Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Liz McMillan, Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Stackify Blog

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Linus Torvalds Is "A Good Developer, But...A Terrible Engineer," Says Linux Kernel Maintainer Cox

"Linus Has This Bad Habit of Fixing Security Holes Quietly," Alan Cox Admits

"Linus has this bad habit of fixing security holes quietly," admitted kernel maintainer Alan Cox during a talk given in Brussels last week during this year's FOSDEM (Free & Open Source Software Developer's European Meeting).

FOSDEM, which was first organized in 2001, is considered a must-attend event by Linux cognoscenti in Europe. Many of LinuxWorld.com's writers over the years either attend or speak.

Alan Cox, a fellow at Red Hat and an early developer and maintainer of the Linux networking code who since coauthoring the original Linux SMP has at various times maintained various official and branch kernel releases, was giving a talk on the challenges of maintaining a stable kernel branch.

In advance of his talk, Cox had said "FOSDEM seems to have a reputation for being a real developer conference so it should be a lot of fun." (He added "I hope the beer is good.")

In the talk itself, he discussed how - though there is no highly critical remote hole right now, we improve the way the security fixes are made to the Linux kernel. There is, for example, no official security maintainer for the base kernel, to handle all the security advisories and bugfixes - areas which are not, Cox admitted, Linus Torvalds' strong suit.

"Linus is a good developer, but is a terrible engineer," he noted, adding that he was sure Torvalds himself would agree with the observation.

Cox went on to reveal that Torvalds "has this bad habit of fixing security holes quietly" - which is not a good idea, in Cox's view.

As a Red Hat fellow Alan Cox is in an enviable position, since he says his employer imposes no contraints:

"Red Hat primarily pays me to work on the kernel. I'm mostly trusted to use my own judgement on what that means, and guided by the hot issues customers see. There are things I get through Red Hat, such as vendor pre-production systems and documents that are restricted but nobody in Red Hat demands I run Red Hat products for example. Except for the little boxes (running Debian) I do run Red Hat Fedora but that's by choice."

Clearly Linux's strength is that it is a building to which many different people have brought a stone. There has been a great improvement between the 2.4 and 2.6 kernel versions, and a lot of developers have been hacking since the first release of the 2.6 kernel.

Alastair Mayer, a software developer and UNIX systems administrator, has described Linus Torvalds' role ver succinctly:

"Linus isn't running the show. He's not paying anybody, he can't fire anybody, he can't make anybody drop one project or idea to work on another. He can direct some developers to do something and they can tell him to take a hike, or they can do it because they think it's a good idea.

More often, though, there are just many ideas (patches, development threads, what have you) to choose from and Linus "rules" by choosing which goes into his kernel. The cathedral is about direction. That isn't what Linus does - he just selects what is best from what the bazaar has produced."

So being a "terrible engineer" isn't quite the handicap it might seem. Besides, Cox and he have been working together for a very long time, and each complements the other and together they make the whole of the Linux kernel better. As one developer recently remarked: "Linus's sense of who's a good dev and who fits into his team well is uncanny."

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

Comments (7) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
LKML 03/02/05 02:54:37 PM EST

Coincidentally Linus Torvalds has just announced the availability of the newest Linux kernel release, 2.6.11, and he says (http://lkml.org/lkml/2005/3/2/22) the 2.6 kernel is now offially bug-free!!

Good Devs Stick Together 03/02/05 09:06:39 AM EST

[from the article] "Linus's sense of who's a good dev and who fits into his team well is uncanny."

hehe, sounds like Linus and Alan Cox are married, bickering and disagreeing like Darby & Joan

Linus-Genius T. 03/02/05 08:41:40 AM EST

++ Those MacArthur Foundation genius-grants are more the thing, cool bucks beat British titles anyday!++

Didn't he already get one of those though - a MacArthur Foundation fellowship and a $240,000 genius grant in 1990, if memory serves?

InfoPoint 03/02/05 08:13:48 AM EST

### I notice that you have another story here at the sys-con.com homepage about how Bill Gates will be kneeling at Buckingham Palace toay as Queen Elizabeth II taps him on the shoulder with a sword. How long can it be before Linus too becomes an honorary Knight? "Sir Linus" has a kinda nice ring to it. ###

Ah but honorary knights mustn't call themselves "Sir," alas, so it would be plain old "Linus" still anyway. Those MacArthur Foundation genius-grants are more the thing, cool bucks beat British titles anyday!

an00n 03/02/05 07:52:07 AM EST

}}} explain to this newbie the precise difference then between a "developer" and an "engineer{{{

Engineers don't like hacks and they do like maintability. Developers like to hack stuff together to get it to run.

Go Linux 03/02/05 06:52:10 AM EST

I notice that you have another story here at the sys-con.com homepage about how Bill Gates will be kneeling at Buckingham Palace toay as Queen Elizabeth II taps him on the shoulder with a sword. How long can it be before Linus too becomes an honorary Knight? "Sir Linus" has a kinda nice ring to it.

Uh? 03/02/05 04:46:36 AM EST

Can someone explain to this newbie the precise difference then between a "developer" and an "engineer" - also the cathedral/bazaar reference, that is to the Eric Raymond book right?

Sorry to be so dim but one has to start somewhere and this story on Linus T caught my eye on Google.

@ThingsExpo Stories
We are seeing a major migration of enterprises applications to the cloud. As cloud and business use of real time applications accelerate, legacy networks are no longer able to architecturally support cloud adoption and deliver the performance and security required by highly distributed enterprises. These outdated solutions have become more costly and complicated to implement, install, manage, and maintain.SD-WAN offers unlimited capabilities for accessing the benefits of the cloud and Internet. ...
Headquartered in Plainsboro, NJ, Synametrics Technologies has provided IT professionals and computer systems developers since 1997. Based on the success of their initial product offerings (WinSQL and DeltaCopy), the company continues to create and hone innovative products that help its customers get more from their computer applications, databases and infrastructure. To date, over one million users around the world have chosen Synametrics solutions to help power their accelerated business or per...
Dion Hinchcliffe is an internationally recognized digital expert, bestselling book author, frequent keynote speaker, analyst, futurist, and transformation expert based in Washington, DC. He is currently Chief Strategy Officer at the industry-leading digital strategy and online community solutions firm, 7Summits.
In an era of historic innovation fueled by unprecedented access to data and technology, the low cost and risk of entering new markets has leveled the playing field for business. Today, any ambitious innovator can easily introduce a new application or product that can reinvent business models and transform the client experience. In their Day 2 Keynote at 19th Cloud Expo, Mercer Rowe, IBM Vice President of Strategic Alliances, and Raejeanne Skillern, Intel Vice President of Data Center Group and ...
Founded in 2000, Chetu Inc. is a global provider of customized software development solutions and IT staff augmentation services for software technology providers. By providing clients with unparalleled niche technology expertise and industry experience, Chetu has become the premiere long-term, back-end software development partner for start-ups, SMBs, and Fortune 500 companies. Chetu is headquartered in Plantation, Florida, with thirteen offices throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Bill Schmarzo, author of "Big Data: Understanding How Data Powers Big Business" and "Big Data MBA: Driving Business Strategies with Data Science," is responsible for setting the strategy and defining the Big Data service offerings and capabilities for EMC Global Services Big Data Practice. As the CTO for the Big Data Practice, he is responsible for working with organizations to help them identify where and how to start their big data journeys. He's written several white papers, is an avid blogge...
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smart...
Bill Schmarzo, author of "Big Data: Understanding How Data Powers Big Business" and "Big Data MBA: Driving Business Strategies with Data Science," is responsible for setting the strategy and defining the Big Data service offerings and capabilities for EMC Global Services Big Data Practice. As the CTO for the Big Data Practice, he is responsible for working with organizations to help them identify where and how to start their big data journeys. He's written several white papers, is an avid blogge...
Charles Araujo is an industry analyst, internationally recognized authority on the Digital Enterprise and author of The Quantum Age of IT: Why Everything You Know About IT is About to Change. As Principal Analyst with Intellyx, he writes, speaks and advises organizations on how to navigate through this time of disruption. He is also the founder of The Institute for Digital Transformation and a sought after keynote speaker. He has been a regular contributor to both InformationWeek and CIO Insight...
"IBM is really all in on blockchain. We take a look at sort of the history of blockchain ledger technologies. It started out with bitcoin, Ethereum, and IBM evaluated these particular blockchain technologies and found they were anonymous and permissionless and that many companies were looking for permissioned blockchain," stated René Bostic, Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Conventi...
Michael Maximilien, better known as max or Dr. Max, is a computer scientist with IBM. At IBM Research Triangle Park, he was a principal engineer for the worldwide industry point-of-sale standard: JavaPOS. At IBM Research, some highlights include pioneering research on semantic Web services, mashups, and cloud computing, and platform-as-a-service. He joined the IBM Cloud Labs in 2014 and works closely with Pivotal Inc., to help make the Cloud Found the best PaaS.
As data explodes in quantity, importance and from new sources, the need for managing and protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and cloud environments grow with it. Managing data includes protecting it, indexing and classifying it for true, long-term management, compliance and E-Discovery. Commvault can ensure this with a single pane of glass solution – whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enter...
Cloud-enabled transformation has evolved from cost saving measure to business innovation strategy -- one that combines the cloud with cognitive capabilities to drive market disruption. Learn how you can achieve the insight and agility you need to gain a competitive advantage. Industry-acclaimed CTO and cloud expert, Shankar Kalyana presents. Only the most exceptional IBMers are appointed with the rare distinction of IBM Fellow, the highest technical honor in the company. Shankar has also receive...
"We view the cloud not as a specific technology but as a way of doing business and that way of doing business is transforming the way software, infrastructure and services are being delivered to business," explained Matthew Rosen, CEO and Director at Fusion, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com), held June 7-9 at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
The Founder of NostaLab and a member of the Google Health Advisory Board, John is a unique combination of strategic thinker, marketer and entrepreneur. His career was built on the "science of advertising" combining strategy, creativity and marketing for industry-leading results. Combined with his ability to communicate complicated scientific concepts in a way that consumers and scientists alike can appreciate, John is a sought-after speaker for conferences on the forefront of healthcare science,...
WebRTC is great technology to build your own communication tools. It will be even more exciting experience it with advanced devices, such as a 360 Camera, 360 microphone, and a depth sensor camera. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Masashi Ganeko, a manager at INFOCOM Corporation, introduced two experimental projects from his team and what they learned from them. "Shotoku Tamago" uses the robot audition software HARK to track speakers in 360 video of a remote party. "Virtual Teleport" uses a multip...
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, discussed the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
In his session at Cloud Expo, Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, presented a success story of an entrepreneur who has both suffered through and benefited from offshore development across multiple businesses: The smart choice, or how to select the right offshore development partner Warning signs, or how to minimize chances of making the wrong choice Collaboration, or how to establish the most effective work processes Budget control, or how to maximize project result...
"Akvelon is a software development company and we also provide consultancy services to folks who are looking to scale or accelerate their engineering roadmaps," explained Jeremiah Mothersell, Marketing Manager at Akvelon, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
IoT is rapidly becoming mainstream as more and more investments are made into the platforms and technology. As this movement continues to expand and gain momentum it creates a massive wall of noise that can be difficult to sift through. Unfortunately, this inevitably makes IoT less approachable for people to get started with and can hamper efforts to integrate this key technology into your own portfolio. There are so many connected products already in place today with many hundreds more on the h...