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Open BSD honcho channels Ballmer in Linux tirade

It's garbage, De Raadt explains

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Open BSD honcho Theo De Raadt claimed that Linux is a hopeless jumble of "cheap little hacks" and has become "garbage" during an interview published at Forbes.com.

"Everyone is using it, and they don't realize how bad it is," he said. "And the Linux people will just stick with it and add to it rather than stepping back and saying, 'This is garbage and we should fix it.'"

De Raadt said that the Linux development model lacks professional management, and that big companies like IBM and Sun are capitalizing on the free labor of amateurs because they're too cheap to hire a proper development team.

"These companies used to have to pay to develop Unix. They had in-house engineers who wrote new features when customers wanted them. Now they just allow the user community to do their own little hacks and features, trying to get to the same functionality level, and they're just putting pennies into it," he said.

"They have the same rapid development cycle [as Microsoft], which leads to crap," he added.

It's not unusual for Unix and Linux fans to bash each other's hobby horses, and certainly Microsoft has been beating the drums about numerous problems with Linux, imaginary or otherwise, out of fear of its increasing popularity. When Steve Ballmer goes postal denouncing Linux, we know he's motivated primarily by fear. When Theo De Raadt does the same, we know that the popularity contest between Linux and BSD has already been decided in favor of Linux, so an ulterior motive in this case would more likely be something like envy.

But he has a couple of good points, although we detect some Ballmeresque FUD in the claim that contributions from the "user community" are below par. Actually, some of the best developers around are working on Linux and other open source projects, and there is no need to invoke Ballmer's "Chinese hackers," however subtly.

True, the development cycle poses a problem in practice, although it is not a fundamental problem; it's a more practical one of the Linux vendors issuing new distros with incontinence. There is nothing wrong with developers issuing kernel patches every week; people need to test them and see that they work as expected and don't break anything else. But there is something wrong with a Linux vendor cranking out a new edition every four or six months, featuring a new kernel that, as often as not, is worse than the one it happened to use before.

The Linux development system is not the problem; the vendor release schedule is the problem. You can almost hear the marketing teams asking, will 2.6.12 be out by the time we're ready to release? If a vendor would ever dare to show the patience and the confidence to do with Linux what Apple did with BSD, Microsoft would soon be on the ropes.

It's the vendors, not the developers, who need to slow down, and come out with carefully de-bugged and polished combinations of kernels and applications that work together well on a broad variety of hardware. No one would build an automobile with the latest engine, the latest transmission, the latest fuel system, without knowing whether or not they work well together. Yet a Linux vendor thinks nothing of literally slapping together the latest releases of every available component and calling it a distro.

The developers are doing their jobs, and doing them well, in spite of what Steve Ballmer and Theo De Raadt imagine. But the vendors should listen carefully to the criticism directed erroneously at the developers, and apply it to themselves. Because it's really meant for them. ®

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