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Torvalds proposes tighter tracking for Linux kernel

May 24, 20043 mins

Linux founder Linus Torvalds has proposed changes to the Linux kernel development process designed to make it easier for kernel developers to respond to questions of source code ownership, like those raised by The SCO Group in its multibillion-dollar lawsuit with IBM.

In an e-mail to the Linux kernel mailing list, sent Saturday, Torvalds proposed that kernel developers begin certifying that the code they contribute is entitled to be included in the Linux kernel as well as a technique for “signing off on patches” that would better track which developers had handled source code contributions.

The proposal, which is currently the subject of discussion amongst kernel developers, could be adopted in time for the development of the Linux 2.7 kernel, Torvalds said in an e-mail interview. “I think we’re going to do it, although realistically it probably won’t be all up and running until maybe a couple of months from now,” he said.

Torvalds himself has been subpoenaed as part of the SCO vs. IBM lawsuit, and while he admitted that SCO’s claims have provided a “big impetus” for the changes, he said they were also designed to reassure Linux users and stakeholders who were not involved in the kernel development process. “People who don’t understand how I interact with the people I work with literally feel better just having it down more as a documented process,” he said.

The proposed changes will make it easier for companies that contribute to the Linux kernel to standardize their development process and “will placate some CEOs and CTOs waiting for the outcome of SCO’s legal claims against IBM,” said Stacey Quandt, an analyst with Santa Clara Quandt Analytics in an e-mail interview.

However, Torvalds’ plan does not address questions these executives may have about code that has already been contributed to the Linux kernel, Quandt said. “This limitation will still leave some senior executives on the sidelines potentially beyond the outcome of SCO’s case.”

SCO claims that the Linux kernel illegally includes Unix System V code, and the Lindon, Utah, company has released a number of snippets of code, all of which have been analyzed in depth by the open-source community.

“People have been pretty good (understatement of the year) at debunking those claims, but the fact is that part of that debunking involved searching kernel mailing list archives from 1992 etc. Not much fun,” Torvalds wrote in his mailing list posting.

The documentation changes would make it easier to debunk similar claims should another organization question the origin of Linux’s code in the future, Torvalds said in the interview.

“One of the reasons for this is that 10 years from now… we’ll have explicitly documented what we now basically take for granted,” Torvalds said.

Torvalds’ mailing list post can be found here