Linux 2.6 Christened, Sails into Open Waters

Promising marked performance and reliability improvements and further demonstrating that Linux is ready for prime-time enterprise use, open-source developers led by Linux creator Linus Torvalds and production kernel maintainer Andrew Morton have released version 2.6 of the operating system kernel.

The new operating system software, available as source code online at kernel.org, is the first major Linux kernel release in nearly three years. Linux creator Torvalds, who unveiled the original Linux kernel in 1991, indicated that the newest system core will push Linux to a wider number of users.

“With the new kernel, I think we’re getting closer to Linux for everyone,” Torvalds said in a statement.

A Zillion Features

Illuminata senior analyst Gordon Haff told LinuxInsider that rather than “one, big, Earth-shattering thing,” the new kernel represents a range of smaller improvements, mainly related to usability and performance — “a zillion individual features,” he said.

Haff added that the 2.6 kernel brings Linux on par with other Unix systems, particularly for high-end computing where Linux was previously limited in scalability.

“It’s further emphasis that Linux really has arrived for the enterprise,” Haff said.

New System, Old Path

Haff said that although it is an open-source project, as opposed to proprietary or commercial software, the release of the Linux 2.6 kernel shows Linux resembling the older software systems it is replacing for many users.

“In a lot of ways, it’s following the path that commercial or proprietary operating systems have followed over the years,” Haff said. “That is one of steady, incremental improvements.

“It’s been a standard, oft-repeated story as OSes become relatively mature,” Haff added.

Not for Everyone, Not for Kernel

Haff said that although the 2.6 release does put Linux level with a greater number of competing operating systems, Linux is still not quite ready for all users, particularly on the desktop.

“There are still deficiencies in Linux being for everyone,” he said.

However, the analyst indicated that issues of device and application support — “the hardware and software and partner ecosystem around Linux” — are impeding the operating system on the desktop, not the Linux kernel itself.

“The issues come down to philosophical ones, the number of applications that support it, the number of independent software vendors that support it — it’s not really the core OS itself,” Haff said.

Scaling Open To Close Gaps

SuSE Labs software developer Chris Mason, whose company plans to release the first enterprise Linux server based on the new kernel next year, told LinuxInsider that the primary improvements in 2.6 center on increased scalability.

Mason, who worked on development of the kernel, said it can now handle more processors, more physical devices and additional hardware. The 2.6 kernel improves scalability to include 64-bit systems and beyond, according to Linux consortium Open Source Development Labs (OSDL).

Mason, who predicted more scalability improvements with the next version of the Linux kernel, said high-end systems that were limited to Unix because Linux could not scale up are now able to run the new Linux.

“We’ve removed that gap for the most part,” he said.

Already Out There

Other improvements in Linux 2.6 include faster threading, added memory support, enhanced disk-drive performance and broader embedded-chip support. There are also new desktop features for plug and play, improved sound, USB, Firewire and more.

It had been a long time since the last Linux kernel release, and many analysts have called this latest one “major.” Several new features and capabilities in 2.6 have already been made available through backporting to the 2.4 kernel or software releases from vendors such as Red Hat and SuSE, which included 2.6 components in its 9.0 desktop software released in September.

“With the 2.6 beta, there seemed to be the attitude of take it slow and do it right,” Haff said.

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