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Community Linux support for Penguin phones floated

'Let's all pick one kernel and stick with it for a bit'

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Plans are afoot to establish a long-term support system for new versions of the Linux kernel to help slide the penguin into more smartphones.

One of the Linux kernel's top maintainers has suggested that the Linux community each year picks a version of the kernel that they will commit to maintain for a period of two years, before dropping it for a new kernel.

Such a long-term support commitment would mean that the chosen version of the kernel receives big fixes, security and hardware updates from maintainers.

Greg Kroah-Hartman floated the plan here and invited others to weigh in with their opinions.

"To keep this all out in the open, let's figure out what to do here. Consumer devices have a 1 to 2 year lifespan, and want and need the experience of the kernel community maintaining their 'base' kernel for them," Kroah-Hartman said.

Kroah-Hartman said he has been approached by different groups and companies over the past 12 months who have been asking him how they could pick up the next long-term kernel.

Until now, the process of picking a Linux kernel for long-term support has been something of an ad-hoc process, while the benefits of long-term support itself has chiefly fallen to enterprise Linux distros.

It has meant distro providers like Canonical, Novell and Red Hat can get on with the business of making and selling their distros without worrying that the underlying kernel itself is up-to-date or secure.

With Linux going into more embedded systems – particularly consumer devices like smartphones, thanks to Android – device manufacturers seem to want the same kind of support guarantees as the enterprise boys.

Such a guarantee could eliminate the headaches and costs associated with implementing fixes and updates on products that have short lifespans and have tight margins, but must also be bulletproof.

The problem for Linux device makes is that so many versions of the Linux kernel are typically delivered that it is hard to know which to focus on and support. In 2010, Linus Torvalds and crew delivered four updates of the kernel.

Kroah-Hartman said he can't see a "real enterprise embedded distro" out there that could help establish a long-term support model. Linux distros from Cavium Networks' MontaVista and Intel's WindRiver are not being universally used. Google upgrades the Android kernel with every major release of its disto, and while there has been talk of developing long-term support from groups such as the CE Linux Forum (CELF), that talk hasn't come to anything. CELF members include Hewlett-Packard, Fujitsu, Intel, Sharp and Toshiba. ®

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