The fate of the Reiser4 file system for Linux may well depend on a verdict rendered by a California jury this week.
As an Alameda County jury continues to deliberate the fate of Hans Reiser, the designer of the Reiser File System for Linux who is accused of murdering his wife in late 2006, a key developer on the Reiser4 project acknowledged he is uncertain about its future.
The trial ended last week and a verdict is expected imminently. The jury resumed deliberations on Monday morning.
“Reiser4 is a concern,” said Edward Shishkin, a top developer on the open source project who responded to my questions via e-mail. “It depends on my future work. I am unemployed for now [and] Reiser4 project requires not less than 20 percent of my working time.”
“On the one hand, it would be a pity to drop it, as I've spent a lot of time for this. Also it is hard to find really interesting projects like Reiser4,” he said. “On the other hand, I should think about money.”
Ext3 is a leading file system for Linux but ReiserFS is incorporated in the mainline Linux 2.4 kernel and continues to be supported in most Linux distributions, including the recently released Ubuntu 8.04.
Shishkin said that “many” open source developers continue work on and support the file system’s development exactly as they have in the past. He confirmed that Reiser4 patches for the recently released Linux kernel 2.6.25 were posted on April 18, he pointed out the Reiser4 lab is still up and running.
Yet the project is not the same without its lead developer and may not be able to survive long term. Reiser has been incarcerated during the course of his trial. “Hans is a project leader and the single manager, so with or without him is a great difference,” said Shishkin. “I wish this infinite trial with no body were ended, as the development process lacks his opinion.”
Reiser is charged with the murder of his wife, Nina, but no body has ever been found.
Open source developers on the Linux kernel and Xen.org are not optimistic that Reiser4 will survive long term -- regardless of the verdict.
“There are a lot of interesting ideas in that file system, but even before the [legal] issues, there’s always been tension between Reisr4 and the Linux kernel folks,” said Ian Pratt, chairman of Xen.org, an open source virtualization project. "I’m not hopeful.”
For now, the project is alive and well, Shishkin points out.
Novell's openSUSE switched to ext3 as the top file system but continues to support Reiser4 and Canonical's popular Ubuntu supports Reiser as well.
"Reiser Filesystem 4 is part of Ubuntu 8.04 main repository and as such will benefit of our maintenance for the next 3 years on the desktop and 5 years on the Server. There is currently no plan to remove ReiserFS support in upcoming versions of Ubuntu, but, as for all packages, that largely depends on the upstream community continued development," said Nick Barcet, a server project manager at Ubuntu.