The Graying of the Linux Kernel Community

There are few things more gratifying to those of us here in the Linux blogosphere than seeing another user give the proprietary world the boot and make the switch to our favorite operating system.

If anything can come close, however, it would be the birth of a new forum for advocating for Linux.

Linux Girl

So let the trumpets sound! This month has brought news of just that: Linux Voice, a brand-new magazine that’s not only dedicated to Linux and free software, but plans to give profits back to the community.

“We are going to give 50 percent of our profits back to the community,” explained its founders, who hail from Linux Format magazine and TuxRadar — one of Linux Girl’s longtime faves. “That’s back to developers, back to events, back to the groups that defend our online freedoms.”

‘Who Is the Most Important Linux Person?’

It was with great joy that Linux Girl got word of Linux Voice and discovered that not only was its Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign going well, but there was even some fresh and compelling content up at this early stage.

Namely? A fabulous, TuxRadar-style poll on a topic that’s impossible to resist: “Who is the most important GNU/Linux/FLOSS person?”

Geeks down at the blogosphere’s seedy Punchy Penguin Saloon have had plenty of thoughts to share.

‘Page and Brin from Google’

“I think it has to be RMS,” offered Google+ blogger Kevin O’Brien, for example. “He was promoting free software when no one else was thinking about it, he pushed to create the tools we still use (and which Linux very much needed to get started — anyone want to compile without GCC?).”

Moreover, “the GPL was a real milestone,” O’Brien added. “Linus Torvalds has said that choosing the GPL was among the best decisions he ever made.”

Similarly, “the FLOSS universe is huge, but I would give my vote to Richard Matthew Stallman and Linux Torvalds,” said Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C.

“However, we can never ever forget people like Dennis MacAlistair Ritchie, many people at the GNU project, KDE, GNOME, Xfce, LXDE, Mozilla, Debian and every developing GNU/Linux distribution,” he added.

Alternatively, “Page and Brin from Google, because without them most FOSS software would be confined to the server room,” suggested Slashdot blogger hairyfeet. “Without them there wouldn’t be any FOSS on mobile.”

‘Not Just the Big Shots’

There are numerous “unsung heroes of GNU/Linux and Free Software,” noted Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol, whose “beloved distro, PCLinuxOS, does not get the attention it deserves,” he told Linux Girl.

“So, in the philosophical way, the MAN is Richard Stallman,” Ebersol opined. “And persons who are important in the FLOSS scene? Captain Bill (Texstar) Reynolds. And me, because I do a lot of things and contribute a lot. And, like us, thousands of folks do the same: Patrick (Volkerding), Ikey (Doherty), Andrew (Wyatt), Barry (Kauler) and so many others.

“There are a lot of important persons in the FLOSS scene, not just the big shots, but anonymous workers, real heroes,” he concluded.

Indeed, “it’s hard to choose one because it seems there has been more than one person critical to FOSS development, and without any one of them we would still be stuck choosing between proprietary Unix and Windows,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack concurred.

‘It Is You, Me, We’

“This is a silly question,” blogger Robert Pogson told Linux Girl. “FLOSS is about the code, not personalities. Everyone needs everyone and we’re all important.”

For example, “without developers and users and documenters and bug-hunters, it would all be irrelevant,” Pogson pointed out. “FLOSS exists because we are all here contributing one way or another. Linus Torvalds and Stallman may have been first to do some things, but the ecosystem needs many millions of others to thrive as it is.”

Google+ blogger Brett Legree saw it similarly.

“Quite simply, it is you, me, we,” Legree said. “Every single personality in the community will at some point move on, one way or another, but GNU/Linux and related FLOSS projects will live on.”

A Graying Community

Interestingly — and relatedly — the question of Linux’s longevity has been another hot topic recently in the Linux blogosphere.

“Time has been good to Linux and the kernel community, with the level of participation and volume of activity reaching unprecedented levels,” began Lemeowski’s post on Slashdot. “But as core Linux kernel developers grow older, there’s a very real concern about ensuring younger generations are getting involved.”

At least as interesting as the topic itself were the comments it received on Slashdot, more than a few of which harped on the same theme — namely, the verbal abuse that tends to be liberally doled out by Linus in particular and kernel developers in general.

To wit: “I’ve tinkered with the kernel, written device drivers, blah, but there’s no way in hell I’d ever try to contribute upstream, because I know I’m not an experienced kernel hacker, and frankly I’m not sewn for the sort of macho abuse that dorks like to give each other,” wrote Joining Yet Again, for example.

‘Is Anybody Surprised?’

“I find it interesting that my initial reaction to the topic of bringing younger people in to Linux was that scaring them off with abuse is not the way to do it,” began O’Brien. “Then I looked at the comments on Slashdot and saw that echoed by all the people who said, ‘I’d never be a contributor if it meant being in that cesspit of abuse.’

“I said before that it was a bad management practice, and I stand by my statement,” O’Brien added.

“After seeing Torvalds act like a grade A jerk because somebody made a simple mistake, is anybody surprised?” hairyfeet concurred.

On the other hand, “the community could be aging, but it’s pretty productive,” Gonzalo Velasco C. pointed out. “Nevertheless, newcomers are welcome and I hope the old wizards won’t ‘troll’ them out. :-)”

A Maturing Product

It’s not clear the problem is worth worrying about “since the kernel is rapidly becoming a mature product,” Mack noted. “We should be much more worried about people getting involved in the Window systems and updating apps to use modern interfaces.”

Then, too, there’s the fact that much of the development these days is backed by commercial companies, Legree said.

The issue was more important in the past, “when so much of it was on a volunteer basis, but honestly these days if every volunteer just moved on, I think it would just continue on — yes, it would slow a bit, but it would adjust and we’d still be okay,” he added. “Hey, if you’re being PAID to work on the kernel, it’s a lot easier to do it, right?”

‘A Stepping-Stone in Their Careers’

Pogson wasn’t inclined to worry, either.

“Most of the really old guys in Linux are managing the projects’ various branches and data flows,” he explained. “That’s appropriate. They’ve all been there and done that and have little to prove except to keep things moving forward reliably.

“The vast bulk of contributions are done by employees of businesses large and small who actually make money from Linux one way or another,” Pogson added. “Those businesses will hire whomever they think will work best for their organizations. Many young people will see contributing to Linux as a stepping-stone in their careers. The demographics will take care of themselves.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered ECT News Editor by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • I’m a really old guy. Been using GNU+Linux since ’92. I wrote a howto for the Linux Documentation Project (remember that?) in ’93 and contributed to two more. I was planning another, when LDP switched to a tool chain that hardly anyone could get working. When I asked for help, I got abuse instead. I found other venues that needed me more. Maybe that’s why the Wireless Howto is eleven years out of date.

    It’s hardly a new problem. We’ve been alienating potential contributors since the get-go, and we still do. Just try to report a bug in Firefox or Libre Office, see what reception you get.

    • That is one of the reasons I gave up on Linux about a year and a half ago.

      I would point out something that was a serious issue for me as a retailer to support only to get "works for me" or told I needed to sell support contracts…why? Why should MY customers have to pay for support because YOUR product is buggy? The "Other OS" as those here with Voldemort Syndrome call it (I’m looking at you Pogson) didn’t have those issues and the cost of me fixing that over and over AND OVER quickly made the cost of the other OS trivial by comparison.

      Frankly I’m the kind of guy Linux really needs, the kind that can get Linux desktops into the hands of Joe and Jane Normal, instead all i got was abuse. Now I buy Win 8 and replace the shell because even with all that hassle its still better than trying to keep wireless and video running smoothly in Linux.

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