CyberTech Rambler

December 20, 2006

Binary kernel module

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:10 pm

Over at the Linux kernel  mailing list, a long going debate over the acceptability of binary kernel modules surface again.  It dies down after Linus Torvalds issues his “decree” (again).

The use of binary kernel modules has always been a “gray” area. This time, it is about a new warning on the line of “Binary modules are not allowed after January 2008” inside the kernel code which was subsequently retracted. The underlying argument is of course limiting binary modules in the kernel. Linus thinks this is about politicking and not technical merits, thus, rejecting the patch.

Brian Profitt of LinuxToday, in his editorial,  quote Kroah-Hartman on the problems he has in maintaining kernel modules. To me, it is good enough to qualify for technical merits. A lot of people might say it is a “management problem”. For me, it is clear that this “management problem” cross the threshold into technical problem when it interferes frequently with day-to-day coding activity. The retracted warning per se is more a “management problem” than “technical”.

A more important concerns highlighted by Profit is Kroah-Hartman feeling that his copyrights are violated by companies that chooses to exploit this “gray” area and use his code without publishing the source code. It is true that Kroach-Hartman has every rights, under copyrights legislation to decide how his code is used, but there are several factors, mostly social factors, where I count against him when expressing my emphaty with him:

  1. Linus started the Linux kernel, and since the program code Kroach-Hartman wrote is indirectly linked to the kernel, by means of social contract, he accepted Linus’ view of how the kernel (and modules) will be used and Linus have the final say on the issue.  (Through his retraction of the warning, demostrated that he accepts that Linus have the final say.) The trouble with giving someone else the final say is that you might not agree with everything the person says, but will have to live with it.
  2. The GPL is equally gray in this issue. That’s why Linus can have his say on the issue. By releasing his program code under GPL, Kroach-Hartman accepted that until this is clarified, people will game the system. Hell, I do not agree with the GPL completely, especially since I believe every modification to my code should be made public, not only if they distribute the modification. On balance, it is good enough for me to use for my software.

John Carroll celebrates the fact that there is a chance that binary kernel modules will not be accepted after 2007, saying that it leaves Linux disadvantaged. He might be right. However, it could be that a year later, manufacturers can no longer ignore Linux and will be forced to accept its term. Nobody, including me, like to be forced to accept terms and conditions I do not like but hey, I am doing that sort of deal daily! For example, don’t like Vista Home Retail restriction of “no running on virtual machine”? Tough luck!

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