Open source innovation on the cutting edge

Think open source doesn’t innovate? Here are seven projects exploring exciting new directions in computing -- for free

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Open source innovation: Ksplice
In years past, computer users were left in charge of their own security fixes and other software updates. That meant monitoring innumerable Websites and mailing lists for news of updates, then downloading and installing the patches by hand. That was both tedious and risky, because the disruptive nature of the update process often led users and IT managers to delay installing critical patches. These days, however, automatic update mechanisms are the norm, and as a result, the task of keeping software current has eased considerably.

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Still, one pain point remains. Updating the operating system itself can be a tricky affair. Whether the goal is to update device drivers or fix vulnerabilities in core services, successfully patching a running operating system typically requires a reboot -- and nothing is more disruptive than that, especially for high-traffic servers.

With Ksplice, Linux users have an alternative. Originally developed by a group of MIT alumni, Ksplice is a technology that allows software maintainers to create special binary patches that can be inserted directly into a running OS kernel. No reboot is necessary; the system experiences only a momentary pause as Ksplice suspends operations, applies the patches, then resumes normal processing, almost as if nothing ever happened.

Ksplice does have some limitations. For example, if a patch makes significant changes in how data is stored and accessed by the kernel, additional new code may be necessary to help Ksplice make the transition. But because these kinds of changes are rare for the Linux code base in practice, Ksplice is able to apply the majority of security fixes with almost zero downtime. Try that with Windows or Mac OS X.

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