Linux Developer Dilemma

Intel documentation questioned; vendor addressing concerns

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Linux creator Linus Torvalds said he hopes new documentation from Intel to address what was first thought to be a security issue involving Linux running on Pentium III servers won't force Linux developers to modify the open-source operating system.

The issue first arose a few weeks ago in Usenet discussions among Linux developers, who were seeking a way to resolve documentation and protocol discrepancies first thought to be security holes associated with Pentium III-based Linux solutions. In those discussions, Torvalds said Intel "screwed up" in its documentation.

Linus Torvalds hopes new documentation will address protocol discrepancies.

Intel representatives and Torvalds said the documentation since has been amended, but Torvalds said no assurances have been made that future documentation or hardware changes won't force Linux developers to alter their code.

"Right now, we have code that works, so that's not the problem," Torvalds said, responding to questions via e-mail. "The problem is just that as it stands now, there exists no code sequence that is documented to work in the future."

An Intel spokesman said the company wants to work closely with the Linux community to address concerns about future compatibility.

Torvalds said software changes would be dealt with if Intel upgrades its hardware in a way that requires adjustments. "But I don't want to be in a position where a hardware upgrade would force people to do a software upgrade, too," he said. "Of course, I also hope that future versions of Linux are [so much better that people end up wanting to upgrade anyway. But that should be their choice, not because the code stopped working."

Others believe any issues would be minimal.

"We're talking about one chip out of 30 that are probably supported by Linux," said Anthony Awtrey, president of Ideal Technology, Melbourne, Fla. "It's obviously a potential security hole. The documentation, at our level, would be something I would read but not something that would impact our business."

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