Open-Source Leaders Accept New Challenges

Torvalds, Morton, Behlendorf and Kapor call for "well-defined standards and interfaces," including on the desktop front, as they discuss common challenges at the OSDL Enterprise Summit.

BURLINGAME, Calif.—A slate of Linux and open-source software luminaries took to the stage Tuesday here at the OSDL (Open Source Development Labs) Enterprise Summit, as they discussed how their interests and concerns have expanded along with the capabilities of open source.

The keynote address, titled "An open conversation with Linux and open-source software notables," was more of a question-and-answer session to find out what the panelists are working on and what their views are about issues facing the industry.

The several hundred attendees heard from Linux kernel creator Linus Torvalds; Linux 2.6 kernel maintainer Andrew Morton; Brian Behlendorf, chief technology officer at CollabNet and one of the founders of the Apache Foundation; and Mitch Kapor of the Open Source Applications Foundation.

"I try to manage the kernel from a technical point of view and, sadly, I dont do much technical coding work anymore. I have become a manager," Torvalds said when asked by the moderator, OSDL CEO Stuart Cohen, what his job involves.

Torvalds said what he does is "read e-mail" and that he does not talk to customers much as that is not what he enjoys doing.

Morton said the development model around Linux has been changed so that patches and changes are made to the current 2.6 kernel, and so no 2.7 development kernel had been released as yet. He added that he and Torvalds are maintaining and updating the 2.6 kernel at a rapid rate.

Behlendorf said he is spending a lot of time talking to companies about their software problems and how software is written. "There is a disaster out there, and most software projects fail," he said.

Kapor said he is focusing on developing Chandler, a new open-source personal information manager, which will move from pre-alpha to alpha this year and will see the code get into peoples hands.

/zimages/3/28571.gifRead more here about Chandler and other projects Kapor is working on.

"I am also working on a new standard for calendaring known as CalDAV, along with a number of large companies like Oracle [Corp.] and others who are still under the covers at this point," Kapor said.

"It will be a well-constructed, widely adopted standard for calendaring. Implementations of this will be offered this year, both open source and proprietary, which will give an alternative to the proprietary solutions," he said.

Asked what makes open-source software development successful, Torvalds said one of Linuxs strengths is that all of these projects are going on simultaneously, some of which split into two, others that go away and still others that continue.

"There are competing and often symbiotic relationships between the various projects, which is a big positive. The decoupled nature of these is also vital to their success," he said.

Morton said the decoupled nature of the kernel is essentially behind its success, where specific subsections are controlled by specific people. "On the Linux project, there are some 50 people who head subsystems and have people working with them on this," he said.

"What is needed are well-defined standards and interfaces. Also, the distributors could take up the whip on the desktop front and start being more proactive and cracking the whip on that front," he said.

Kapor said the most successful software projects control the flow of people into the project. At Mozilla, there is still a lot of flow around this, he said. Regarding Firefox, a decision was made to allow only a core group to make it happen and, looking back, that might have been too closed a process, he said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here for an interiew with Mozilla president Mitchell Baker on Firefox and more.

It is also important to have people with the right interpersonal skills, Kapor said, adding that sound judgment "is not all that common."

"People that have it in open source can assume a lot of responsibility," he said. Many open-source projects are too small to take on a more modular, decoupled nature, and this makes their success more challenging, he said.

Asked what the future holds for Linux in the next five years, Torvalds described himself as the "anti-visionary." He said the process has people "looking away from the ground in front of them to the beautiful utopia ahead, and that is when we stumble and miss the technical and other issues right before our eyes."

Kapor said the dynamics that have fueled open-source software will be spreading to other areas, and that the outlines of this would be far clearer within the next five years. The open-source dynamic of decentralized cooperation on modularized technology will continue to become more widespread, he said.

From his perspective, Behlendorf said that while open source has many users, a lot of that does not come back in terms of development effort from those users on Linux and other open-source software.

"Some of that is cultural, and we need to let people know elsewhere in the world that its fine for them to contribute and they are welcome. Users need to be more willing to take risks and experiment and roll the dice. We also need you to try and assign strategic values to the fact that you can do what you want with open code and a lot of freedom, which is hard to represent on a balance sheet," he told attendees.

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