Yearning for the days of rolling your own kernel

It used to be, you know - back in the day, that you almost always had to roll your own Linux kernel. Inevitably, there was a feature you needed or a bit of hardware unsupported in the standard kernel. Be it a specific networking card, sound card, name it...we were all compiling kernels. In fact, it became a sort of right of passage in order to join the ranks of the Linux elite. I would be among the crowds at the Linux conventions (back when they were smaller and mostly attended by developers and fanboys), and you'd hear various attendees bragging on their kernel compiling prowess.

When I first started with Linux I didn't dare attempt to compile a kernel. That was for the big boys. It wasn't until I was years into the system that I would start rolling my own. It started with the need to get a Web cam working. From there it went to specializing this and/or that. I was compiling new kernels left and right. And I was proud of it. I felt myself among an elite crowd that could manipulate the very underpinnings of the Linux operating system. I could change Linux itself.

And I did so with most every release of whatever distribution I was using. That is, until recent years. It seems the Linux kernel developers have caught up with everyone. Now a released kernel almost always fulfills my every need. So much so that I haven't had to roll my own kernel in years (almost five, I believe). I would be hard pressed to undertake the adventure without a little bit of research (I'm forty years old - my memory isn't what it used to be.)

And this makes me yearn for the days when you had to prove your Linux worth  in order to get your particular system up and running 100 percent. I no longer feel as deeply connected to my systems as I once was. Sure I'm still protective of them (I have a 13 year-old in the house after all) but I don't KNOW it as well as I did when I was having to "create" the very foundation of the system.

This makes me wonder, how much of the Linux-using IT industry is still having to compile kernels in order to get their systems fully functioning?  Have the Linux kernel developers come that far? Are they that good that they have made obsolete the administrator-space compilation of the kernel? Is Linux kernel compilation really only for the developers these days?

So while I sit here reminiscing  about the days when I was up until 4 a.m. learning to compile kernels, I am proud to know the Linux kernel developers have made that ritual a thing of the past for many of us.

Linux - especially the kernel - has come a long way. Even though I yearn for the days of rolling my own kernel, I'm happy to say I no longer have to.

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....