Long-Awaited Linux Kernel Update Slated For December Release

Linus Torvalds and Open Source Development Labs plan a big coming-out party late next month for the Linux 2.6 kernel.

November 30, 2003

4 Min Read
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Linus Torvalds and Open Source Development Labs plan a big coming-out party late next month for the Linux 2.6 kernel. Partners won't see commercial distributions based on the updated kernel until well into 2004.

Torvalds, Linux's lead developer and now an OSDL Fellow, and Linux kernel maintainer Andrew Morton this week released the test10 version of Linux 2.6 after a three-year development effort. A final test11 version is expected before they sign off on the production version next month.

"The final beta [went] on servers a couple of days ago," Morton told CRN on Tuesday. "I expect 2.6 will come out in the second half of December."

The release of the latest kernel comes at an integral moment in the short history of the Linux kernel as Unix rival The SCO Group threatens more legal action against the open-source community. SCO continues to maintain that IBM--and perhaps others--illegally donated Unix System V code to the Linux 2.4 kernel.

Morton disputed much of SCO's claim this week and indicated that SCO's threats won't rain on the celebration for the completion of Linux 2.6. The last major release of the kernel, Linux 2.4, debuted in January 2001.Even as the kernel makes its appearance in an ambiguous legal climate, systems integrators and partners shouldn't expect to see enterprise products based on Linux 2.6 under the tree this year.

Last month, for instance, Red Hat released its Enterprise Linux 3, which is based on the Linux 2.421 kernel. Red Hat doesn't expect an update that incorporates the forthcoming Linux 2.6 kernel until sometime next year, executives said. "Linux 2.6 won't be consumed by enterprises until a year from now," said Brian Stevens, vice president of operating systems development at Red Hat.

The second-leading provider of Linux distributions, SUSE Linux, plans to ship SUSE Enterprise Server 9 with the new Linux 2.6 kernel next spring, a SUSE spokesman said recently. Novell, however, won't comment on whether it will change the Linux company's product release timetable once its planned $210 million acquisition of SUSE is completed. That is expected in January.

The 2.6 kernel features major scalability improvements, faster performance, enhanced support for embedded systems and, to a lesser extent, supplies desktop systems with better USB and FireWire support, Morton said.

Linux kernel 2.6, for example, will allow companies to run the Linux distribution on multiprocessing systems with up to 64 CPUs. The new kernel will run considerably better on 64-bit Intel and Advanced Micro Devices systems due to its support for 64 Gbytes of memory.The current Linux 2.4 kernel generally supports four-way and eight-way systems and only 8 Gbytes of memory, Morton said. While embedded system makers and desktop Linux vendors can exploit some of the enhancements, vendors of enterprise Linux distributions such as Red Hat, SUSE, Conectiva and TurboLinux will see a nice bump up in performance and speed.

"The greatest improvement is in scalability," Morton said. "It scales up and runs faster on big machines."

But much of the industry focus on the kernel has switched from the individual features to litigation surrounding the code itself. SCO in March filed a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against IBM, claiming that IBM improperly donated thousands of lines of Unix code to the Linux kernel. And last week, the Lindon, Utah-based company claimed it would file a lawsuit against a Linux customer within the next 60 days. SCO also hinted that it could sue Novell over the planned SUSE acquisition.

Morton said the crew of open-source developers working on the Linux kernel are certain that no one has introduced thousands of lines of Unix code to the Linux kernel.

"We're a fairly tight-knit community who have been working together five years, and if a new person with 100,000 lines of code [tried to contribute], it would stick out like sore thumb," Morton said. "You can tell when something has grown up in a different environment and is ported over to another [platform]. We've gone though Linux and looked at all the major subsystems, and we couldn't come up with anything. We mentally took a walk though the kernel and came up with a blank."He did, however, cite two possible exceptions that might apply to the litigation.

"There was one obscure file system written by a person employed by SCO and Caldera, but he said he developed it on his own time," Morton said, adding the person got his boss' approval via e-mail. "We were quite comfortable with that."

Morton acknowledged that the XFS and JFS file systems, which were originally developed under a Unix license and then ported over to Linux, could be a sticky issue that lawyers can exploit. "SGI did develop it. It could be [SCO] has a legitimate case there, not technically, but on the letter of the law," Morton said.

This article appears courtesy of CRN, www.crn.com, the newspaper for builders of technology solutions.

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