Bleeding edge for the rest of us

As I write this, reportsof Caldera's purchase of SCO's Unix division continue to hang over(parts of) the community like a fog. Nobody in a position to talk is doingso, and it's been almost two weeks since the first reports claimed thatthis was going to happen.

As I write this, reports of Caldera's purchase of SCO's Unix division continue to hang over (parts of) the community like a fog. Nobody in a position to talk is doing so, and it's been almost two weeks since the first reports claimed that this was going to happen. I wish it would either take place or go away already.

If and when the deal does happen, I'll have more to say. Until then I'll want to know more about the details to determine whether it will be a Good Thing for Caldera. I don't like basing commentary on rumor if I can help it. In the meantime, it's extremely good to see that Caldera isn't standing still waiting for something to happen, and has produced a really new Linux item.

Before I go on, a disclaimer: I've been working with Caldera since 1995, and have always had a good relationship with the company and its people. Having said that, I've already written more than a year's worth of weekly pieces and this is the first one that's been about a Caldera product.

And, in reality, this one isn't even a full-blown product.

The Caldera Linux Technology Preview (LTP) is an actual boxed, two-CD distribution that offers a taste of Linux to come. Based on pre-release versions of the 2.4 kernel, KDE 2.0 and the newest XFree86, the LTP is the first kit I've seen in a while that easily allows those unversed in kernel installation to examine future developments.

Goals
The package is clearly aimed at developers, specifically to attract them to the Caldera platform. The release of the LTP parallels that of Caldera's OpenLinux Developer Network (ODN), a virtual meeting and resource area. Clearly Caldera is interested in attracting new application developers to ODN, those who may not care about the guts of the new system but want to get a head start on understanding, for example, the totally-new-for-2.4 Linux firewalling mechanism. For good measure, the LTP also includes a number of Java development tools and Sun's HotSpot, a Java virtual machine.

The LTP is available in a box for $20 from Caldera's website. There's also a $20 rebate, so you can basically get it for the cost of shipping. Alternatively, you can burn your own CD with the downloadable version from Caldera's FTP site.

"We felt that making LTP available through retail using a net cost of $0 would get it into as many hands as possible," said Caldera's Joe Ballif. "Convenience is the issue here."

On the other hand, if you want to start looking at a non-Caldera 2.4-based system right now, you could go to your favorite kernel mirror site, FTP and build the components on your own. But it's fair to say that a great many people who have a keen interest in where Linux is going do not (and should not) need to bother with all this. The LTP has it all wrapped up in a neat little package that installs as easily as any of Caldera's current OpenLinux-based systems.

Contrasting styles
As if to underscore the unique approach of the LTP, Red Hat this week made a beta version of its 7.0 release available on its website. Compared to the anyone-can-get-it approach of the LTP, the details of Red Hat 7.0 on Slashdot were revealed with typical techie elitism. The posting sneered that "if you can't find it without me telling you where it is, then you shouldn't be running a Beta Red Hat." (Thankfully, someone from Red Hat did post a list of download sites.)

Maybe Slashdotters still get off on such put downs; its fans have never thought much of Caldera anyway. The LTP never even received a mention on Slashdot, even though it beat Red Hat's release by a week (and Red Hat 7.0 isn't even based on the 2.4 kernel). Still, despite the technoslur, I think the LTP is just what the new generation of Linux developers could use. And when Ballif says, "We want to be seen as being in the forefront of Linux development," projects such as the LTP give the claim at least a bit of credence. This release harkens back about five years, when Caldera also released a preview of its first ever product -- the Network Desktop. It was a good idea then, and it's still a good idea today.

Actually, LTP may even be easier to install than most production distributions of Linux. It uses Caldera's Lizard installer which has always been one of the better ones among Linux distros. Furthermore, this was the only installation I can recall where my "plug-and-pray" ISA sound card was recognized immediately -- no doubt a result of the 2.4 kernel's new PnP smarts.

Having said that, let's not forget that this is a technology preview. The packaging is deliberately distinct from a conventional eDesktop or eServer, and there's frequent mention that LTP is "not recommended for use in a production environment." Furthermore, the 2.4 kernel still needs significant work before it's ready for prime time, so we could be waiting a while before the technology in the LTP is stable enough for everyday use.

Nevertheless, this is a perfect way to get your feet wet in the New Linux, and you don't have to learn the secret handshake to get your hands on it.

Would the Linux technology preview be of value to you? Tell Evan in the TalkBack below or in the ZDNet Linux Forum. Or write to Evan directly at evan@starnix.com.

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