Torvalds looking for new Linux home

Linus Torvalds wants replacement for BitKeeper system that houses and manages global programming effort. Development could slow as result.

Linux leader Linus Torvalds has begun looking for a new electronic home for his project's source code after a conflict involving the current management system, BitKeeper.

The move could slow Linux development as Torvalds reverts to a less automated system based on e-mail, he said Wednesday in postings to the Linux kernel mailing list. But it's better to start shifting away sooner rather than later, he said.

"I've decided to not use BK (BitKeeper) mainly because I need to figure out the alternatives," Torvalds said in a posting. "Rather than continuing 'things as normal,' I decided to bite the bullet and just see what life without BK looks like."

News.context

What's new:
Linux leader Linus Torvalds has begun looking for a replacement for the BitKeeper system to house and manage the complicated, global programming effort. The move addresses gripes from some in the open-source and free software community about the proprietary nature of BitKeeper.

Bottom line:
A shift back to an older e-mail based control method likely will disrupt and slow some Linux development, but Torvalds says it's better to start shifting away from BitKeeper sooner rather than later.

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Robert Frances Group analyst Stacey Quandt doesn't expect a big problem. "I don't think it's going to slow development, since a huge number of changes are being done effectively through e-mail today," she said.

But at a minimum, there will be significant disruptions for the many Linux developers who have grown accustomed to using BitKeeper to shuttle modifications called "changesets" up and down the programmer hierarchy.

There are more than 10,000 active versions of the Linux kernel in an interconnected system of BitKeeper repositories, said Larry McVoy, founder of the company called BitMover that sells the proprietary BitKeeper software. That's likely to change now. "I suspect that in three years some alternative will become the primary source code management system for the Linux kernel. What that is remains to be seen," McVoy said in an interview.

As the Linux programming effort has grown--McVoy now estimates there are more than 1,500 developers who have contributed to Linux components--it has gradually become more formal. Torvalds in 2004 started requiring contributors to sign off on their submissions , and a more organized bug tracking system began in 2002. Torvalds also has standardized his format.

Torvalds began using BitKeeper in 2002 and lavishes praise on its ability to synchronize the work of numerous programmers without requiring a central repository. "It's made me more than twice as productive," Torvalds said in a March 2004 BitKeeper news release.

Torvalds isn't fond of centralized code repositories such as those using the Concurrent Version System software, though he said that possibility shouldn't be completely ruled out. The leading alternative for a Linux management system is a project called Monotone, Torvalds said.

Why the change?
Ultimately, the shift away from BitKeeper arose because of differences between the advocates of open-source and proprietary software. BitKeeper is proprietary, so Torvalds' adoption of it rankled many open-source advocates.

McVoy supports and uses open-source software, but he's determined to protect his technology from copycats--including open-source programmers. BitMover offered a no-cost, proprietary, somewhat stripped-down version of BitKeeper that let Linux programmers use

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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