The Future of Linux
14 July 1998
Prepared Question #1
Is Linux superior, comparable, or inferior to commercial operating
[or something like that]
- Jeremy Allison (Samba): I think he was one of the panelists who
made the comment that ``Linux is a commercial OS''; his answer
amounted to choice #1:
- Linux is very standards-compliant (e.g., Posix); a good approach
is to develop first on Linux, then port to proprietary Unixen.
For example, Samba has three separate pieces of code to deal
with some aspect of file-system stuff; Linux supports all three
interfaces, so they just choose the one that runs the fastest.
- He did give a wishlist of improvements he'd like to see, though:
64-bit file-system support (``for those 20 GB Exchange
databases''); access control list (ACL) support; asynchronous I/O
support; NFS file-locking and improved performance
[amen to that]; and a
thread model like Solaris has.
- He commented that Linux has current support for more
platforms than any other OS: x86, SPARC, Alpha, PowerPC, 68k, etc.
[David Seifert brought up NetBSD's list of ports. Presumably Jeremy felt that the repetition of six
(seven?) 68k-based ports only counts as one; but, of course,
that's arguable, and obviously I don't speak for him.]
- Bugs are fixed the fastest, especially security fixes.
- There's been a Linux ``iBCS'' module to support SCO Unix binaries
for a couple of years; at this year's Usenix, SCO announced
(and/or demoed) a module to run Linux apps.
- Larry Augustin (VA Research): His answer was ``yes'':
- Linux is not (yet) as far along as Solaris in supporting 64-way
symmetric multi-processing (SMP). [I
thought that the SPARC-based Fujitsu AP1000+ on
which David S. Miller reported success last year was a big SMP box,
but as Jason Riedy pointed
out, it's a distributed-memory multi-computer similar to the
Connection Machine CM5.]
- In his slides of user ratings
(Datapro survey, which was mentioned several times
during the evening), Linux was not only the overall winner in a
field of half a dozen OSes (Windows NT placed last), it also won
in all but two categories--and only Digital Unix was rated higher
in those two (availability and performance). The other categories
included reliability, technical support, price, etc.
- Robert Hart (Red Hat):
- Linux is a commercial operating system. It is sold and
supported commercially (Red Hat, Caldera and others); it is used
commercially; its only difference is that the source code is
- Key ``commercial OS'' features like a journaling file system and
database access that bypasses the file system layer are coming
- Many of Red Hat's users (more with every release) have never
installed an OS, which means Red Hat has to ``reverse engineer''
their hardware configuration.
- Why is Linux not ubiquitous? It's still not suitable for everyone
(he mentioned his ``75-year-old mum''), and although there are
good office applications for Linux, there aren't any killer ones
yet. (There were follow-ups to the suitability comment by some of
the other panelists.)
- Sunil Saxena (Intel): He presented some slides that amounted to
a ``yes'' response as well:
- Strengths: Linux is becoming the OS of choice of ISPs; on 32-bit
Intel systems, Linux has broader device-driver support than any
other Unix (e.g., SCO, Solaris/x86, etc.); its Open Source model means that
updates, patches and bug-fixes happen in ``Internet time.''
- Weaknesses: SMP support and scalability is still evolving
(although he noted that Leonard
Zubkoff did a successful two-day port to the brand-new,
Pentium II Xeon system that Intel
and VA Research showed off); good server management is missing
(e.g., using a remote serial line or modem to update things,
including the BIOS); drivers for high-end hardware tend to be
lacking; and large-memory support (say, multi-gigabyte range) isn't
- Making it better: he said (and repeated several times throughout
the evening) that Intel really wants to help and do more to support
Linux, and in particular they see the following as likely areas of
- more than 4-way SMP (serious scalability, at least 16 to 32
- drivers for high-end platforms
- direct server control and management
- support for PII features such as 36-bit addressing (up to
64 GB of RAM), enhanced system calls and save/restore,
MMX instructions, the page attribute table, and on-chip
- Linus Torvalds: He started off with a comment to the effect,
``What can I say? I came to listen to the others.''
- He noted that Linux originally was a one-person OS; it was never
intended to be useful to others. He also pointed out that it has
just shown up on the list of the
world's most powerful supercomputers (in a cluster design); he
thought it made #316. [It actually made
#315 in the June 1998 list--see this press release
for details. As of 15 September 1998 it had twice the nodes and
twice the memory per node, making it #114 in the November
rankings, but it was surpassed by another Linux-based
supercomputer at #98.] At the other end of the
spectrum, Linux is being ported to
Palm Pilots. ``I don't see that [its
broad portability and usefulness] ending any time
- He responded to a couple of Sunil's comments:
- 36-bit addressing on Intel: ``We've been doing that on
Alpha for a while.''
- Page Attribute Table: he didn't know about Intel's
implementation but said that he'd suggested it to an Intel
engineer a few years ago; ``I don't know if they did it
right, but if so, I'll be happy to use it.''
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Copyright © 1998 Greg Roelofs.