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Linux kernel patching in crisis – Raymond

Calls for penguin patch lieutenant

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Open source guru Eric Raymond says Linux kernel patching is in crisis, and he has renewed calls for someone to assist Linus Torvalds as a 'penguin patch lieutenant'.

Speaking at a lecture organised by the UK Unix Users Group in London last night, Raymond said that kernel patching was the one remaining part of centralisation in open source development.

He said Linus has "reached his stress limit" and that no one person can deal with the number of kernel patches coming forward from kernel maintainers. Patches, many of which would help in the further development of Linux, are being dropped without good reason, Raymond observed.

"Linus needs to get better at delegating," said Raymond. "Sometimes he can file out jobs and then arbitrarily reverse the decisions made."

He endorsed comments made in Linux mailing lists last month that a kernel patch integrator, who'd fulfil a similar role to Alan Cox's in earlier stages in the development of Linux, is needed.

Raymond, the president of the Open Source Initiative and a director at VA Linux, is best known for his book The Cathedral and the Bazaar in which he argued that open source collaboration is superior to traditional closed source development.

His comments that proprietary software from the likes of Microsoft will be replaced by open source alternatives in the long term were well received by a technology savvy audience last night. But Raymond was preaching to the converted, the timescale of the inevitable triumph over Redmond remains opaque.

The meeting also covered the subject of making open source software more appealing to mainstream users but no firm conclusions were reached.

Some felt better user interfaces need to be developed for applications like word processors and spreadsheets, but this kind of work is a less interesting problem for Linux hackers to solve. Developing a consistent user interface for Mozilla was cited as an example of the types of shortcomings sometimes encountered in open source development projects.

Raymond disagreed with this analysis and said the "idealistic determination" to make open source applications friendlier to non-techies existed. The bigger issue in making open source user friendly was creating a means to get feedback from consumers, he added. ®

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