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Editor's Note: Torvalds Clarifies OSDL Relationship

Feb 13, 2004, 23:00 (9 Talkback[s])

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Last week, the Open Source Development Lab issued a draft proposal on what characteristics it feels should be incorporated into the Linux kernel to help facilitate its use in data centers.

Obstensively, this kind of document has broader reaching capabilities than just Linux in the data center, since what's good for data center work is often good for general enterprise functionality, too.

At first glance, it's a good idea. Many has been the time that I have jumped up and called for some laundry lists of goals that Linux developers can shoot for, both in the kernel and in all the other surrounding applications. But something tickled the back of my brain when this announcement came out--an itch I really wanted to scratch.

Here's the itch: OSDL, the self-described center of gravity for Linux, also provides a salary to Linus Torvalds. Actually, since he's an OSDL Fellow, it may be more of a stipend than a salary, but the point is that money is flowing from OSDL to Linus so that he can work full-time on kernel development.

So, when the OSDL comes out with a draft proposal that says "here's what we would like to see in the kernel," those of us on the outside can be forgiven for raising an eyebrow or two. The itch I had was, does OSDL get more influence on kernel development because of its relationship with Torvalds?

This was an itch that I had heard others in the community, especially in the media, speculating about since Linus joined the OSDL.

So, rather than continuing to speculate, I decided to go straight to the source and ask Linus himself. First, I asked him what, if any, participation he might have had on the data center proposal.

"Hah. I wouldn't be found dead on a committee like that. Some people like that kind of work, but I'd just go crazy," he replied.

Linus then went on to explain how, in his view, OSDL functions.

"No, you should think of OSDL as two different kinds of entities (and first off, you should realize that I do not officially speak "for" OSDL in any form what-so-ever--I'm a developer, and that, and only that, is my job):

"A go-between and contact point for different companies. Neutral ground, in other words, for companies to try to figure out what their common needs are, and how to document them as a guide for developers. This is the side of OSDL that does things like the DCL drafts, but it also ends up doing a lot of "unofficial" networking between companies that all have slightly different needs and wishes. And that's the side that I'm not really affiliated with, although it's useful to me too: the documents end up being a somewhat more organized way of knowing what different people end up actually wanting.

"The other part is to actually help the developers. Part of this is literal development work (i.e., having people like me and Andrew Morton being paid to do what we do), part of it is the above kind of channeling of information aka "these are areas that our corporate people care about."

This separation of functions seems to work well for Linus in his new job. I asked him if he would ever plan to add his feedback to the DCL proposal, since it's now out there for comments.

"Right now I'm totally concentrating on just 2.6.x stabilization, and supporting Andrew in that," he answered. "The next stage will be when we actually open up the next development series, and then that's when I start looking up from bug reports and start looking at wish lists. Right now I don't want to be distracted at all.

"So what will happen is (for example) that at the next kernel summit in Ottawa (and other places like that) we'll have a big discussion about the DCL drafts, and most likely there will be somebody actually giving a talk about the draft (and others like it) and explaining the whys and whats," Linus explained.

My final question to him went something like this: "I guess I am trying to get a sense of the relationship you have as the chief kernel developer and as an active fellow of OSDL. I am presuming you have the ultimate authority on what will and will not go into the kernel and what won't. Will you accept or reject the OSDL's recommendations like any one else's?"

To which he replied, "I have the 'power' to accept or reject, but the thing is, these things really are useful as a way of pinpointing industry needs or worries. So it's not so much about me accepting or rejecting anything, it's all part of the feedback cycle that is open source, and these drafts are part of the way that corporations end up participating in development (the other part is having developers be active directly on the mailing lists etc, of course)."

Given this, it seems clear that any concern on my part about "overinfluence" was not something to be worried about. OSDL's proposals are going to to be taken in part along with everyone else's when the time comes to move on to Linux 2.7/2.8.

When I thanked Linus for his detailed reply, I brought up the mutterings I had heard of late regarding his relationship to OSDL. To which he replied,

"Hey, the muttering is inevitable. A number of people were really worried back when I moved from University of Helsinki to Transmeta. The only thing that really calms people down is having a history of nothing bad happening, and so far my move to OSDL is just too recent, so some people will invariably worry.

"My contract makes it very clear that I maintain control of the kernel, and that OSDL is paying me to do kernel maintenance, and are not paying me todo what they tell me to do. And this wasn't even on my request: the people at OSDL understood that on their own when I joined, so it wasn't like I had to try to convince them about anything.

"But telling people that won't matter, and it really shouldn't matter. The only thing that matters is actions, so people will just have to see how it works. The fact that you don't hear a lot of muttering is just because people have seen me work on Linux for over a decade, so most people literally end up not caring where I work at all, because they trust me personally. But with Linux being 'big business,' you'll always find some people who worry..."

Point taken. Itch scratched. On to other things!

[Program Note: Linux Today will be on extended weekend most through Monday, February 16, due to the celebration of the US President's Day holiday.]

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