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Gifts for All in Linux 2.6.28

Linux
Linux creator Linus Torvalds is expected to soon release the final Linux kernel of 2008, loaded full of stocking stuffers for users of the open source operating system. Among the key new items in the release is a new, stable filesystem as well as improved graphics performance.

The Linux 2.6.28 kernel will be the fifth Linux kernel release of 2008 and follows the 2.6.27 release that came in October.

"I do think that I'll make 2.6.28 be a Christmas release (or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Insert-Favorite-Holiday, whatever)," Torvalds wrote in a Linux Kernel Mailing List posting. "Because quite frankly, this kind of boredom won't help anything and I'll go stir crazy if I have to do this for another two weeks."

The ext4 filesystem, which has been in various stages of implementation in the Linux kernel over the course of 2008, is one of the big items in the 2.6.28 release, which marks the first release in which the new filesystem has been declared stable. The new system is an evolution of the ext3 filesystem, the default on many current Linux distributions.

"The ext4 filesystem, the successor to the ext3 filesystem, has been marked stable enough for people to start using and relying on," Novell Linux kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman told InternetNews.com.

One of the shortcomings of ext3 had been that it uses a system in which every 4k of data has a piece of metadata pointing to where that data is on the drive. Ext4 replaces the 4k system with "extents," which simply allocates data from a given starting position. The use of ext4 will allow for bigger filesystems and file sizes while providing performance improvements to filesytem operations.

While ext4 represents the next stage from ext3, Linux developers are also at work on another filesystem, BTRFS, which may deliver even further improvements in 2009.

Linux 2.6.28 may also herald a new era for video on Linux as well.

"We now have a proper memory manager for video memory, the GEM [Graphics Execution Manager] memory manager," Kroah-Hartman said. "This gives Linux much better graphics performance than it previously had."

The video improvements in Linux also extend to power utilization for graphics. Red Hat Fedora Project Leader Paul Frields told InternetNews.com that the 2.6.28 kernel enables reduced power consumption across the video driver subsystem in the vertical blanking routines, which will be helpful to mobile users.

On the topic of mobility, Linux 2.6.28 is loaded with Wireless USB support, which is something that had been lacking in Linux.

"Linux now fully supports wireless USB and other ultra-wideband-type devices," Novell's Kroah-Hartman said. "This is a whole new class of devices that is nice to see us working properly for."

Virtualization also gets a boost in Linux 2.6.28 with improvements to its Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM). The feature first appeared in the mainline Linux kernel with the 2.6.20 release in February 2007.

In the newest update, "KVM virtualization code improvements allow PCI devices to be assigned to guest [virtual machines]," Fedora's Frields said. "It it also includes support for Intel's "Tukwila" processors.

Red Hat now has a particularly strong relationship with KVM after acquiring its lead commercial sponsor Qumranet this year for $107 million.

While the new 2.6.28 kernel includes stable support for lots of hardware devices, it also opens up to let users try out hardware drivers that aren't yet quite ready.

"We have a staging driver tree that contains lots of "not quite fully supported" drivers for hardware, allowing users to use hardware earlier than previously had been possible," Novell's Kroah-Hartman said.