Linux Bugs, Bugs Everywhere

Well it was a wild week here in Linux land, and not just because of the asteroid that came hurtling by Earth at heart-lurching proximity on Wednesday afternoon.

Pay no attention to the 100-foot-wide ball of rock you might notice streaking through the sky closer than the Moon! *Cough*. Thank goodness for tequila.

Linux fans, however, had bigger — or rather, smaller — things to focus on last week. Namely? Bugs.

‘A Nightmare’

That’s right, bugs figured prominently not just once but twice last week in the Linux blogosphere.

Linux Girl

Exhibit A: “Google Won’t Enable Chrome Video Acceleration Because of Linux GPU Bugs” was the headline that appeared on Slashdot mid-afternoon last Tuesday.

“Code has been written but is permanently disabled by default because ‘supporting GPU features on Linux is a nightmare’ due to the reported sub-par quality of Linux GPU drivers and many different Linux distributions,” explained the submission summary.

‘Hundreds of Packages’

Exhibit B: “Bug on the GnuTLS Library Leaves Many OSs and Apps At Risk” was the headline that arrived soon thereafter, followed by a flurry of additional reports on PCWorld and beyond.

“There are hundreds of packages that use the GnuTLS encryption libraries, so virtually every Linux user is affected,” Dave Wreski, CEO of open source security firm Guardian Digital and founder and lead developer at, told PCWorld’s intrepid reporter. “It probably affects every Linux system currently in operation that utilizes the GnuTLS library.”

It wasn’t long before Linux Girl’s skin began to crawl, so she knew it was time to jump into action. She strapped on her snow shoes and trudged into the blogosphere’s main downtown to gather a sampling of opinions.

‘We’re Finding More Bugs’

“Linux is seeing more and more use in a wider variety of markets, and is really starting to pick up Steam (pun!),” offered Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone.

“While I don’t have numbers to verify this, it just seems to me that we’re adding more eyes to the code, and so we’re finding more bugs,” Stone suggested.

“These bugs aren’t necessarily recent, they were just unnoticed before,” he added. “Finding them can only be a good thing.”

‘Probably the Tip of the Iceberg’

Similarly, “we are seeing a lot of crypto bugs surfacing lately because these libraries are suddenly getting a lot of review thanks to Snowden’s revelations,” suggested Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project.

“I think one has to separate the crypto bugs from others because they are occurring in a different context,” Travers opined.

“From what I have read about gnutls, though, it seems to me that this is probably the tip of the iceberg given a 2008 assessment by someone from the OpenLDAP team,” he pointed out.

“The basic problem is that up until Snowden started releasing stuff, we thought typical SSL implementations were good enough — at least combined with things like certificate pinning,” Travers concluded. “It now looks almost certain that they are not. We need better, but this is going to take some time.”

‘Many Things Got Cleaned Up’

As for the Chrome complaint, gaming company Valve has “submitted a lot of bug reports and fixes in the graphics layer in the past year, and many things got cleaned up,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack pointed out.

“I really wonder if the Chrome developers tested lately,” he mused.

“Worst case, they could blacklist by library/kernel version, but at any rate, anyone who would care about the extra speed would tend to keep to the releases,” Mack added.’Long Live FLOSS’

“The gist of it is that flaws happen,” said blogger Robert Pogson, who recently wrote about the topic on his own blog.

“People are human; they make mistakes,” Pogson explained. “With FLOSS those mistakes can’t hide forever as they can in non-Free software. Long live FLOSS.”

Free and open source software also “tends to be simpler software,” Pogson told Linux Girl. “That makes it easier to write and easier to debug because there is no evil genius commanding the programmers to make illogical dependencies all over the place because the salesmen think it works.”

‘The Worst Piece of Code Is Java’

Microsoft operating systems include far more code and are estimated to suffer from between 15 and 35 times as many flaws as competitor systems do as a result, Pogson noted, citing Cyberinsecurity.

“Methinks the license has something to do with quality of code and how bugs are killed,” he suggested. “If M$ published its OS as FLOSS, the world could just filter out that complexity — if the world wanted to use that software.

“Instead, M$ had to force the world to use its software by anti-competitive means,” he added.

Meanwhile, “the worst piece of code in all of FLOSS is probably Java, which started out as non-Free software,” Pogson concluded. “Sometimes you just have to start over. That’s easier with FLOSS too, but it’s much easier to start from the beginning with FLOSS because less has to be undone.”

Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


  • hi Katherine,

    This is for the non coders, novices, and other journalists out there… bugs are bugs; no big deal really.

    The first real bug was found by Grace Hopper (U.S.Navy); she picked a moth out of a set of relay contacts and taped it into

    the Mark I log book.

    Get this, don’t miss it, every non trivial computer program

    has at least one moth in it… every single one. I have been

    writing computer programs for over 30 years; this observation is persistent prevalent and poignant. You cannot get around it (oh you can try), but at the end of the day every non trivial computer program will have at least ONE moth.

    I do not believe it is a good idea to post every bug find on the Internet like its a big deal… it isn’t. Developers and other software engineers like myself code and fix programs and other algorithms daily… bug, after bug. That is the nature of the beast. It is best to keep this work out of the press, and away from those who do not understand it.

    Security fixes might warrant more press, but usually not for the linux community. Bugs are fixed "almost" overnight usually. Nobody has to wait for a Tuesday fix sometime in the next six months or more (those days are over for good).

    So don’t panic, all is good. And in good time, all that’s bad gets a patch. The open libre community is especially good at this!


  • Only fifteen to thirty-five. This low, low number has got to be outstanding news for Microsoft. They need any straw which can be grasped. Here’s another one, Microsoft: no matter what Mark Shuttleworth says, you’re still infinitely ahead of him. Mark Shuttleworth. Never mind.

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