The systemd debate

Choose your side on the Linux divide

The battle over systemd exposes a fundamental gap between the old Unix guard and a new guard of Linux developers and admins

The systemd debate

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Mike Gancarz sums up the Unix philosophy:

  1. Small is beautiful.
  2. Make each program do one thing well.
  3. Build a prototype as soon as possible.
  4. Choose portability over efficiency.
  5. Store data in flat text files.
  6. Use software leverage to your advantage.
  7. Use shell scripts to increase leverage and portability.
  8. Avoid captive user interfaces.
  9. Make every program a filter.

We have built the Internet and all modern Internet services on those principles. Systemd's design and implementation violates nearly all of them.

Should it be a surprise that so many long-term Unix and Linux developers, architects, and administrators recoil at the thought of something like systemd? It might seem that the design of systemd purposefully dispensed with the wisdom of 45 years of Unix development and struck out in a different direction just to spite the old guard. Add to that the overtly narcissistic public attitudes of the project's lead developers and evangelists, and you have both this cloud over Linux and a schism in the Linux community. It's not pretty at all.

We've seen similar events in the past, where core software was "updated" or "improved," yet the replacement was overbuilt, poorly designed, or otherwise inferior to its predecessor. Take a look at NIS and NIS+, for instance. NIS is still with us. Its much-ballyhooed replacement, NIS+, withered and died under the weight of a terribly overcomplicated design.

That fate is still an option for systemd. It might come to pass that systemd is widely adopted by distributions built for desktop use, but is not used on servers. Maybe it will be redesigned to be more in line with Unix foundations and finally gain some acceptance -- or maybe it will wither and die like NIS+.

One thing to watch for from here on out is the adoption rate of RHEL 7. That will tell much of the tale. RHEL 6 has support for the next six years, and it will be very interesting to see how many heavy Linux users stick with version 6 rather than move to 7 and introduce systemd into their networks.

The old saying, "Those who don't understand Unix are doomed to re-invent it -- poorly," has been used many times when discussing Windows. It's disturbing to see it now used to describe Linux.

This story, "Choose your side on the Linux divide," was originally published at Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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