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Panelists call for lightweight Linux

The open-source operating system has room for improvement, they say

By Robert McMillan
April 7, 2004 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Linux users and distributors were divided on the question of whether Linux distributions should become simpler or more complex during a panel discussion on the future of Linux cluster distributions at the ClusterWorld Conference & Expo in San Jose yesterday.
In the past few years, clusters of commodity computer systems running the Linux operating system have come to dominate the world of high-performance computing, previously the exclusive domain of proprietary vendors like Cray Inc. And though Linux systems account for more than half of the machines on the Top500 Supercomputer Sites list of the world's fastest supercomputers, the open-source operating system still has room for improvement, according to panelists at the show.
Rusty Lusk, a senior computer scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, called on Linux vendors to build smaller, more lightweight Linux distributions based on a modular, more easily managed architecture. That approach would reduce the complexity inherent in Linux and the "dependency" problems that occur when different programs require different versions of the software libraries included in Linux, he said. "With big distributions, there are so many problems with version dependencies," Lusk said.
One systems integrator on the panel agreed that a lightweight distribution would help manage Linux's complexity. "Having that minimal installation and then being able to build on it, at least for our customers, is a real important aspect," said Henry Hall, president of Wild Open Source Inc. in Burlington, Mass.
Hall also called for tools that would allow users to track and audit changes they make to the operating system's basic kernel. "I think that would be a real asset to any individual distribution," he said.
But Donald Becker, one of the creators of the Scyld Linux distribution, predicted that distributions will become more complex, not less. "I think we're going to see the completely opposite approach," said Becker, chief technology officer at Penguin Computing Inc. in San Francisco.
Scyld, for example, looks to add as many different packages as possible to its distribution, but it also gives customers the option of "ignoring" components they don't need, he said.
Scyld has reduced these dependencies by cutting down on the number of languages that are used to build the different components of its distribution, Becker said. "That means restricting the set of languages and libraries that we use internally," he said.
SUSE Linux AG would like to create a more customizable version of its Linux distribution but at this point isn't exactly sure how to address the issue, said Timothy Beloney, an OEM account developer at SUSE. In recent months, SUSE's parent company, Novell Inc.,has formed a team to address the high-performance computing market, he said.
"There is no mainstream Linux distribution that addresses the cluster market head-on, and I want SUSE to be the first to do that," he said. "We would like to have something that's customizable by everyone; we're not sure exactly how that's going to happen."

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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