The staging tree was conceived as a way for substandard drivers to get into
the kernel tree. Recently, though, there has been talk of using staging to
ease drivers out as well. The idea is that apparently unused and unloved
drivers would be moved to the staging tree, where they will languish for
three development cycles. If nobody has stepped up to maintain those
drivers during that time, they will be removed from the tree. This idea
was discussed at the 2009 Kernel Summit with no serious dissent.
Since then, John Linville has decided to test the system with a series of
ancient wireless drivers. These include the "strip" driver ("STRIP
is a radio protocol developed for the MosquitoNet project - to send
Internet traffic using Metricom radios."), along with the arlan,
netwave, and wavelan drivers. Nobody seems to care about this code, and it
is unlikely that any users remain. If that is true, then there should be
no down side to removing the code.
That hasn't stopped the complaints, though, mostly from people who believe
that staging drivers out of the tree is an abuse of the process which may
hurt unsuspecting users. It is true that users may have a hard time
noticing this change until the drivers are actually gone - though their
distributors may drop them before the mainline does. So the potential for
an unpleasant surprise is there; mistaken removals are easily reverted, but
that is only partially comforting for a user whose system has just broken.
The problem here is that there is no other way to get old code out of the
tree. Once upon a time, API changes would cause unmaintained code to fail
to compile; after an extended period of brokenness, a driver could be
safely removed. Contemporary mores require developers to fix all in-tree
users of an API they change, though, so this particular indicator no longer
exists. That means the tree can fill up with code which is unused and
which has long since ceased to work, but which still compiles flawlessly.
Somehow a way needs to be found to remove that code. The "staging out"
process may not be perfect, but nobody has posted a better idea yet.
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