Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Zakia Bouachraoui, Liz McMillan, Jason Bloomberg, Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White

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.

IoT & Smart Cities Stories
The challenges of aggregating data from consumer-oriented devices, such as wearable technologies and smart thermostats, are fairly well-understood. However, there are a new set of challenges for IoT devices that generate megabytes or gigabytes of data per second. Certainly, the infrastructure will have to change, as those volumes of data will likely overwhelm the available bandwidth for aggregating the data into a central repository. Ochandarena discusses a whole new way to think about your next...
CloudEXPO | DevOpsSUMMIT | DXWorldEXPO are the world's most influential, independent events where Cloud Computing was coined and where technology buyers and vendors meet to experience and discuss the big picture of Digital Transformation and all of the strategies, tactics, and tools they need to realize their goals. Sponsors of DXWorldEXPO | CloudEXPO benefit from unmatched branding, profile building and lead generation opportunities.
All in Mobile is a place where we continually maximize their impact by fostering understanding, empathy, insights, creativity and joy. They believe that a truly useful and desirable mobile app doesn't need the brightest idea or the most advanced technology. A great product begins with understanding people. It's easy to think that customers will love your app, but can you justify it? They make sure your final app is something that users truly want and need. The only way to do this is by ...
Digital Transformation and Disruption, Amazon Style - What You Can Learn. Chris Kocher is a co-founder of Grey Heron, a management and strategic marketing consulting firm. He has 25+ years in both strategic and hands-on operating experience helping executives and investors build revenues and shareholder value. He has consulted with over 130 companies on innovating with new business models, product strategies and monetization. Chris has held management positions at HP and Symantec in addition to ...
DXWorldEXPO LLC announced today that Big Data Federation to Exhibit at the 22nd International CloudEXPO, colocated with DevOpsSUMMIT and DXWorldEXPO, November 12-13, 2018 in New York City. Big Data Federation, Inc. develops and applies artificial intelligence to predict financial and economic events that matter. The company uncovers patterns and precise drivers of performance and outcomes with the aid of machine-learning algorithms, big data, and fundamental analysis. Their products are deployed...
Dynatrace is an application performance management software company with products for the information technology departments and digital business owners of medium and large businesses. Building the Future of Monitoring with Artificial Intelligence. Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more busine...
Cell networks have the advantage of long-range communications, reaching an estimated 90% of the world. But cell networks such as 2G, 3G and LTE consume lots of power and were designed for connecting people. They are not optimized for low- or battery-powered devices or for IoT applications with infrequently transmitted data. Cell IoT modules that support narrow-band IoT and 4G cell networks will enable cell connectivity, device management, and app enablement for low-power wide-area network IoT. B...
The hierarchical architecture that distributes "compute" within the network specially at the edge can enable new services by harnessing emerging technologies. But Edge-Compute comes at increased cost that needs to be managed and potentially augmented by creative architecture solutions as there will always a catching-up with the capacity demands. Processing power in smartphones has enhanced YoY and there is increasingly spare compute capacity that can be potentially pooled. Uber has successfully ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CrowdReviews.com has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 22nd International Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 5–7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. CrowdReviews.com is a transparent online platform for determining which products and services are the best based on the opinion of the crowd. The crowd consists of Internet users that have experienced products and services first-hand and have an interest in letting other potential buye...
When talking IoT we often focus on the devices, the sensors, the hardware itself. The new smart appliances, the new smart or self-driving cars (which are amalgamations of many ‘things'). When we are looking at the world of IoT, we should take a step back, look at the big picture. What value are these devices providing. IoT is not about the devices, its about the data consumed and generated. The devices are tools, mechanisms, conduits. This paper discusses the considerations when dealing with the...