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Linus calls Linux 'bloated and huge'

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LinuxCon 2009 Linux creator Linus Torvalds says the open source kernel has become "bloated and huge," with no midriff-slimming diet plan in sight.

During a roundtable discussion at LinuxCon in Portland, Oregon this afternoon, moderator and Novell distinguished engineer James Bottomley asked Tovalds whether Linux kernel features were being released too fast, before the kernel is stabilized.

Citing an internal Intel study that tracked kernel releases, Bottomley said Linux performance had dropped about two per centage points at every release, for a cumulative drop of about 12 per cent over the last ten releases. "Is this a problem?" he asked.

"We're getting bloated and huge. Yes, it's a problem," said Torvalds.

Asked what the community is doing to solve this, he balked. "Uh, I'd love to say we have a plan," Torvalds replied to applause and chuckles from the audience. "I mean, sometimes it's a bit sad that we are definitely not the streamlined, small, hyper-efficient kernel that I envisioned 15 years ago...The kernel is huge and bloated, and our icache footprint is scary. I mean, there is no question about that. And whenever we add a new feature, it only gets worse."

He maintains, however, that stability is not a problem. "I think we've been pretty stable," he said. "We are finding the bugs as fast as we're adding them — even though we're adding more code."

Bottomley took this to mean that Torvalds views that the current level of integration is acceptable under those terms. But Mr. Linux corrected him. "No. I'm not saying that," Torvalds answered. "Acceptable and avoidable are two different things. It's unacceptable but it's also probably unavoidable."

Among techies, Windows usually gets the bad wrap for bloat, but as Linux expands it reach, roping in so many additional features and devices, it can't help but suffer the same fate. What's different is how such problems are tackled.

"Okay, so the summary of this is that you expect that 12 per cent to be back to where it should be next year, and you expect someone else to come up with a plan to do it," joked Bottomley. "That's open source." ®

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