Linux 2.4: To ship or not to ship?

Linux 2.4 isn't finalised yet. So Linux distributors are finding themselves faced with the choice of building products around the older kernel or the beta, bleeding-edge version

Linux distributors are finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place, in terms of timing. The next version of the Linux kernel -- Version 2.4 -- isn't expected to be finalised until some time this autumn.

Thus the major Linux vendors, who are in the midst of updating their product lines, are finding themselves faced with an unsavoury choice -- to build products around the older 2.2 kernel, or release products that incorporate a beta kernel.

Red Hat is taking a somewhat conservative approach. When it released a first beta of Red Hat Linux 7.0 this week, it opted to build it around the existing 2.2 kernel. The 7.0 beta is code-named "Pinstripe".

But the company is taking steps to make sure it won't lag behind, once the 2.4 kernel is done, claimed Doug Ledford, manager of Red Hat's kernel development department.

"[Pinstripe] has been engineered to run both the 2.2 and 2.4 kernels," Ledford said. Red Hat will release the final version of Pinstripe with a 2.2 kernel, and when the 2.4 kernel is ready, the company said it will provide a 2.4 kernel build that customers can run on top of the 2.2 Pinstripe release.

On the Web server front, however, Red Hat already is pushing the 2.4 envelope, said Ingo Molnar, Red Hat's kernel development/systems engineer.

Molnar is developing Tux (Threaded Linux Webserver), a product heavily grounded in Linux 2.4. Red Hat has said it plans to make all of the Tux code available as open source.

"Tux relies on and uses many advances of the 2.4 kernel which are not yet in the 2.2 kernel, such as scalable TCP/IP networking, large file support, 64GB RAM support, interrupt binding and process binding," Molnar said.

"The interrupt and process binding features of the 2.4 kernel were developed as part of the Tux project and were merged into the 2.4 kernel a few weeks ago."

Caldera Systems, for its part, is taking a slightly different tack. It began shipping this week a "technology developer release preview" version of its Linux product.

The technology preview includes a test version of the Linux 2.4 kernel, as well as a beta preview of Java 2 for Linux and a version of Sun Microsystems' Java HotSpot client and server virtual machines.

We're doing this to "let people get a hold of these technologies and test their applications to make sure they will work, so they can ship them as soon as the [2.4 kernel] is ready," explained Joe Ballif, product line manager for Caldera's eServer product.

Like Microsoft does with some of its operating system betas, Caldera is charging interested parties for its preview.

But unlike Microsoft, Caldera is offering testers a penny for their efforts. The Caldera technology preview costs $19.99, and Caldera is providing customers with a $20 rebate.

Earlier this summer, it became apparent that Linux 2.4 was running about a year behind schedule. Many industry watchers are expecting the final 2.4 kernel to be posted around October. Late last week, test version 5 of the 2.4 kernel was posted to the Linux kernel archives. Linux 2.4 will include a number of improvements aimed at both consumer and enterprise customers.

On the more consumer-oriented side, it will offer built-in Universal Serial Bus and FireWire support. On the enterprise side, it will feature 64GB of memory, a 64-bit file system and improved multiprocessing/multithreading support.

"There were a few stumbling blocks, but it's looking up again. We've had some purely logistical issues," said Linus Torvalds. "And there have been all the regular issues with people piping up at the last moment about their favourite feature or least favourite bug."

"At this point, all basic known issues have been resolved, which is a good thing," Torvalds continued. "It obviously doesn't mean that I'll release 2.4 tomorrow, though. It does mean that we've started seeing the commercial houses starting to pick up the 2.4 test kernels for their bleeding-edge stuff, and that I'm not as stressed about it all anymore."

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. Evan Leibovitch gives us the low down and a quick preview of the next-generation Linux from an unexpected source -- Caldera. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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