Did you know?

by BigBearOmaha


I thought we would start on a little discussion about the Linux kernel. Everything that is at the 'guts' of Linux, is in the kernel. I know we have all heard that "Linux" itself is only the kernel, and that GNU applications largely make up the 'rest' of the OS. If that is true, then what exactly is the kernel doing?

The Linux kernel is a meaty piece of coding that essentially tells all of the computer's hardware how to get along, in simplistic terms. It's sort of part traffic cop, part negotiator and part translator.

The code itself comes from a large and varied group of contributors who send in anything as small as a few lines of code as a 'patch' to fix or modify something they found already existing in the kernel, to whole new sections of code to be added to the next version of the kernel.

All of these submissions are sent in by people wanting to volunteer their time and talents, or by people working for companies who actually get paid to contribute to the project. There are lists of contributors that are maintained by the group who maintains the kernel, and this allows the process to be transparent. It lets everyone know who is doing what and how much they are doing.

There are at least twenty seven (27) major companies that contribute to the Linux kernel. IBM, Cisco, and HP are among them, as well as a host of others. This level of support from established and recognized leaders in the technology world helps to ensure that Linux will be around for a long time and that it is a 'serious' product.

Linus Torvalds, the guy who spearheaded the Linux kernel and brought it to the light of the open source world is employed by Open Source Development Labs as the official maintainer of the Linux kernel. He has the final say so on absolutely everything that makes it into the kernel. Not only that, he is the registered owner of the 'Linux' trademark which keeps mischievous others from doing dastardly deeds in the name of Linux.

One very important thing about the Linux kernel is that it can be modified freely by anyone for their own uses and needs. You can add modules and code in any way you see fit to take advantage of the true speed and flexibility of Linux. You can customize it to take advantage of the specific processor and memory that is installed on the specific mainboard in that computer if you like. Because the kernel is distributed under the GPL, this also means that your able to access the kernel, make modifications to it, customize it, even edit the source code itself if you are feeling especially techy, without paying a cent to anyone for the privilege of doing so.

The most recent stable kernel is The Linux kernel is in a constant state of evolution and some releases bring about major changes that are industry wide monumental improvements. On the other hand, many of the releases are only cosmetic or bring in small fixes to repair or improve features that you might never 'see' if you weren't told about it.

The Linux kernel is a unique beast. It is an ever changing, open book that anyone with any level of experience can send a contribution to and be a part of. Now, just because anyone can send a contribution, doesn't mean they are all used. Sometimes, often actually, contributions never see the light of day. That doesn't mean people can't contribute again; it just means that this time, it needed more work or wasn't one of the areas they were focusing on.

The Linux kernel is an incredible piece of work. It provides the basis of one of the foremost representatives of open source software. It brings together the experience, talent and knowledge of hundreds (if not thousands) of programmers and scripters, professionals and hobbyists, from around the world into one, highly functioning, technological marvel.

Now you know.


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