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The Next Linux Cometh

Linux creator Linus Torvalds was up to his old tricks again Monday, releasing a new Linux kernel that he developed with maintainer Andrew Morton.

The software release, available online at www.kernel.org, is the test9 release version of the Linux 2.6 kernel, and is designed specifically for use on the corporate enterprise level.

The release also is the latest in a series of test versions that will lead to the final production release of 2.6 Linux. Torvalds, who crafted Linux in 1991 while at university in Finland, left a high-profile job at chipmaker Transmeta earlier this year to work on the kernel. He and Morton released their first test version in July -- a version that established stable APIs, including Posix and thread interfaces.

With news of the latest version, officials from the Open Source Development Labs in Beaverton, Ore., called upon major Linux customers, independent software vendors, and leading systems providers to target the test9 kernel for validation and enhancement to prepare for the next production release. Torvalds, an OSDL fellow, echoed these statements himself in a prepared statement released yesterday.

"Now is when we want big companies and software vendors to step in and hammer on the kernel so we can get their ideas into the final production release," he said. "This is [the] last big chance."

When Torvalds and Morton released their first test kernel, the OSDL performed performance and regression tests of its own. The Lab's test infrastructure consisted of its Scalable Test Platform (STP) and Patch Lifecycle Manager (PLM) systems, plus a compile regression test platform. The lab published testing results online at www.osdl.org/projects/25lnxstblztn/results/, and plans to publish results of the latest tests, as well.

Until these results are available, OSDL Lab Director Timothy Witham said the Lab will continue to explore improvements in the new Linux kernel over the current production 2.4 Linux kernel released in January 2001. Some of the improvements lab technicians already have identified include: improved scalability, faster threading, enhanced driver layers, better desktop features, and support for a bevy of embedded device applications.

"The new... kernel really broadens the markets where Linux can replace legacy platforms," Witham said. "It [allows] Linux to scale dramatically up to support 32 or more processors, and down to run in a wide variety of... low-cost embedded processors."

Among the major improvements, the new 2.6 kernel has been tested on up to 64-way systems and is ready for production use on 32-way machines. The kernel has a new CPU scheduler, memory management and file system code. It also supports up to 8Gb of memory on IA-32 systems.

The 2.6 kernel includes a new native Posix Thread Library for Linux and an enhanced driver layer so that I/O devices such as disks perform better and are easier to manage with things like Logical Volume Management (LVM), sysfs, device mapper, and reduced lock contention. The new version also supports even more embedded device applications - for example, support for uClinux.

Most dramatically for desktop support are the improvement of hot plug devices, including firewire and USB. The Linux team also said mouse, video, and sound are smoother and perform better. The new kernel also has Advanced Linux Sound Architecture (ALSA) for professional music-studio quality audio.

The production Linux 2.6 kernel was scheduled to be released by early next year. OSDL will accept test validation results until at least the end of November.