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Linux Founder Linus Torvalds Draws Ire for Criticizing Oracle ZFS

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Linux creator Linus Torvalds has drawn ire for advising people not to use the ZFS file system until Oracle, which inherited the technology when it acquired Sun Microsystems in 2009, changes the licensing used to cover the project's codebase.

Torvalds made his remarks on the Real World Technologies forum on January 6. Phoronix was the first to report on the comment, and Ars Technica followed up on Tuesday to criticize Torvalds's argument, saying in the article's subhed that "Linus should avoid authoritative statements about projects he's unfamiliar with."

A back-and-forth led to Torvalds's comment. At issue was a change to the Linux kernel made in January 2019 that prohibited the export of certain kernel signs to non-GPL modules. That didn't prevent the modules from working, but it did force them to build an alternative tool.

Here's the bit from Torvalds's comment this month that reignited this year-old controversy:

"Don't use ZFS. It's that simple. It was always more of a buzzword than anything else, I feel, and the licensing issues just make it a non-starter for me. ... The benchmarks I've seen do not make ZFS look all that great. And as far as I can tell, it has no real maintenance behind it either any more. So from a long-term stability standpoint, why would you ever want to use it in the first place?"

The problem was that both Oracle ZFS and OpenZFS have been actively developed for some time. (Some also took issue with his claim about the benchmarks, although that appears to be a more nuanced discussion.) 

When asked why he called ZFS a buzzword, though, Torvalds clarified his thinking in a comment posted January 10:

"I'm talking about small details like the fact that Oracle owns the copyrights but turned things closed-source, so the 'other' ZFS project is a fork of an old code base.

"If you are talking about ZFS, you're talking about the Oracle version. Do you think it has a lot of development going on? I don't know.

"And if you're talking about OpenZFS, then yes, there's clearly maintenance there, but it has all the questions about what happens if Oracle ever decides - again - that 'copyright' means something different than anybody else thinks it means."

Does this directly affect most Linux users? Not quite, but it does offer a peek inside the mind of the kernel's creator and primary maintainer. We'd probably see the same articles if Bill Gates decided to spend the day responding to questions on forums and made similarly provocative statements while doing so.

  • handsoverfists
    Not open source ...its gotta go!
    Reply
  • mitch074
    When you see the mess Oracle did of Java, OpenOffice and MySQL, Torvalds has a point - a big one, too. Would you compromise your lifetime's project to include something not even 0.1% of your user base wants when it has a high probability of screwing up the whole project?
    Linux finally beat Windows (see how many Android-based devices are sold compared with Windows based ones), it would be foolish to get in trouble with Oracle too.
    Reply
  • bigdragon
    I find it strange that people would be upset with what Linus said. Oracle has earned its reputation. Linux developers should not go out of their way to accommodate Oracle's restricted contributions and products. Oracle absolutely would screw over the Linux community the moment it thinks money can be made.
    Reply
  • unis_torvalds
    There seems to be some confusion in these comments here.

    OpenZFS (the only ZFS the Linux community is really talking about) is 100% free and open-source.
    It was forked from Sun Microsystems' CDDL-licensed project before Sun was acquired by Oracle, and it has been actively developed ever since as its own separate thing. CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License) is a free and open-source software license.
    Canonical (maintainers of Ubuntu) see fit to include CDDL OpenZFS kernel modules with their distro.

    Basically, Linus didn't know what he was talking about.

    OpenZFS is the best filesystem available today for those who care about data redundancy/stability and smart caching. It's worth a look!
    Reply
  • CerianK
    bigdragon said:
    Oracle has earned its reputation.
    I don't have a problem with Oracle one way or the other in that sense (and am certainly not an expert on the subject).
    My issue is with how their technology is wrapped for use in our business environment. We have to scrap large portions of what we have to accommodate changes in the Windows/Java ecosystem it is used in to remove more of the Java forms (as I understand it), which require more additional training for hundreds of people. Granted it had done ok for 10 years (with everyone expected to remember the problem areas so they could avoid them), except for the problem with inadequate handling of large external data which required additional OnBase integration with time-restricted seat licenses in order to bring costs down.

    That being said, I like Oracle Outside In Technology and use it routinely for viewing all kinds of odd file types I receive.

    Prior to Oracle, we used a composite of custom mainframe and Microsoft Access Forms (we developed in-house) to handle corporate operations... with some of the features we were used to not implementable in Oracle (either for cost and/or technology reasons).
    Reply
  • mitch074
    unis_torvalds said:
    There seems to be some confusion in these comments here.

    OpenZFS (the only ZFS the Linux community is really talking about) is 100% free and open-source.
    It was forked from Sun Microsystems' CDDL-licensed project before Sun was acquired by Oracle, and it has been actively developed ever since as its own separate thing. CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License) is a free and open-source software license.
    Canonical (maintainers of Ubuntu) see fit to include CDDL OpenZFS kernel modules with their distro.

    Basically, Linus didn't know what he was talking about.

    OpenZFS is the best filesystem available today for those who care about data redundancy/stability and smart caching. It's worth a look!
    Yeah, right - considering Dalvik is a reimplementation of Java (not even a fork, but a clean room re-engineering) and Oracle STILL sued Google for copyright infringement on API CALLS, how long would they wait before they'd sue any and all major company distributing a kernel that includes some of their copyright, nevermind the license?
    Ubuntu, being South Africa based and generating not much revenue in the US would not bring much in. Imagine Google including ZFS by default in Android, count the SECONDS before Oracle sues them again.
    Reply
  • unis_torvalds
    mitch074 said:
    Yeah, right - considering Dalvik is a reimplementation of Java (not even a fork, but a clean room re-engineering) and Oracle STILL sued Google for copyright infringement on API CALLS, how long would they wait before they'd sue any and all major company distributing a kernel that includes some of their copyright, nevermind the license?
    Ubuntu, being South Africa based and generating not much revenue in the US would not bring much in. Imagine Google including ZFS by default in Android, count the SECONDS before Oracle sues them again.
    You're probably right, only this would never happen as Google compiles their own kernel for Android and there's no benefit in ZFS for smartphones. Further, by your same logic I can't imagine Linux Foundation being a juicy target for lawsuits as they are a non-profit and thus even less lucrative than Canonical.
    Anyways, I'm not defending Oracle here. Larry Ellison could definitely stand to chill out; this whole Java debacle is a disaster no doubt.
    And Linus is allowed to do whatever he wants regarding kernel-space signals etc. It's just that he was out of his depth when he called ZFS a "buzzword" with poor performance and no maintenance that nobody should use. These comments were demonstrably and surprisingly uninformed.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    handsoverfists said:
    Not open source ...its gotta go!
    Err... not exactly. It's open source, in that the source code is out there. It just has a license that's incompatible with the kernel's license.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    unis_torvalds said:
    OpenZFS is the best filesystem available today for those who care about data redundancy/stability and smart caching. It's worth a look!
    Years ago, when setting up a file server, I looked at ZFS and BTRFS. I made the decision that any advantages ZFS had were not worth the trouble, and I've been happily using BTRFS ever since.

    I love subvolumes, snapshots, and being able to scrub my filesystem on non-RAID devices.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    mitch074 said:
    Linux finally beat Windows (see how many Android-based devices are sold compared with Windows based ones),
    That argument is sooo 2015.

    The current proof of Linux' dominance is how much software MS supports on Linux, plus the fact that MS is now including Linux VMs as a feature of Windows 10.
    Reply