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Kernel report: it's all good

Linux developers and management people have little in common. Yet the latter would find plenty of which to approve in the latest kernel report - it is a dream come true as far as work practices go.

The project, for one, appears to be highly flexible. When there was a breach of the servers back in August last year, the work did not suffer to the extent that things became paralysed. The time for release jumped to 95 days but that was just 15 days more than the average of 80. And the next release, 3.2, made it out of the hatches in 72 days.

The rate of development is staggering. For a huge, complex project of this nature to keep releasing so often, mostly high-quality releases, and display such a high work-rate consistently is simply amazing.

What is even more amazing is that despite all the flame-fests on mailing lists and the loneliness factor - you cannot do kernel development while socialising - the number of kernel developers continues to increase. And not merely from companies - where people are recruited to work on the kernel because of the company's interest - but from outside.

This, remember, is happening at a time when many other free and open source software projects are struggling to find people who can be added to the developer ranks.

To date, from the 2.6.11 release, a total of 855 companies have made contributions. For the latest release, 226 were involved. This means that they hire hackers to work on aspects of the kernel which suit their own interests.

But whether people are from companies, fall into the unknown category - where no company affiliation can be determined - or are working on their own, they are all managed well by one person who has created a hierarchy based on meritocracy that results in amazing output. That, in itself, is another very remarkable result. The word dysfunctional is never heard when discussing the kernel project.

In truth, this is one project where no one can throw a hissy fit. They would merely have to walk away - and what does a kernel developer do next? Sell real estate?  No, this kind of nerd would find it awkward working in that or many other professions.

As time goes on and the number of lines of code increase - there are slightly more than 15 million at the moment from a start of 10,000 in the first release in 1991 - there is bound to be some bloat. The kernel itself is one of the bigger pieces of software in any GNU/Linux distribution.

There was one case when a release had less lines of code than its predecessor - 2.6.36 had about 46,216 lines less than 2.6.35 because a lot of default configuration lines were cleaned up. But that is unlikely to happen in future even though there are people cleaning up duplicate code and generally cleaning up the kernel tree.

The kernel report is often used by people to ask why X or Y is nor contributing as much as expected. Canonical, the maker of Ubuntu, the most popular GNU/Linux distribution, is often the one that has to face questions of this nature. But the report probably isn't meant to be used to name and shame; it is more to give the outside world a look at what has been done within the sausage factory in the last year.

A word for those who provide this report free of charge - Jonathan Corbet deserves much praise for the writing; he and Greg Kroah-Hartman pull together all the stats needed mostly on time. Corbet is also very good at dealing with impertinent questions.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.