Linux Is Good, redux

Mon 01 December 2003
By John Mark Schofield in Technology
Tagged as: Linux

Learning about Linux really is a constant series of cool discoveries. I've just discovered Kernel Traffic (KT). KT is a condensed version of several mailing lists covering Linux development. There are more then 3000 messages a week; reading all the traffic on all the lists would be a full-time job.

KT is interesting because you get to see the arguments and discussions and inside jokes of the people actually building the operating system. It's a radically deeper insight into the workings of the operating system than I've ever seen; deeper even than the source code. (I sound impressive, but the truth is I'm not good enough to read the source code, yet.) KT gives you the why things are.

For instance, this issue of KT covers Kernel Modules about half-way down. Kernel modules are pieces of software which add support for something to LInux. A kernel module might provide support for a new USB card, for instance.  Right now they require a fairly high level of skill to install. (Legions of UNIX gurus are rolling their eyes at "fairly high level," but for the average non-UNIX geek, it's a true statement.) Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system, and several other programmers argued back and forth about how best to make this easier, going down a blind alley before reaching a consensus. Nobody is required to follow this consensus, but undoubtedly more and more makers of Linux distributions like Red Hat or Mandrake will join the consensus (if it actually proves to be easier) and Linux will end up easier for people like me to use.

Depending on your comfort level with linux, some of KT may not be understandable. A lot of it looked like gibberish to me -- especially the first third, most of which seemed as understandable as the secret language of Chinese moles. Skip through those parts. There's enough human argument and agreement and fighting and praising to be interesting to anyone. OK, not anyone. But it's much more interesting than you'd expect it to be. (Maybe that should be their slogan? "Kernel Traffic: More Interesting Than You'd Expect It To Be.")