Re: New vs. Old hardware
There are drawbacks to a monolithic kernel for sure. The bloat you are referring to is an unavoidable consequence of the ballooning diversity of equipment over the passage of time. Linus and company have had to perform this really difficult three-part balancing act between adding more code to look after the latest stuff, being careful to trim only what's obsolete, and keeping the kernel size reasonable. And it's like: you only get to choose two, so kernel size suffers.
Originally Posted by mips
Conceptually, it's not hard to keep kernel bloat under control: Gentoo is tight, tiny and blazingly fast on old equipment, but this theoretical advantage is completely lost in the real world because a Gentoo install requires compiling your own kernel. This is simply not on the table for the average user. When I try Gentoo on really old equipment, I get it working less than a third of the time, after sweating for hours over really arcane kernel parameters and sometimes only after chasing down patches and obscure modules that are no longer supported. And then, the Gentoo update/upgrade process is like pulling teeth compared to the Debian approach. You really appreciate apt after trying to work with emerge (or maybe it's just my lack of familiarity with it).
An example of how bloated the kernel has become can be seen when comparing even the lightest modern distro—I would cite Tiny Core—to the kernel in my ancient first-generation HP Media Vault. TC takes up 40MB, which is already a size no mainstream distro can come close to touching. The Media Vault runs a Samba server, NFS server, USB, LPT, cron, NTP, a primitive web server, busybox with a decent selection of tools, and still has room to install ssh and rsync when hacked, and it does so on 64KB—that's K as in Kilo!
However, I can't agree with you re: XP. The original XP ran quickly on the old boxes, but by the time you get to SP3, and added the various versions of .NET (which most people had to do for apps they needed), and after what feels like a thousand security updates (which you absolutely MUST do), plus loading it up with AV, anti-blah-blah-blah (again, another absolute requirement), it became even more bloated and crufty than any modern distro, but with crappy security, crappy stability, crappy disk I/O, and crappy multitasking. In theory, a microkernel can have advantages over a monolithic one, but only if it is implemented well, and all Windows OSes are implemented like train wrecks. For actual stable productivity use, this old-hardware hound would choose DSL/Tiny Core/SliTaz over XP any day.
For a time, I kept expecting great things from HURD, but it seems to have slowed down to a dead stop these days. Anyone know what's happening?
Newb: How far must I jump to clear the ledge halfway down?
Guru: It's bad to jump off cliffs. Let's look at better options.
Newb: Stop harping about "best practices" and just tell me.