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Oracle's VirtualBox kernel module labelled 'crap'

Linux kernel developers have delivered a blow to Oracle's VirtualBox virtualisation platform, marking its kernel module as 'crap' as the result of numerous crashes and corruptions linked to its use.

In a post to the Linux Kernel Mailing List, Red Hat developer Dave Jones explains that Oracle's VirtualBox kernel module - taken under the company's control following its acquisition of Sun Microsystems, itself receiving control from its original developer Innotek - is simply too unreliable to be used unmodified in a Linux installation.

"The number of bug reports we get from people with virtualbox loaded are truly astonishing," Jones writes. "It's GPL [licensed], but sadly that doesn't mean it's good. Nearly all of these bugs look like random corruption," he adds, pointing to reports of corrupt link lists, page tables, and general random crashing.

As a result, Jones has suggested a patch to the Linux kernel which marks the VirtualBox module as 'crap,' in a process known as 'tainting.' Although it sounds harsh it's the same designation given to anything in the relatively untested 'staging' tree, and is designed to prevent kernel developers from receiving bug reports that are a direct result of badly written kernel modules.

"With this tainting in place, automatic bug filing tools can opt out of automatically filing kernel bugs," Jones explains, "and inform the user to file bugs somewhere more appropriate."

It's a move which has received support from other kernel developers, including SUSE's Grek Kroah-Hartman who has promised to include Jones' patch in the openSUSE kernels.

The patch represents a growing disillusionment with Oracle's open source projects, which include OpenOffice.org, MySQL and VirtualBox. The company has already seen a large proportion of OpenOffice.org contributors leave in favour of spin-off LibreOffice - due, project founder Michael Meeks claims, to Oracle's inability to comprehend the concept of an open source community - and this latest vote of no-confidence on its VirtualBox project will come as a blow.

If accepted into the kernel, the patch doesn't mean that users will stop being able to install VirtualBox, however: while the kernel module itself is marked as 'crap,' it doesn't affect users' ability to install it - only how crashes and bug reports are handled within the system itself.

Despite that, Oracle is displeased with Jones' patch. "I can understand that you would rather ignore bug reports from external kernel modules," Oracle's Frank Mehnhert - senior manager for the VirtualBox project - writes in reply to Jones' message to the list. "On the other hand I don't like the TAINT_CRAP flag, as you can probably imagine.

"Please also note that we always have good relations to the open source community," Mehnert claims, "so feel free to point me an archive where all these kernel panic reports arrive which you've got. We fixed some bugs in our kernel modules in the past and it is even possible that some of the current bug reports are from older versions of VirtualBox which might have been fixed in the meantime."