1 February 2002 Linus Torvalds, creator of the popular Linux open source operating system, has been criticised in the open source community for his slow implementation of patches and bug fixes.
The claim follows a call for a “patch penguin”, made by Linux developer Rob Landley, to manage the integration of bug fixes into the Linux kernel, particularly for the current kernel 2.5, which is plagued by a number of glitches.
“Patches from maintainers are getting dropped on the floor on a regular basis. This is burning out maintainers and is increasing the number of different kernel trees – not yet a major fork, but a lot of cracks and fragmentation are showing under the stress. Linus needs an integration lieutenant, and he needs one now,” says Landley in a Usenet posting.
Landley’s plea has sparked a lively debate in the open source development community and highlights some of the problems of managing increasingly complex open source software development.
It also reflects increasing criticism of Torvalds management of the kernel development – the heart of the Linux operating system. “Linux is not outgrowing Linus’ capabilities as an architect, but right now it is outgrowing his capabilities as a manager,” open source guru Eric Raymond told Cnet.
Landley says that the way that Torvalds handles the large number of patches and bug fixes sent to him is to ignore them. Developers do not know that their code has been canned until they find that it has been left out of the next update. Then, they need to re-write it to take account of the changes or drop out of the open source process, he adds.
However, Torvalds has rejected the claims. He said that “patch penguins” already exist in the form of “subsystem maintainers”, people who handle development of major areas of development such as networking and universal serial bus (USB) interfacing.
He said that some of the annoyance generated results from his refusal to apply patches that have not been properly submitted and which he is therefore suspicious about. “Don’t try to come up with a ‘patch penguin’. Instead try to help existing maintainers, or maybe help grow new ones. That is the way to scalability,” concludes Torvalds.
But problems in the development of Linux are becoming increasingly apparent, as reflected in the delay in releasing kernel 2.4. Furthermore, the major Linux operating system vendors are increasingly applying their own patches because of known problems in the kernel which Torvalds has not had time to patch.