Next Linux 2.4 Kernel: some tips by Alan Cox LG #57

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Olinux: What is you main motivation working with Linux?

Alan Cox: I enjoy it. It also happens to make lots of other people happy which is even better.

Olinux: Are there any technology events that had a strong impact on your life in terms of change your mind, tear down old values, raise new ideas, new discoveries and announcements…

Alan Cox: Having seen Linux from its early days as a fun toy through to the latest figures on its usage the one thing I have learned is that predicting the future in computing is not very practical.

Olinux: How is your personal relation with Linux Torvalds? Did he ever invite you to join Transmeta? What do you think about Transmeta Crusoe chip?

Alan Cox: Actually I don’t know Linus that well. I guess its more of a working relationship than anything else. Transmeta people have tried to get me to work for them but I’m not keen to work on what is effectively proprietary software in their CPU core. Not letting people program the CPU to emulate anything they want really is locking out a lot of potential clever usage like building a virtualisable 80×86.

Olinux: How long have you been using Linux? When did you start with the kernel?

Alan Cox: I ordered my first 386 PC when 386BSD was announced and 0.12/3 had just appeared in the Linux world. 386BSD needed an FPU which I didnt have so I set off installing Linux (by then 0.95) from Ted’s boot/root floppies.

Olinux: What is you role inside

Alan Cox: It is just somewhere I load kernels. H Peter Anvin and other folk manage the setup.

Olinux: Can you describe how is organized? How the workflow is manage and the meeting and decisions making process?

Alan Cox: People send me stuff, I put it together and test it a lot, when I think a new 2.2 is ready I send it to Linus who then reviews the code to see if there are problems or changes he doesnt like. That sometimes catches bugs everyone else misses.

Olinux: Why do program a Linux kernel instead of a BSD kernel?

Alan Cox: Initially because it ran on my machine, nowdays the licensing also matters to me.

Olinux: Are there any news about kernel 2.4 release?

Alan Cox: Right now I’m working on 2.2 stuff and Red Hat Pinstripe beta work. I am not currently following 2.4 in detail. Its getting there – slowly but surely. It would be nice if it was finished by now but alas it isnt.

Olinux: What are the improvements in the kernel for the future? Give some ideas of the video, sound and other innovations on the kernel?

Alan Cox:I am actually not sure what we will see after 2.4. Certainly it will be very interesting with people like SGI working on Linux for huge NUMA machines.

Video and sound will both need work. Sound cards are getting more and more simplistic on the whole, while at the same time people want to expand up to very expensive high end music studio grade hardware while using linux. The big video challenge will be digital television.

Olinux: What was your role on the version 2.0 release?

Alan Cox: I took over Linux 2.0 maintainance later in the 2.0 cycle, before that I was working on the networking code and a lot of general bug fixing.

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Olinux: Why can’t Linux take the UNIX server’s place?

Alan Cox: I see no reason Linux won’t become the replacement for old unix OS’s on most hardware, certainly for non specialist applications and environments.

Olinux: What is your relationship with Red Hat? How important is Red Hat for that Linux World?

Alan Cox: Red Hat pay me to do whatever I like to improve the kernel and help with their support needs. I get a lot of good input through Red Hat because their support staff are very aware of the things the OS needs to provide that mass market users really need.

I think Red Hat is important to the Linux world as a major provider of the kind of corporate stability, training and support that Linux needs to make it in many markets. SuSE, Conectiva and others are just as important. In different ways Debian is probably even more important to the Linux World

Olinux: What are the future plans for the Building Number Three after Red Hat?

Alan Cox: Building Number Three is in the middle of ceasing to exist. Now that I work directly for Red Hat it really doesn’t do anything.

Olinux: In your opinion, what are the the best advantages in Open Source programing?

Alan Cox: The biggest advantage of all is it prevents you the end user from being screwed by a vendor. If you need a bug fix or a change then you can go to whomever you like. This also means you can provide support and services locally rather than having to pay a single US corporation for all your requirements.

Local support also means support in native languages and the ability for people to customise Linux to their cultural needs. That is incredibly important.

Olinux: What is the Linux future? What improvements are needed to be more used? How far did projects as Gnome or KDE go in terms of building friendly users interface?

Alan Cox: Gnome and KDE are the beginnings of the right things. They are at best level with windows, and IMHO windows isn’t good enough either. To create a really user friendly system it has to be usable by anyone, not just computer literate people. You shouldn’t need to know about computing to use computers. Thats why I think things like Linux in set top boxes and simple application servers is actually a very important market area. The PC desktop is too complex, too pricy and too time consuming to learn if all you want to do is send email, chat to friends and buy things on the internet.

Olinux: There are a lot of companies and manufactures as Lineo, Transmeta, IBM that are betting on linux success for embedded devices. What is Linux future for embedded systems?

Alan Cox: I think we will see Linux as a huge success in the large embedded devices. I don’t think it will ever be invading the really small embedded systems like car ignition and washing machines however. Linux is too big for such devices. Alan.

Copyright © 2000, Fernando Ribeiro Corrêa
Published in Issue 57 of Linux Gazette, September 2000