The Gentoo Phenomenon

By eweek  |  Posted 2006-01-29 Email Print this article Print

Is that right? I have Gentoo running on my laptop right now. OK, so you know the phenomenon—the phenomena is, the amount of change that you are sustaining on a Gentoo system is orders of magnitude larger than the amount of change that a typical proprietary operating system from anybody—Solaris, HP-UX, mainframes, whatever—[would go through].
Whatever operating system, the rate of patches coming out of the vendor is much lower than what you enjoy on, you know, my Gentoo laptop or your Gentoo machine.
And then I started looking, kind of watching this, obviously, from a technology management perspective. … If you can sustain change faster than somebody else, youre going to survive, and the person who cant sustain the change is not going to evolve, and theyre going to die off. This is almost more important a realization than the direct cost savings, which is still phenomenal. And so, I started looking at our own code base, and kind of, reflectively, going, "OK, how much change are we sustaining on our own code base?" I kind of indirectly compared that to, say, or some of the projects, and its much, much lower. And this is kind of scary. So what is the secret sauce of this sustainable change rate? Because, the Linux kernel is fairly stable, right? E-Trade is fairly stable, and we have the data to prove that, but how can they sustain a higher rate of change than me? Are they smarter? Are the open-source developers smarter? And I kind of sat on some open-source projects, and fixed some bugs and things like that.
You find out that [developers on these projects] are really smart people, but E-Trade has really smart people—thats not the answer. But the methodology is different, and thats the secret sauce, in my mind. The methodology for developing open-source code is completely different. I could point you at a Wall Street Journal article [at that time in which] Microsoft described a couple thousand developers checking in source code, and it takes a week to build, which is kind of a high-level review of that article. And this is a pretty common process you find in a lot of corporations. There is no open-source project structured like that. All the open-source projects are structured where there are a limited number of committers. You know Apache got its name because, during the early days of Apache, you couldnt even submit a bug unless youd submitted a patch—thus, Apache. And so, through their patch-centric restricted committer access to source code … the aggregate rate of change to that source base goes dramatically higher, through that process. Next Page: Challenges.


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