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I realise that it's perfectly on topic to ask how to install a non-Ubuntu kernel, but what about problems that are specific to non-Ubuntu kernels? Are they and should they be on topic?

If not, why not? And if so, given that the kernel is so integral to the OS, and considering how answerable such questions will be, why?


As an example, consider my own case:

I run Ubuntu MATE 17.04. If I use the Ubuntu kernel on my machine, hibernation works if I unload the brcmfmac driver first, but sound doesn't work at all (my sound card is not detected), closing the lid causes the system to die horribly, the touchpad module has to be reloaded after suspend, and I have to use the intel_idle.max_cstate=1 boot parameter to stop the system from freezing randomly.

So I'm using a version of 4.12-rc2 compiled by some guy* on Ubuntu forums. It fixes all other problems, but hibernation doesn't work. Partly this is because three drivers cause the system to fail the platform test, but I cannot unload them, because that guy made those drivers built-in to avoid a problem with LUKS (which I don't use).

So, if I want to ask a question about getting hibernation to work with this kernel, is it on topic here?

*a really awesome guy who I'm very grateful to, obviously

  • I've said before and stand on the fact that custom kernels should be off-topic, but people want them on topic. So, I just avoid the questions. There is a history of meta questions on custom kernels though. – RobotHumans Jun 15 '17 at 13:55
  • @RobotHumans those other questions seem to address whether the fact of using a custom kernel makes the question automatically off topic, and whether installing custom kernels is off topic. I think this is slightly different, and it's been under discussion lately. It would be great if you wanted to elaborate on your reasoning in an answer :) – Zanna Jun 15 '17 at 13:58
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    meta.askubuntu.com/questions/5576/… the votes say people want the support nightmare of helping everyone install and use every custom kernel on earth. To be fair, they wanted to make Unity the primary desktop environment at the time too though... so... – RobotHumans Jun 15 '17 at 14:00
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    Another 2 ct: I would ask about my problem on U+L and not Ubuntu. You probably need users more experienced with kernels and I'd expect those to be mainly on U+L and maybe also on AU. – Rinzwind Jun 15 '17 at 14:28
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I see no reason why not. Ubuntu is an operating system, it is not a kernel. That's precisely the distinction that people like RMS make when they insist on calling the OS GNU/Linux and not Linux. Linux is a kernel, not an OS and Ubuntu is an OS, not a kernel.

The kernel is just one of many bits and pieces that make up an operating system. It is arguably the most important of these, but nevertheless, it is still just one of them.

So, if you are using a modified kernel on an Ubuntu system and want help fiddling with it, I don't see how it is any different than if you were using a Desktop Environment with no Ubuntu flavor associated with it. Say you install Cinnamon on Ubuntu, that doesn't change the fact that you're using Ubuntu. You can still ask for help setting it up or tweaking it.

Tweaking kernels is relatively common, after all and one of the benefits of using Linux for power users is precisely this ability to configure the system to fit your needs. This includes configuring a kernel. I don't think anyone would argue that recompiling the kernel to enable an option is off topic here, so why would using a kernel someone else has recompiled be any different?

Also, consider the implications. If we say that questions about making non-Ubuntu kernels work on Ubuntu are off topic, that would suggest that using an Ubuntu kernel on a non-Ubuntu distribution would make it on topic. So I could install Ubuntu's kernel on my Arch machine and then ask questions about it here.

The way I see it, the worst that can happen is that nobody here will be able to help you but I see absolutely no basis to make such issues off topic. What next, should we also make questions asking about lilo off topic because Ubuntu ships with grub by default?

  • Well, +1, but I don't think it would be implied that Ubuntu kernel + distro x = on topic... The implication is, if OS==Ubuntu && kernel==Ubuntu then Q is on-topic, not Ubuntu==Ubuntu kernel regardless of everything else – Zanna Jun 15 '17 at 14:21
  • "What next, should we also make questions asking about lilo off topic because Ubuntu ships with grub by default?" If lilo is not in the repos: yes. Just my 2ct ;) – Rinzwind Jun 15 '17 at 14:24
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    @Rinzwind so you would argue for making any piece of software that doesn't happen to be in the Ubuntu repos off topic? For one thing, that would make PPAs off topic and for another, I really don't see the point of that. It seems like too many people here try to find ways of making questions off topic instead of just trying to find ways to help the OP. – terdon Jun 15 '17 at 14:27
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    @Rinzwind but installing random-3rd-party-app in Ubuntu is surely on topic in general (we have a lot of questions about them) but maybe the kernel should be a special case, since it affects so much system behaviour – Zanna Jun 15 '17 at 14:28
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    @Zanna I don't see any other way of seeing it. We have the very simple rule that in order for your question to be on topic, you need to be running Ubuntu. Not vanilla Ubuntu, just Ubuntu. Claiming that changing the kernel changes the distribution you are using seems very strange to me. Installing an Ubuntu kernel on a Debian machine doesn't make it Ubuntu, so why would installing a non-Ubuntu kernel on an Ubuntu machine make it not Ubuntu? – terdon Jun 15 '17 at 14:28
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    @terdon If I re-brand an Ubuntu that would make it off-topic. And all I changed are a bunch of images and the name. – Rinzwind Jun 15 '17 at 14:34
  • @Zanna I would ask about lilo on U+L. – Rinzwind Jun 15 '17 at 14:35
  • @Rinzwind why would that be off topic? Yes, if someone else has done it and released it as a distribution under a different name, it would be off topic. Which, in my opinion is absolutely ridiculous, but those are the rules of the site. However, if you take a stock Ubuntu and just change the branding, I don't know of any ruile or precedent that would make it off topic. And yes, I am well aware of how absurd this is. – terdon Jun 15 '17 at 14:36
  • It's always worth questioning silly rules... I guess we have silly rules because they are easier to apply that way. Anyway I agree with the spirit of your argument I think - we shouldn't send people away because their questions are hard, and we can always suggest they might be more likely to get an answer on U&L (for example) without making new (and tricky to apply) rules about scope so we can close questions just to get them off our plates. (However, I won't be trying to inflict my hypothetical question on y'all cc @Rinzwind) – Zanna Jun 15 '17 at 15:53
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    @Zanna I agree that you're more likely to get help on U&L since the concentration of command line and kernel geeks there is higher. – terdon Jun 15 '17 at 15:59
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    About the distinction between making unofficial derivatives and using an already-existing OS that isn't considered to be Ubuntu: Are questions about making “unofficial” derivatives of Ubuntu welcome? (tl;dr: Yes.) As for the possibility of AU supporting unofficial derivatives' users, I think this wouldn't usually be a good idea, but I don't see official status or branding as the only issue. On the kernel issue I think it boils down to what we already generally recognize as Ubuntu. – Eliah Kagan Aug 24 '17 at 12:27
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Let's look around

Here's a peculiar quote from Canonical's site:

Lower costs

Ubuntu Core is free. It can be distributed at no cost, with a custom kernel, BSP and suite of apps to suit your device.

Here's another one, that's disclamer from Ubuntu wiki:

Building and using a custom kernel will make it very difficult to get support for your system.

While it is a learning experience to compile your own kernel, you will not be allowed to file bugs on the custom-built kernel (if you do, they will be Rejected without further explanation).

Did you notice anything peculiar ? At no point do these quotes state that result of using custom kernel, your OS will be considered not-Ubuntu. It might void your warranty, but it's still Ubuntu, hence it's on-topic.

What Ask Ubuntu help center says?

Questions that you may ask:

  • Using and administering official Ubuntu flavors including:
  • Running third-party applications on Ubuntu.
  • Development on Ubuntu. Services provided by Ubuntu and Canonical. Any questions not mentioned below or here are great
  • Services provided by Ubuntu and Canonical.

Use and administration of an Ubuntu system occasionally involves dealing with the kernel (shocker, I know). It is important for businesses and developers to sometimes have custom compiled kernel for better performance or security. This is a tweak, not distro alteration as far as I see it, same as if a user were to tweak their desktop.

What if we have a user who is data scientist, who has custom-compiled version of Python for performance ? That's still Python, it's just optimized for user's needs. And we still recognize such questions as on-topic, even though Python is very much integral to an Ubuntu system. Use of custom compiled version of desktop, or scripting language, or bash shell ( or any other shell for that matter ) doesn't alter the distro, and generally is accepted. I see no reason to ostracize questions with custom kernels.

Development on Ubuntu also involves kernels (another shocker). Our community also has kernel and drivers developers. And in the process of development they alter the kernel thus making it custom, but their sum total of all tools still adds up to the OS being Ubuntu.

Here's also a far fetched but reasonable question to ask: Ubuntu has Livepatch service (which would fall under "Services provided by Ubuntu and Canonical"), but doesn't a user alter the kernel thus making it custom when they patch it?

The point is that having a tuned kernel and having issue with it doesn't constitute question being off-topic. An OS is sum total of all tools, even if one of them breaks.

  • If your argument is "we support Ubuntu no matter what", then, OK - I'm not asking whether using a non-Ubuntu kernel makes it not Ubuntu, I'm asking whether issues with such a kernel should be supported here. "It will be very difficult to get support... you will not be allowed to file bugs..." - suggests we are going an extra mile somewhat in doing so. – Zanna Jun 16 '17 at 3:58
  • My argument is that use of custom kernel doesn't make it not Ubuntu thus doesn't make it off topic. Same thing as what terdon alluded to. As for extra mile, don't you think providing workarounds and fixes for Nvidia drivers and wireless issues is extra mile ? I don't think so. I see it as problem solving. Same thing with kernel. The user isn't asking typically to fix bug globally and push it to repos, only to fix their case. Again, main argument is custom kernel questions are on topic. Let me know if anything is unclear. – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Jun 16 '17 at 8:11
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    K - so I'm a little confused, having assumed that a custom kernel becomes off-topic - I believe that I have seen that statement from users who have been on this site much longer than I. My confusion comes from those distro's which are Ubuntu derived (Mint, Elementary, Neon et. al.) - Some of these seem to be running the same kernel as the current release of Ubuntu, and many of the answers apply equally to these distros – Charles Green Jun 17 '17 at 22:12
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    @CharlesGreen I think the principal objection to derivatives is that we may have no idea what exactly they changed and no desire to dig that out. If a user installed a custom kernel, DE, whatever, they know what they changed and can provide us that information, unlike somebody who used a derivative without knowing what changed under (or over) the hood. – muru Jun 21 '17 at 6:13
  • this question asked today is relevant to this discussion - "Gee, I installed a really new kernel and some software seems to be unsupported..." My inclination would be to mark this as off topic as the kernel is a development version. – Charles Green Jun 22 '17 at 14:48

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