Time to Fix the Bugs?

    May 9, 2006

Almost two years ago I wondered about the negative aspects of companies like IBM and HP trying to control Linux by hiring top Linux developers.

Well, part of the problem may be about to get some attention: Andrew Morton asserts that the Linux kernel is ‘getting buggier’ and that part of the reason may be from the strong influence of corporate money (from ZDnet article):

One problem is that few developers are motivated to work on bugs, according to Morton. This is particularly a problem for bugs that affect old computers or peripherals, as kernel developers working for corporations don’t tend to care about out-of-date hardware, he said. Nowadays, many kernel developers are employed by IT companies, such as hardware manufacturers, which can cause problems as they can mainly be motivated by self-interest.

It’s not even enlightened self interest. For example, SSH is arguably one of the most important communication protocols in use today, and OpenSSH is probably the most important implementaton. Yet Theo de Raadt (lead developer of OpenBSD) complains at http://news.zdnet.co.uk/software/linuxunix/0,39020390,39259042,00.htm:

OpenSSH, a secure network connectivity tool project that is developed by the OpenBSD project, has received no funding from vendors, despite the fact that the tool is used by many operating systems to encrypt Internet traffic.

“OpenSSH is included in every Unix-derived operating system, yet the total amount of assistance we’ve ever got from vendors is zero,” said DeRaadt. “It’s astounding. I don’t know what to do about it.”
Part of that problem comes from the licensing model of BSD: it doesn’t require any “give back”. Couple that with corporate interests and it would be surprising if they did get any assistance.

Corporate influence is not going to go away. Programmers are ordinary humans who need to eat, sleep, and pay their bills. Without employment by companies with a stake in Linux development, they’d need to treat their Linux work as a part time hobby and no doubt Linux would suffer even more from that.

And I’m not even sure that Andrew Morton’s concerns are all that important. Support for old hardware surely isn’t going to make or break Linux. It definitely isn’t going to slow Linux adoption in the rest of the corporate world. Sure, it affects third world usage, but do we care about that? That’s bleeding heart whacky liberal-think, isn’t it? Who cares?

Well, I hope somebody does. In truth, I expect Andrew’s call for a bug-fixing cycle will be met with silence and apathy. There’s no money in it, so even if the developers themselves agreed, the folks who sign their paychecks may tug on the reins rather sharply and tell them to ignore it.

I hope I’m wrong.

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A.P. Lawrence provides SCO Unix and Linux consulting services http://www.pcunix.com