The future of Systems Research II

Bryan Cantrill article “Whither USENIX?” I mentioned here last week got a lot of feedback.

Werner Vogels, who was a member of the USENIX’04 Program committee wrote a long response “Why doesn’t Academia understand Industrial Work?”.

I believe that the problems that Bryan mentions here transcend just paper writing. In the US there is a strong history in collaboration between Academia and Industry, but in general the knowledge stream is one way: academics transfers their results either through papers or presentations to industry, but the number of researchers that is really allowed a look into industry’s kitchen is very limited. [..] Having more papers by industry in conferences will not solve this problem, as papers in general only describe positive, successful results. They do not give academia input into a realistic research agenda and thus contribute little to a better understanding of the problems that industry is struggling with.

Another interesting comment from Greg Wilson:

Software doesn’t have to be right in order to be publishable. (After all, when was the last time you saw a paper rejected because of concerns about bugs in the code?)

“Right” in Greg’s terms probably means something like “useable for the industry”. This reminds me of a sentence in Andy Tanenbaum’s article “Who wrote Linux”:

Everyone was trying to turn MINIX into a production-quality UNIX system and I didn’t want it to get so complicated that it would become useless for my purpose, namely, teaching it to students.

Ted Leung pointed to Rob Pikes System Software Research is irrelevant:

Estimate that 90-95% of the work in Plan 9 was directly or indirectly to honor externally imposed standards […] Plus, commercial companies that ‘own’ standards, e.g. Microsoft, Cisco, deliberately make standars hard to comply with, to frustrate competition.

Rob also comments on OpenSource:

The excitement generated by a clone of a decades-old operating system demonstrates the void that the systems software research community has failed to fill.
Besides, Linux’s cleverness is not in the software but in the development model, hardly a triumph of academic CS (especially software engineering) by any measure.

And now Bryan provides a possible solution:

Our primary motivations for open sourcing Solaris: we wish to provide complete access to a best-of-breed system that allows researchers to solve new problems instead of revisiting old ones.

Somehow I got the impression that OpenSource will replace traditional Academia as resource of ideas and inspiration, as traditional Academia is too theoretical. Should Academia and the industry encourage Open Source projects as a middleware between both worlds?