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What's in a Number? Linux Hits the Big 3.0

What's in a Number? Linux Hits the Big 3.0

Like most Linux fans, Slashdot blogger and Windows fan hairyfeet didn't care about the kernel's numbering -- but for different reasons. "Frankly I don't care if he calls it Shaka Zulu; I'll just be ever so happy when Torvalds retires or is fired," he said. "Here it is 2011 and you still have a mess thanks to Torvalds treating the kernel like his personal play toy."

By Katherine Noyes
06/09/11 5:00 AM PT

If "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," as the great Bard wrote all those many years ago, shouldn't the same be true of our beloved Linux kernel?

That, indeed, is the question of the day, thanks to Linux creator Linus Torvalds' recent decision to christen the next version of the Linux kernel "3.0" rather than "2.6.40," which would otherwise have been the next step on its longtime 2.6 path.

"I decided to just bite the bullet, and call the next version 3.0," Torvalds wrote in an email announcing the new version's first release candidate. "It will get released close enough to the 20-year mark, which is excuse enough for me, although honestly, the real reason is just that I can no longer comfortably count as high as 40."

A 'Sneaky Weasel'

Along with the numbering change, the kernel's name has also been changed from "Flesh-Eating Bats with Fangs" to "Sneaky Weasel," as pointed out by the alert team over at The H.

Perhaps most significant of all, though, is the shocking number of big changes coming along with the new numbering: zero.

"So what are the big changes? NOTHING. Absolutely nothing," Torvalds asserted. "Sure, we have the usual two thirds driver changes, and a lot of random fixes, but the point is that 3.0 is *just* about renumbering, we are very much *not* doing a KDE-4 or a Gnome-3 here."

How have Linux geeks responded to the news? Well, they've laughed, they've cried -- or not. Many have simply yawned. Either way, there's been no shortage of discussion in the Linux blogosphere.

'Those Guys Are Real Jerks!'

"He really went and did it, eh? Crap," wrote Rennt among the nearly 400 comments on Slashdot, for example. "The only thing more annoying then a meaningless bump in version numbers is all the people going to be complaining about how annoying it is."

To which bunratty replied: "There's one more thing worse: the people who complain about how annoying the people who complain about the meaningless bump in version numbers are. Boy those guys are real jerks!"

The conversation quickly degenerated from there, so Linux Girl took to the streets of the blogosphere to learn more first-hand.

'It's Just a Numbers Game'

"I would have liked to see the kernel get to 2.6.42, but 3.0 also works, since 'everyone knows' that historically, version 3 has been the 'sweet spot' for a lot of software," began Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site. "Of course, since everyone also 'knows' that you should avoid software that ends in a zero, the cautious might be more comfortable waiting for linux 3.0.1."

In the end, however, "it's just a numbers game," Hudson told Linux Girl. "The '3' is more likely to commemorate Linux entering its third decade of development, and we should expect 4.0 in the spring of 2021.

"As long as releases are referred to by number instead of weird names (except for 2.2.1, the infamous 'brown paper bag' release), it's all good," Hudson concluded.

'I Care What the Kernel Can Do'

Similarly, "version numbering is irrelevant outside of marketing, so unless this is part of a marketing push, it means nothing," opined Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza.

"The kernel has certainly changed a great deal from the early 2.x kernels, and a major version bump seems justified, but this seems like an odd place to make one," Espinoza added.

Indeed, "I don't think it matters," agreed Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. "I care what the kernel can do, not what the number is."

And again: "I don't think the numbering really matters at all since by now the only people who care about version numbers are technical people who can handle any system thrown at them," concurred consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

'I Don't Care If He Calls It Shaka Zulu'

Slashdot blogger and Windows fan hairyfeet also didn't care about the kernel's numbering -- but for different reasons.

"Frankly I don't care if he calls it Shaka Zulu; I'll just be ever so happy when Torvalds retires or is fired," hairyfeet said. "Here it is 2011 and you still have a mess thanks to Torvalds treating the kernel like his personal play toy.

"EVERY major OS out there has had a stable driver hardware ABI for a decade or more, but because Torvalds decided back in 93 they would cramp his style and might keep him from tinkering with the kernel with NO regard to breakage, linux guys can't have one."

'A Beautiful Thought'

That opinion, however, was far from unanimous.

"Numbering does not matter," blogger Robert Pogson offered, but "3.0 is a fine number -- it's prime, odd and short.

"Think of all the bits that will be saved by shortening the kernel string on hundreds of millions of installations," Pogson concluded. "It's a beautiful thought."


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