Embedded developers keep watch on kernel bloat

As Linux grows to handle enterprise workloads, two developers are keeping an eye on things to make sure that embedded Linux users, from cell phones and PDAs to giant phone switches, aren't being left behind.

Embedded Linux is getting a lot of attention these days. A new kernel.org mailing list, linux-embedded-archived here-has been set up, with discussions and patches already being posted. In addition, Paul Gortmaker and David Woodhouse have volunteered to be the "embedded maintainers" for the kernel to help coordinate the embedded Linux community. They graciously agreed to a joint email interview to shed some light on their new roles.

What is your background with Linux, especially with embedded Linux?

David: I got involved in Linux while I was at University, and ended up working at Nortel during one of the summer vacations, on a project for networking over mains power lines. It involved Linux boxes as routers, and I was working on solid state storage for that. From that, and from the basic support we had for similar devices in the PCMCIA code base, the MTD [Memory Technology Device] subsystem grew.

After a while, I ended up working for Red Hat's engineering services division, doing board ports, drivers and other work. That's when JFFS2 was written, as part of a customer contract.

I've been at Red Hat since 2000, in various roles including spending most of the last couple of years on OLPC. Due to HR misconduct, I handed in my notice on Monday and will be going elsewhere. I spoke to my new boss before volunteering for the 'embedded maintainer' role, and he was happy with that-it's another Linux-friendly company where I'll be doing kernel development, and community interaction will continue to be part of my day job.

Paul: I started using Linux back in the pre 1.0 days, and having always been one to take things apart and see how it works, being able to do that with the OS appealed to me. I put together various documents to help people back when the entry level into Linux was quite high, started fixing and writing drivers, and on it went from there. In 2005, I joined Wind River, where I've been primarily focused on kernel and board specific kernel patches, and this has given me the opportunity to be exposed to all the different architectures and lots of board variants within each architecture family.

What is the role you see for the embedded Linux maintainers for the kernel?

David: A bunch of things really. It's not like a normal maintainer role where we take ownership of a certain section of code; it's a bit more fluid.

To start with, one of the things we really need to do is work with the various people who are using Linux in "embedded" situations, and help them to work better with the community. That isn't just the vendors of consumer equipment-it's communities like OpenWRT, handhelds.org, OLPC too. In no other field is the development of the Linux kernel so balkanised, with people all over the place carrying their own patches or even full trees of code.

Another part of the job, which is actually something I've been doing for years anyway, is reviewing general changes in the kernel with a particular mind to how they affect embedded systems. That's not just bloatwatch, although obviously that's a part of it. It also covers things like watching the IBM zSeries folks provide execute-in-place support for block devices under z/VM, and saying "hey, how can we use the same memory management for XIP from flash?".

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