Linux 2.4 kernel draws closer

Father of Linux, Linus Torvalds releases Linux 2.4 prerelease kernel over the weekend. Although a few more rounds of tinkering from being stable, the new OS promises new scalability to meet enterprise-level needs.

Linus Torvalds, the "father" of the Linux operating system, sent testers and developers a 2.4 prerelease kernel over the weekend.

While Torvalds had previously said he hoped to release the final code for the 2.4 kernel by the end of December, testers got the prerelease instead.

The prerelease allows interested parties to examine and test what is essentially the final version of the code for the 2.4 kernel. Unless these testers find significant bugs or problems, Torvalds is expected to release the final code shortly thereafter.

"We are most excited about the prerelease and are keen to be involved with the final testing and stabilization of this code," said Lonn Johnston, vice president of corporate communications for Linux distributor Turbolinux, in Brisbane, Calif.

"Turbolinux has been actively involved in the development of the 2.4 kernel and welcomes the significantly improved functionality of the kernel, especially at the high end of the market," Johnston said.

While the release of the 2.4 kernel is running about a year later than initially expected, Torvalds has steadfastly refused to be rushed into an early release, saying he wanted to test it thoroughly before sending it out to the market.

"We are very happy at the prudent way Torvalds and his team have handled the release of this kernel," Johnston said. "They have not, and should not, be pressured into rushing the release of the kernel until it is completely ready,"

In time for LinuxWorld?

While Johnston expects the final 2.4 kernel will be released before the LinuxWorld conference in New York at the end of this month, he cautioned that it would take "a few rounds before the 2.4 stabilizes. As such, it will be some time before we incorporate it into our distributions. We will put it through our own testing process and will be consulting our hardware and software partners about all aspects of the release before taking it to market."

The 2.4 kernel will bring with it a slate of enhancements that will go a long way toward proving Linux's robustness and suitability for enterprise-level applications, observers say. One of the most significant new features is symmetric multiprocessing scalability. While the new kernel has a CPU limit of 32 processors on large x86 Intel servers, it is expected to be largely used at the eight-way level.

Also included will be large file system support even on 32-bit architectures; the ability to address up to 64GB of physical memory on X86 Intel servers and IA-32 platforms; expanded hardware support, with various new drivers for hardware like USB and 3D-accelerated graphics cards; and support for various new architectures like IBM's S/390 mainframe, IA-64 and, eventually, Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s X86-64.

Torvalds has previously said the ReiserFS journaling file system will be included in the 2.4.1 release, expected within two weeks of 2.4's release.

Release of the kernel is not expected to greatly accelerate Linux's already rapid adoption rate, observers say. Al Gillan, an analyst for International Development Corp. in Framingham, Mass., has said the new scalability was likely to be cautiously adopted initially.