward at some speed.

The final keynote at this year’s LinuxCon North America event featured a panel discussion with Linux creator Linus Torvalds, stable branch maintainer Greg Kroah-Hartman, and fellow maintainers Sarah Sharp and Tejun Heo.

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One of the central issues, the panel agreed, in present-day kernel development is created by the proliferation of Linux-based mobile devices, making the embedded development branch far more important than it had been.

“Embedded today is what enterprise was years ago,” said Kroah-Hartman.

Torvalds concurred, citing his own recent workload. “If you look at just the last merge window, most of the actual code was on the embedded side,” he said. “That’s maybe because the embedded side has all these wild and wacky devices, and most of the kernel code these days is device drivers.”

However, while kernel development may still be somewhat divided in this respect, the overlap is becoming more pronounced, according to Kroah-Hartman.

[MORE FROM LINUXCON: Every time you build a client-server app, the Internet dies a little bit]

“All the changes that you make have to work on all the things,” he said. “So the enterprise guys didn’t care about power management … but it turned out that other people got power management into the kernel and all the enterprise people said ‘wow, this just saved us a couple million dollars in our data center, thank you!’”

The kernel is still likely to be central to future embedded and mobile development, as well, according to Torvalds.

“The reason Linux runs really well on cell phones is that cell phones grew up,” he said. “They’re already thousands of times more powerful than the original machine that Linux came to be on.”

The pace of change, however, may be starting to slow, as Moore’s Law begins to run out of steam. Sharp referenced that in a comment about one of the latest and greatest pieces of modern gadgetry.

“If you look at something like Google Glass, the hardware’s really not that advanced,” she said. “But what you do with it is very interesting.”

The panel lacked the acrimony some predicted after a contentious public spat between Torvalds and Sharp over the former’s aggressive and frequently profane tirades this summer. Sharp did reference a need for inclusivity and tolerance in the kernel community, though the subject of general civility wasn’t discussed at length.

“I’d like to make sure that our community is inclusive to all people that want to contribute,” she said. “Getting more diversity is something I would like to see.”

One aspect of kernel development that could aid in bringing in new blood, according to Torvalds, is the diverse nature of the work itself

“There are so many things you can do,” he said. “The kernel, in many respects, has more opportunities for new people to come in than any other open-source project.”

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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