The Open Source Contributions of Six Blind Men and an Elephant

by Ostatic Staff - Sep. 23, 2008

The Linux Plumbers Conference may have ended last Friday, but the discussions -- and one discussion in particular -- will be analyzed, deconstructed, and argued for quite a bit longer.

Greg Kroah-Hartman's assertion is that Canonical doesn't contribute significantly to kernel development and the packages that make up the core of a Linux system. Canonical CTO Matt Zimmerman responded to this assertion. It seems at that point, much of the community, developers and users alike, took to examining their particular parts of the open source elephant.

Herein lies the problem.

Kroah-Hartman works on the kernel, the "Linux ecosystem." He was delivering an address at a conference geared to a particular audience -- people who work on the core of the Linux system. In this light, his arguments appear completely valid. He couldn't rightly comment on other areas of development, as they weren't in the scope of his experience, or the conference's focus. This is also well within reason.

Hackles were raised and legitimate points were perhaps initially missed due to the extreme focus on Canonical, at least during the slideshow part of the presentation (video and audio of the latter half of the keynote will be posted online as it becomes available, so it isn't possible to comment on the entire keynote). And if initially taken aback, Canonical's Zimmerman feels it was, in many ways, a productive experience.

The Linux community fights an uphill battle every day. It feels that much of that time, the community is fighting with itself. The elephant is like a rope. The elephant is like a wall. Linux is the kernel. Linux is the supporting applications.

To steal the words from the wise man in the elephant parable: "All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched a different part of the elephant."

If Kroah-Hartman's keynote was heavy-handed, and if Zimmerman's response was defensive is a moot point, now. Kroah-Hartman is clearly aware there is more to the Linux environment than the kernel, and Zimmerman is willing to look a bit closer at the core development contributions Canonical can offer.

Constructive criticism is difficult. It is difficult to deliver, and it is even harder to accept. We may not all contribute equally to the same aspects of a project, but there are no contributions without value. A kernel without applications to run, and an application without a kernel behind it is as pointless as declaring an elephant's tail a rope.