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diff -u: What's New in Kernel Development

Pavel Machek has discovered a very serious bug in the 2.4 kernel. On January 1 of the year 9223372034708485227, all 2.4 systems will stop processing commands. Although some pundits may claim that there is no need to worry about events that will occur nine quintillion years from now, this is precisely the attitude that led to the Y2K bug and the ioctl interface. We as concerned Linuxians must take on these responsibilities that the commercial world shirks. If we fix this problem now, it could very well be a one-line kernel patch; if we wait nine quintillion years, who knows how many computers will be running with this patch throughout the vast reaches of the galaxy? Moreover, our descendants will probably be tightly integrated with their computer systems. On January 1, '27, they will all suddenly stop processing commands, sitting dull and lifeless until the end, unless we act now! Marcelo, please don't drop this patch! The future of all life may well depend on you!

Andries Brouwer, who has maintained the kernel man pages for more than ten years, along with the man program itself, util-linux and kbd, has had enough. Although these venerable and important projects must continue, Andries would like to move on to other things and recently requested that someone step up to replace him. Michael Kerrisk has taken over man pages, but the other tools remain up in the air. Until suitable replacements are found, he will undoubtedly continue to issue releases of the software, but folks who are interested in taking over those projects should do a Web search to see if they are still available, and contact him if they are.

Ed Schouten has taken the first step toward porting Linux to the Xbox, creating a configuration option for it. While a Linux port to the Xbox is hungrily desired by Xbox users, some developers have expressed skepticism that any Xbox patches should be accepted. The reason? No Linux port can run on that system unless the user opens up the box and makes alterations to the hardware. There are actually several perspectives on this. David Weinehall, the Linux kernel 2.0 series maintainer, sees the Xbox as an embedded system and supports patches that help Linux be a better embedded OS. To embedded developers, the requirement that you have to hack the hardware in order to run Linux on a given system is really merely a side issue. Xbox folks, on the other hand, see the official kernel sources as the best place for Xbox support, because distributions like Debian so far have been reluctant to add support unless the official kernel tree does. Meanwhile, hard-core kernel hackers who feel that Linux should run on all available hardware, consider the Xbox to be just another system to port to, and therefore a very desirable target. Linus Torvalds already rejected an Xbox patch a year ago, but he has been known to change his mind. And although there are some Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) issues surrounding the Xbox, the developers of the Linux port have looked into the law and believe that everything they are doing conforms with the requirements of the DMCA.

There's a fine line between innovation and blunder. Some developers feel Linus Torvalds has made some errors in judgment regarding recent kernel numbering schemes. After the 2.6.8 release, a horrible bug was found that necessitated an immediate fix. This was not the error in judgment, but a normal part of software development, which typically would have been followed by a bug-fix release and getting on with development. But instead of releasing 2.6.9 right away with the fix, Linus put out a 2.6.8.1 release. This addition of a fourth version number is unheard of in kernel development and broke a lot of tools that relied on the previous numbering scheme. Then later, when 2.6.9 was about to come out, one of the kernel releases was called 2.6.9-final. The final was unusual and apparently meant that this version was indeed the official 2.6.9 kernel.

But, lo and behold, three days later another release, this one actually called 2.6.9, came out. So what did the final mean in 2.6.9-final? This again broke many scripts and prompted Russell King to remark in disgust, “I, for one, no longer believe in any naming scheme associated with mainline.” Matt Mackall was the first to voice a loud objection to the way Linus has been handling version numbers in recent kernels, but his voice was quickly joined by Cliff White, who spoke on behalf of the entire Open Source Development Labs group, the very group that employs Linus to do kernel work. Russell, Geert Uytterhoeven, Christoph Hellwig and Martin J. Bligh, all longtime Linux developers, also spoke out against the numbering anomalies.

First Look: Novell Linux Desktop

When Novell first bought GNOME development shop Ximian and then the KDE-centric SuSE, we all got curious about what kind of Linux product would result from this strange breeding experiment. The answer is Novell Desktop Linux, which combines SuSE's strong hardware detection and configuration with a clean desktop toolset based on Ximian Evolution, OpenOffice.org and Mozilla Firefox.

Both KDE and GNOME are available, but either way you get a set of best-of-breed tools, not a doctrinaire load of all one or the other. Under GNOME, for example, KDE's K3b is the default CD burner.

With distributions converging on the same set of applications, one area where there's still competitive advantage is in hardware support and configuration tools. SuSE Professional has been the champion here for several releases, and NDS inherits its abilities. We set up a Wacom Graphire tablet and a dual-headed display with just point and click.

Unlike the full SuSE, no digital camera software seems to be installed, and none is available from the on-line update system—make that systems. NDS provides both SuSE's YaST and Ximian's Red Carpet. Both are installed, and both provide the ability to add and remove software. This is unduly confusing for administrators coming over from other platforms. “Install both and let the user decide” is Linux vendor-speak for what the real world calls “Make sure every administrator sets it up a little different so every time you have a personnel change you end up breaking something.”

Fans of our contributing editor Robert Love will be happy to see his new netapplet installed by default. Just click and drag to switch from wired to wireless networking or select among wireless access points. Now you'll be able to bring up wireless networking without embarrassment, even if there's a Mac OS X user watching.

There are two schools of thought on supporting legacy Microsoft Windows applications on a Linux desktop: either install a Windows emulation environment such as CodeWeavers' CrossOver Office on each Linux box that needs it, or move the Windows applications to a system running a remote desktop such as Citrix ICA and put only a remote desktop client on the Linux boxes.

NDS is ready to handle the remote desktop out of the box, with gnomepro.com's Terminal Server Client installed by default. It supports RDP, VNC and ICA. If the number of IBM 3270 terminal applications now running in 3270 emulators is any guide, many customers will choose to keep Windows applications around for a long time. Because it's unlikely that there will be emulator support for all the industry-specific apps out there, this feature is key for business Linux projects.

One piece of functionality we didn't get to put through a test is the Novell iFolder Linux Client, which synchronizes user data files with a server. It's certainly easiest to administer desktop systems when user data is on the file server and every hard drive outside the server room is disposable. In a laptop-centric company, that old-school approach doesn't work, but we have high hopes for iFolder as the answer to keeping a safe copy of laptop users' data.

Besides Macromedia'a Flash plugin, Adobe's Acrobat Reader and RealNetworks' RealPlayer are installed, along with Totem and Rhythmbox as free media players.

Novell Linux Desktop combines the look of a clean, professional desktop with one of the most adaptable underlying Linux distributions. Although there's still some simplifying and refactoring to do in the software deployment area, the desktop is ready for regular users and a good candidate for your next Linux desktop pilot project.

Ten Years Ago in LJ: February 1995

Matt Welsh covered a two-process technique for writing GUI applications in a combination of Tcl/Tk and C. He forks off an instance of the wish shell from his C program, then has his C program write Tcl/Tk commands down a pipe and get strings back as text.

We listed the phone numbers of seven BBSs, running at 14.4kbps, that offered access to download Linux-related files. We also covered the first two Linux vendors to exhibit at the Comdex tradeshow in Las Vegas: Yggdrasil Computing, Inc., and Morse Telecommunication.

Yggdrasil Computing's booth at the 1994 Comdex show in Las Vegas. Left to right: Adam Richter, Dan Quinlan, Corrine Butleau. Photo: Belinda Frazier.

In the issue's only all-German ad, S.u.S.E. Linux, advertised a German-language Doppel-CD-ROM distribution that included an ahead-of-its-time “Live” CD and a 200-page Handbuch on installation and configuration.

They Said It

Q. Why did you choose the Linux operating system?

A. The Linux system provides a flexible environment where we can add features and options as we learn what customers like and don't like about the product. It allows us to offer a much more sophisticated graphical user interface, and provides support for networking and PC peripheral connectivity.

My design style was open to things that might not work....Sometimes to really achieve something that's great and a step forward, you have to take these risks, not even knowing if it's going to work. You can't be that smart about everything. And if [you'd] done it before, you just have to be smart enough to put the atoms together and build the molecules.

—Steve Wozniac, Speaking at Gnomedex 2004

First off, I'd suggest buying Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, and NOT read it. Burn it, it's a great symbolic gesture.

—Linus Torvalds, on Linux Kernel Management Style, lwn.net/Articles/105375

When you think about it, it makes sense. Linux and open source products are cheaper, more robust and more secure. Having Microsoft tell us that their products have lower TCO is like them telling us that the Earth is flat. Right-thinking CIOs know that Linux and open source software result in lower costs and are not likely to be hoodwinked by verbal sleight-of-hand or spurious, vendor-manipulated TCO studies.

—Del Elson, Open Source in Australia, CXO Today, www.cxotoday.com

On the Web

Looking for more from your favorite LJ authors? Many of them also write columns for our Web site. Visit our site and select RSS Links to read their new columns as soon as they are posted.

  • Ever wonder why, in these modern capitalist times, so much of your identity is determined by the cards you carry in your wallet—cards issued by everyone but you? In “What's Your i-Name?” (www.linuxjournal.com/article/7888), Senior Editor Doc Searls introduces some of the first players in the grass-roots identity movement. Find out what your future technological identity might look like—better yet, get involved in determining it yourself.

  • Our audio expert, Dave Phillips, has been writing a Linux MIDI series for the Web site, and his brief survey is no longer so brief. Linux audio software and hardware has been making huge strides in the past year or so, and Dave wants to let you know about everything now available for your music-making needs. He kicked off the series by outlining the history of MIDI technology, in “Linux MIDI: a Brief Survey, Part 1” (www.linuxjournal.com/article/7773). “Part 2” (www.linuxjournal.com/article/7912) is a guide to various Linux MIDI sequencers and “Part 3” (www.linuxjournal.com/article/7918) looks at some helpful MIDI utilities.

  • Back in the August 2003 issue, Faye Coker wrote an introductory article to Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux). Now that SELinux is the default configuration for Fedora Core 3, Faye is back with a Web column on various features and functions of SELinux. Her first article explains “What's New in Fedora Core 3 SELinux” (www.linuxjournal.com/article/7887), and she covers strict vs. targeted policies, changes to the SELinux base directory and some future plans.

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