New Linux version expected in December
The 2.6 version of the Linux core is expected in December and will be much more stable on arrival than its predecessor, according to the programmer in charge of the software.
The current test version, 2.6.0-test10, should be the last, and 2.6.0 itself will emerge by the end of the year "unless the wheels fall off in a serious manner," 2.6 overseer Andrew Morton said in an interview Tuesday.
The 2.6 Linux core, called the kernel, brings major changes compared with the 2.4 version currently sold by companies such as Red Hat and SuSE Linux. One significant improvement is the ability to take advantage of the powerful servers with numerous processors, a market where Unix is popular today and which Microsoft also is trying to crack.
"The 2.4 kernel really does begin to run out of steam at four or eight CPUs," Morton said. "With 2.6, I'd be surprised if there is anything preventing it from scaling to 32."
Linux is based on Unix. But unlike Unix, Linux grew popular on widely used and low-priced Intel-based computers. It first became popular among corporate customers on lower-end servers, but running on higher-end servers will let Linux supplant more of the Unix market.
A large number of often self-appointed programmers create Linux by collaborating and sharing the source code that underlies the software. This open-source development process contrasts starkly with the proprietary controls that govern Linux competitors such as Unix and Windows. But one thing is similar with the two approaches: delays.
Linus Torvalds, who founded and still leads the Linux programming project, said last year he hoped 2.6.0 would emerge in June. Similar schedule slips afflicted the 2.4 kernel, which was released in January 2001.
Morton is one of Torvalds' key right-hand men, called "maintainers," responsible for various sections of Linux; Morton's domain is the 2.6 kernel itself. Both programmers currently are employed by an industry-funded consortium called the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL).
Morton believes the 2.6.0 kernel will be much better tested when it arrives than 2.4.0. "I think 2.6.0-test10 is about the same level of maturity that 2.4.17" was, he said. "We're a lot farther down the track than we were with 2.4."
Not all agree, however. SuSE Chief Technology Officer Juergen Geck said in an October interview that he expects the deeper architectural changes coming with 2.6 mean that more problems will surface.
There typically is a lag between when a new kernel arrives and when it appears in products. Red Hat, the top Linux seller, waited until 2.4.2 before selling a product with the new kernel.
Red Hat tests newer technology in its "Fedora Core" releases; the main purpose of Fedora Core 2 will be to introduce and improve the 2.6 kernel before it's included in the slower-moving Red Hat Enterprise Linux product, which likely won't get the 2.6 kernel until 2005.
Red Hat and SuSE have been bringing several features from the 2.6 kernel to the 2.4 kernel in their products, a process called "backporting." In addition, the commercial kernels have other patches that make them different from the standard versions Torvalds posts at Kernel.org.