Editor’s Note: Torvalds Clarifies OSDL Relationship

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

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

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

“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

“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

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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