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Linux lab mending fences with techies

Open Source Development Labs expects the group to foster closer ties with sometimes-disgruntled programmers.

The Open Source Development Labs, an organization devoted to improving Linux, has launched a technical advisory board to try to foster better relations with programmers, who at times have been peeved with the industry-funded group.

OSDL employs Linux founder Linus Torvalds and a close ally, Andrew Morton. But it was founded by computing industry powers such as Intel and Hewlett-Packard, and the group wants stronger relations with Linux programmers.

"We look to this new board to better help guide us in dedicating resources and people towards the most important issues and technical requirements facing the development community," OSDL Chief Executive Stuart Cohen said in a statement.

The move, announced Wednesday, reflects the tensions that have sometimes surfaced after commercial interests began dabbling in Linux years ago. Though computing heavyweights such as Intel, IBM and Hewlett-Packard employ many high-ranking Linux engineers, the programmers have maintained power and a culture independent from the industry.

The advisory board includes a number of prominent open-source developers, including Novell's Greg Kroah-Hartman, the programmer who maintains Linux's USB subsystem and has criticized OSDL in the past.

"I'm not exactly a fan of how OSDL has interacted with, and pretended to represent, the Linux kernel community over the years," Kroah-Hartman wrote in his blog in September. "I feel that OSDL represents a very good opportunity for the Linux kernel community, and am frustrated to see that opportunity slip away,"

Discussions with Kroah-Hartman and his colleagues made headway. In January, he and others presented the OSDL board with a paper in which 17 top kernel programmers formally proposed the idea for a technical advisory board and suggested that a kernel programmer should become an at-large member of OSDL's board of directors.

That board member is James Bottomley, who also is chief technology officer at SteelEye and maintainer of Linux's SCSI subsystem. Bottomley also is chairman of the technical advisory board.

Advisory board members, who serve two-year terms, include Wim Coekaerts, director of Linux engineering at Oracle; Randy Dunlap, principal developer at Oracle, a Linux kernel maintainer and former Intel Linux engineer; Christoph Lameter, technical lead at Silicon Graphics; Matt Mackall, a representative of the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum (CELF) and maintainer of Linux Tiny; Theodore Ts'o, senior engineer at IBM and the Linux filesystem maintainer; Arjan van de Ven, a Linux kernel generalist; and Chris Wright, senior engineer at Red Hat and Linux security module maintainer.

Closer ties between kernel programmers and computer suppliers would help both sides, Kroah-Hartman argued in the January meeting. For example, training sessions could help vendors adapt their software for easy merging into the mainline Linux kernel.

"A lot of times, when a vendor tries to get code accepted into the Linux kernel, it is a very frustrating task for both sides. Large code changes are sometimes just dismissed as they do not take into consideration the way the kernel is developed (small changes over time), or they just do not follow the basic rules (coding style, submission process, etc.)," Kroah-Hartman said.

Another useful function would be for OSDL to sign nondisclosure agreements for hardware specifications that would help programmers support it, he said.