February 23, 2019

.comment: The Price of the Bleeding

Deja Vu All Over Again

  • October 11, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

Anybody remember a little atrocity called glibc-2.0.7?

There never actually was such a thing, officially, but that didn't keep it from appearing in multiple incompatible forms on machines running Linux 18 months or so ago--especially on those running Red Hat Linux 5.x.

It mostly worked, to some extent, a little. Users had a high old time of it if they tried to set up StarOffice and get it to run reliably, because it had its own hack of glibc-2.0.7. The Star Division glibc-2.0.7 was not compatible with the Red Hat hack of glibc-2.0.7. The two could be made to coexist, but it was not easy and the result was not pretty.

A lot of distributions held off, waiting for glibc-2.1 before leaving behind the old, reliable but limited, libc5.

I mention this because it illustrates exactly the sort of thing that has caused Red Hat to catch so much hell lately. Hell that it either richly deserves or doesn't deserve at all, depending on what the company thinks it's doing. It's easy to wonder if it even knows what it thinks it's doing.

Release Early and Often

One of the hallmarks of Linux is the philosophy of shoveling code out the door the minute it does something or has the potential for oneday doing something. Indeed, the Linux kernel got its start in precisely this fashion. And open source development could scarcely take place if no one could get the code. There is more than one project that has begun with the release of merely an idea--no code at all.

And that's just fine. It's the way it should be. While the idea of releasing early and often, assigning actual version numbers to each release has been pre-empted in big projects by CVS and CVSUP, which offer code so fresh that in times of rapid development it's possible that no two people have the same "version" of the code, the underlying philosophy remains. This is a Good Thing.

Distributions got their start when it became useful to round up all the available code, burn it onto a CD, crank out some sort of documentation, and ship it. In the early days, when Linux was strictly a hacker's OS, this was just fine, too.

Linux isn't strictly a hacker's OS anymore. Distributions have offered themselves as suitable for business use. They have floated initial public stock offerings and hauled in enormous amounts of money. They encourage enterprises to rely on them.

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