Thursday, May 23, 2024

Why Does Linux Collaboration Work?

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At the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit on March 26, a panel of leading Linux kernel developers discussed the current state of Linux development and collaboration.

Linux kernel developer Jens Axboe, who works for Facebook, explained during the panel why Facebook hires open source developers to work on the Linux kernel. Axboe said that it is a matter of public record that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claims to have saved $1 billion by way of the open source Open Compute Project.

While the Open Compute Project is all about hardware, Axboe said that there are also significant saving that Facebook is able to realize by leveraging open source on the software side as well.


From a corporate perspective, there are many participants in the Linux kernel community that work for rival companies. Yet even though the different companies are competitors, things still get done and Linux kernel development is not driven by the objectives of any one individual company.

Linux kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman is currently employed as a fellow at the Linux Foundation, though he previously worked for years at Novell.

“I used to tell people that our engineering department is our competitor,” Kroah-Hartman said. “It’s that simple, we can’t do this alone and we have to rely on them.”

Kroah-Hartman added that the kernel engineers all know each other and all are working toward the same goal. In his view, any sort of fighting and company objectives can be left to the marketing people at the various companies.

“Competitors rely on each other to order to survive,” Kroah-Hartman said. “It’s a crazy ecosystem but it’s that simple.”

Axboe added that nature of development is that developers work on given features and those efforts can cross company boundaries and even job tenures.

“So you may not feel like an employee of company x, y or z when you go to a conference, you’re just the guy that works on serial drivers or something,” Axboe said.


One area that kernel developers need to deal with is getting input from users. Kroah-Hartman noted that in his experience people aren’t shy in letting him know when something is broken. He added that kernel developers are easy to find with very public email addresses.

Axboe stressed that user input is critical to developers.

“As kernel developers, we know nothing’s better than peoples’ input,” Axboe said.


From an organizational standpoint, Linux kernel development is a highly distributed process that has evolved organically. Linux kernel developer Matthew Garrett said that Linux is one of the largest collaborative projects in history and yet it has almost nothing in the way of formal structure.

“It’s a miracle it works as well as it does,” Garrett said. “The fact that sometimes we end up with bad interfaces that don’t work is unfortunate, but it’s rare.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Datamation and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

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