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Linux 2.6 Unleashed

The keepers of the Linux kernel, Open Source Development Labs' (OSDL) Andrew Morton and Linus Torvalds, have released Linux 2.6.0, the first update to the popular kernel in nearly three years.

According to the discussion lists they maintain, Morton, the 2.6 kernel maintainer, and Torvalds, the Linux kernel creator, have spent the past several weeks tweaking the latest beta version of the kernel, test9. In this release, they are touting huge gains for companies that use the Linux operating system to run their servers.

"With the new kernel, I think we're getting closer to Linux for everyone," Torvalds said Thursday. "I think this is the best yet and I had a lot of fun working on it," he said in a statement.

Notable to the new kernel is support for 64-bit computing, hyperthreading and improvements in dual- and multi-processor network setups, with scalability up to 16 processors. This is a vast improvement over the 2.4 kernel, which was primarily developed and tested in a single-processor environment.

Other improvements include performance improvements for database applications and networks with a limited amount of memory, as well as increased security at the kernel level.

"The 2.6 kernel will definitely improve performance and reliability, which is a value proposition the enterprise would value the most," said Leigh Day, a spokesperson at main Linux vendor Red Hat .

Red Hat has been running several 2.6 kernel improvements in Enterprise Linux 3 for some time and plans to migrate completely to the new kernel in November, 2004, when it releases Enterprise Linux 4. Given the open nature of the Linux community, the vendor has been able to use the code in development to boost its product before 2.6 was released.

SuSE, another mainstream commercial Linux vendor, plans to get a leg up on its competitor by launching SuSE Enterprise Server 9.0 with the full 2.6 kernel in the Spring of 2004. Like Red Hat, the German-based Linux developer -- in the midst of an acquisition by network software company Novell -- has several improvements from the 2.6 kernel in its existing Personal and Professional 9.0 editions.

Joe Eckert, a SuSE spokesperson, doesn't think the timeframe for including the 2.6 kernel in its Enterprise edition is too hasty.

"We have quite a few of our developers around the kernel team, this is not an unknown quantity for us," he said. "I can say two things - one, if it's not ready, it won't go out and two, I'm pretty sure we can do it."

Although it's taken nearly three years for 2.6 to arrive, kernel upgrades have been continuous, with Linux kernel maintainers at the OSDL providing updates and patches throughout that time frame. There have also been gains that have been incorporated via the 2.5 kernel, which is the developer version of the code. Even-numbered versions are the production, or stable, type of kernel used by vendors and most other Linux users.

The kernel is considered one of the most vital segments of an operating system, acting as a kind of traffic cop for the computer. When a computer (or server) boots up, its first task after recognizing the hardware on the machine is to access the software through the kernel. Typically, the kernel is responsible for memory management, process and task management, and disk management.