Academics versus Developers – Is there a middle ground?

Jim Gettys of One Laptop per Child is engaged in a furious discussion on the networking / protocol list as to whether academics should take responsibility for reaching out to the Linux community and maintaining their own work within the Linux code base. His concern is that networking academics, when they do bother to test their pet theories, use such old versions of Linux that it becomes infeasible to integrate and maintain this work in current and later versions. The flippant academic response is usually of the form of “we write papers, not code” variety (which isn’t precisely true and actually then brings into question the relevence of said papers and the claimed work that stands behind them).

As Jim says himself, “If you are doing research into systems, an academic exercise using a marginal system can only be justified if you are trying a fundamental change to that system, and must start from scratch. Most systems research does not fall into that category. Doing such work outside the context of a current system invalidates the results as you cannot inter compare the results you get with any sort of ‘control’. This is the basis of doing experimental science.”

This is an old dispute, and one that has its roots in the creation and demise of Berkeley Unix (BSD) distributions. So perhaps a little perspective is in order.