Linux Is Bloated. Does Anyone Care?

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted Sep 29, 2009


Walk through a shopping mall in any town you care to mention, and you're sure to see muffin tops — those mounds of excess flab bulging out of the tops of men's and women's pants.

OS Roundup: Not Red Hat users, certainly. Sales and profits are up for the feature-laden OS. Meanwhile, HP UX's latest semi-annual update is out, and the verdict on its value is in.

But it's not just guys and gals that are getting muffin tops — Windows has had one for years, and now it seems that the once svelte Linux is developing one too. Asked last week about the fact that Linux has been getting increasingly slow over the past 10 years or so, Linux-daddy Linus Torvalds replied "We're getting bloated and huge. Yes, it's a problem."

As Linux grows up, it gains new features — and that's driven by what Linux users want. It's a bit like all those muffin-topped shoppers: They inevitably get fat, because they want fattening food. As Torvalds put it last week, "It's unacceptable, but it's also probably unavoidable."

I've no idea what that really means, but it's probably true all the same.

Still, if Red Hat is developing a muffin top, it doesn't seem to be slowing the enterprise Linux maker down, and certainly no one appears to have told it that the bottom has fallen out of the server market over the past few months. Last week, the company reported sales up an impressive 11.7 percent for its second quarter, compared to the same period last year. Profits are also up — a stonking 36.9 percent. For Red Hat at least, the server market's been a piece of cake.

The question that must be asked is where all this growth is coming from? Some, at least, is coming from existing customers who are expanding their use of Red Hat Enterprise Linux (and other Red Hat software), but given that new sever sales are in the doldrums at the moment, much of it must be at the expense of other enterprise Linux vendors, Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server in particular. It certainly bodes well for the future when server sales pick up, and it makes Red Hat an all-the-more-mouthwatering potential snack for someone big and blue.

Red Hat may be making big advances in the Linux market place, but at the very top end UNIX still rules. That's certainly the view of Brian Cox, HP's business critical systems division director of software planning and marketing. Last week the company announced the latest update to its HP-UX 11i V3 UNIX. HP provides free updates to its UNIX every six months to maintenance customers, providing new features and performance enhancements.

So what's new in Update 5? The truth is, not a helluva lot — but most of it centers around security, which is almost always A Good Thing. One addition is Bastille, an automated system hardening tool designed to protect against intruders that meets the Center for Internet Security (CIS) security standard. Using HP's patching tool, it's now possible to identify and patch up to 100 servers running Update 5 at once, compared to only 10 at a time previously. In theory then, it should be possible to patch all of an organization's machines up to 10 times faster. There's some new encryption features and performance enhancements as well.

ServiceGuard, HP's high availability clustering software, has also seen a few improvements. Most notable are the new Online Package Maintenance features that enable administrators to apply updates without bringing the cluster down. After updating has been completed, a quick reboot makes these updates active while minimizing actual cluster downtime. There's also a new GUI-enhanced Cluster Topology Map tool that allows administrators to visualize a cluster and drag and drop applications between servers. The tool then generates and issues the appropriate commands, enabling administrators to carry out work without boo-boos in their command-line usage causing avoidable outages.

All in all, it's not an update to be sniffed since it's free with every maintenance contract. However, even if you're someone who gets excited by UNIX system updates, this is unlikely to be one of them.

As Cox himself wryly admits: "Some updates are richer than others."

This is distinctly other. The verdict? Meh.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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