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On the scalability of Linus

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 3, 2010 15:58 UTC (Sat) by PO8 (guest, #41661)
Parent article: On the scalability of Linus

So far, Linus has enjoyed remarkably good health. I pray that he will continue to do so. However, like all of us he continues to get older, and in any case people have troubles sometimes.

Imagine what an indefinite period of serious in-hospital Linus illness (starting…now) would do to the project. In a way it would be worse than if he (God forbid) was hit by a bus—in that case presumably someone would step in and try to take over his role, for better or worse. As long as Linus' future status was unclear, I can imagine much confusion about how to handle the situation.

In short, Linus' scalability when operating properly is the least of my worries.


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On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 3, 2010 17:15 UTC (Sat) by Cyberax (✭ supporter ✭, #52523) [Link]

Probably, not that much. Andrew Morton seems to be a de-facto vice president of Linux. So he'll probably just switch to maintaining Linus' tree.

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 5, 2010 13:54 UTC (Mon) by Baylink (guest, #755) [Link]

Quote of the week, no, Jon? :-)

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 14, 2010 16:31 UTC (Wed) by jospoortvliet (subscriber, #33164) [Link]

He, yeah. I'm not sure if this is what Andrew wants... Either way, it might be time for Linus to start thinking about this and maybe train a (few) possible successor(s). It can take years before one has the experience to do what he is doing, so he should start doing that sooner rather than later...

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 15, 2010 0:02 UTC (Thu) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

there have been several 'obvious' successors to Linus over the years. Some of them are not involved with kernel development to a noticable degree anymore, some are. it's very hard to tell how people will change in the future.

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 15, 2010 7:42 UTC (Thu) by jospoortvliet (subscriber, #33164) [Link]

Sure, that's why I said he should train 'a few'. Anyway, there are always people coming and leaving, that's how FOSS works. And that's why you should think about succession... Not ignore that subject.

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 3, 2010 18:12 UTC (Sat) by agrover (subscriber, #55381) [Link]

I don't see either hit-by-a-bus or slow-decline scenarios as worrisome. There have been times when other people's trees have been used widely. I think we'd see one of those get bumped up, in a pretty seamless way. git makes this easy.

Linus's tree has maintained its position as "mainline" because everyone thinks of it as such. If it stopped moving in the right direction for whatever reason then people would start using another tree as mainline in a way similar to flocking behavior in birds. There would be no "choice" as a group -- all of a sudden you'd see most other people treating tree X as mainline, and so you would too.

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 3, 2010 19:34 UTC (Sat) by PO8 (guest, #41661) [Link]

You're more than likely right.

I guess my concern is about one of two possibilities; either that the usual flamage at the first big architectural decision would get resolved in some highly unsatisfactory way, or that there would never be a first big architectural decision for lack of sufficient consensus. I think most of the UNIXes I've seen have fallen to one of these two perils sooner or later. My belief is that Linus both through his solid control and through his engineering skill has been the biggest reason for Linux avoiding this so far.

It's probably just my academic SE background and lack of faith in the wonders of open source showing, but a contingency plan where "somebody will step up with something" makes me a teeny bit nervous.

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 3, 2010 21:53 UTC (Sat) by lmb (subscriber, #39048) [Link]

The point is that nobody needs to step up. One can just use the tree one personally prefers - right now, the normative point is Linus, but it could just as well be someone else maintaining it.

If Linus went away, at least all the distributors would immediately start merging from the respective subsystem maintainers themselves - and over time, a new gold standard is likely to emerge, either from them or the community. Greg? Andrew?

Who knows, but the point is that Linux has a very distributed development model with no single choke point in it; the centralization is merely convenient for all, not required.

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 4, 2010 4:49 UTC (Sun) by drag (subscriber, #31333) [Link]

Well... I know that I don't use Linus's tree on my distro. I don't use it when I am using Redhat and I don't use it when I am using Debian.

The various distributions already have taken over maintainership of their own respective kernels and have done so for a long time.

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 4, 2010 20:38 UTC (Sun) by vonbrand (guest, #4458) [Link]

That isn't so. Red Hat for one used to ship extensively patched kernels, they don't do so anymore (the burden is just too high). OTOH, they do have capable people who could take over (together with the other kernel hackers, obviously) if the need should arise.

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 5, 2010 10:05 UTC (Mon) by sjh (guest, #48103) [Link]

That is not entirely true. Red Hat does not ship patches that are not accepted upstream, but they do ship heavily patched kernels. I don't think Linus is still releasing 2.6.18, yet Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 keeps growing new kernel based features (KVM being a notable example).

This has two good things. First, it increases the quality of the patches that Red Hat applies to the kernels it ships. Second, it means that Red Hat does not have to rebase all of those patches whenever they ship the next major release (RHEL6).

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 8, 2010 13:31 UTC (Thu) by BenHutchings (subscriber, #37955) [Link]

That is not entirely true. Red Hat does not ship patches that are not accepted upstream,

They sometimes claim this, but it is not actually true. I have occasionally dug a bug fix out of RHEL 5 and sent it upstream.

but they do ship heavily patched kernels. I don't think Linus is still releasing 2.6.18, yet Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 keeps growing new kernel based features (KVM being a notable example).

This has two good things. First, it increases the quality of the patches that Red Hat applies to the kernels it ships.

Still, they are backporting so far that there is plenty of opportunity to miss subtle semantic dependencies. For example, RHEL 5.4 added GRO but not the change to make TCP delayed-ACK work correctly with LRO or GRO.

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 6, 2010 12:34 UTC (Tue) by RobertBrockway (guest, #48927) [Link]

There was for a long time a perception of an informal line of succession in Linux. One person who would be generally accepted as the successor. I'm not sure that is true anymore.

I really think that Linus needs to specify a formal process as to how mainline will be managed should he be unable to perform the task.

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 6, 2010 23:57 UTC (Tue) by neilbrown (subscriber, #359) [Link]

I think suggesting that Linus "needs to" do anything is missing the whole point of "freedom".

Linus doesn't need to do anything, and the community doesn't need to pay any attention to what he does. But as long as what he does is useful the community will pay attention (a statement which applies equally to lots of other people).

If Linus chose to appoint a successor that might be useful ... as long as they aren't on the same bus that takes Linus away from us... But it would be no guarantee of success.

Were Linus to disappear other developers would be free to try to create their own 'central' tree. or not. Maybe several people would try. Ultimately one "winner" would emerge largely because one central tree is more useful than two (and maintaining that central tree is probably a fairly thankless job).
You might see the time with 2 (or 3 or 4) 'central' trees as wasteful, but that is also quite normally in our community. A lot of code is generated and then discarded. But this isn't a waste, it is a learning process.

A bureaucracy appoints a successor, a meritocracy allows a successor to prove themselves.

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 15, 2010 12:45 UTC (Thu) by subhash11 (guest, #68935) [Link]

I think,
He should publish his maintainer-ship experience in length,
rather than putting some process that sure will end in future
in conflicting interests, power-struggle.

On the scalability of Linus

Posted Jul 9, 2010 14:08 UTC (Fri) by kabloom (guest, #59417) [Link]

If there was a power struggle in the Linux community (assuming it didn't escalate to lawsuits), then we could naturally expect the set of system calls supported by different "official" trees to diverge over time as different tree maintainers disagreed about the design of new system calls.

This would probably place the Glibc maintainer in the position of blessing a particular tree as Linus' successor.


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