More Power to Gentoo Linux

Gentoo Linux has released its first update of 2006, continuing the evolution of the meta-distribution, adding new software versions and improving support for PowerPC architectures.

It also offers what Gentoo developers are claiming to be the first distribution with compile time optimization for the POWER5 processor. That support comes partially thanks to an IBM donation to Gentoo.

Gentoo 2006.0 includes the latest stable Linux kernel 2.6.15 as well as GNOME 2.12.2 and KDE 3.4.3 on the desktop. 2006.0 serves as an update to the installation media of the last milestone release 2005.1 which came out last August.

The new milestone release also include the official debut of Gentoo’s Linux installer which is initially being included with the x86 version.

Gentoo developer Daniel Ostrow told that the installer is still pre-1.0 so it may have a few rough edges.

“But enough work went into it that the x86 team was confident enough to move to it as their network-less install medium,” Ostrow said. “The old command line based installer is still around via the minimal CD.”

The other noteworthy aspect of 2006.0 is its support for PPC64 including IBM’s POWER5 architecture. IBM debuted its POWER5 server line for Linux in September 2005. At the time, IBM claimed that the servers would support then current Novell’s SuSe Linux Enterprise Server 9 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux Advanced Server 3.

Gentoo has optimized stages of its distribution for both the G5 and POWER5 processors. Ostrow explained that when Gentoo talks about optimization they are speaking of compile time flags that make sure the generated binaries are tuned to get the most out of the given hardware.

“RHEL and SUSE have to compile their binaries for the lowest common system, be that power3 or power4 I’m not quite sure,” said Ostrow. “Since we can provide supported release stages at many levels we had the opportunity to do both.”

Officially speaking, IBM places Red Hat and Novellat the top of its Linux partner ecosystem. That’s not to say they’re not beyond extending their influence to other distributions as well.

The key to Gentoo’s support of POWER5 was none other than IBM itself.

“IBM helped in a big way. They were generous enough to donate a OpenPower 720 to the ppc64 team,” Ostrow said. “This allowed us both the ability to test power5 optimized stages and provide a more rapid development cycle.”

IBM spokesperson John E. Charlson confirmed that IBM provided the team with a POWER5 Open Power 720, which is hosted by the Oregon State University Open Source Lab,

Charlson noted that IBM has also worked with Gentoo to provide discounts to a couple key PPC maintainers on 970-based (64-bit) Apple Quads.

Charlson also explained how IBM sees Gentoo is optimized for POWER5. According to Charlson, Gentoo creates “stages” that are downloaded as source by the user to be run on a particular architecture. These stages are then compiled on the users box.

What the POWER5 and PPC97(e.g. for Apple G5) stages do, is pass CPU specific (POWER5 or PPC970) compiler flags to the compiler at the time the operating system and subsequent user application compile time. Other distros pass processor family (e.g. Power or PPC) flags which are more generic and not optimized for a specific processor (e.g. POWER5).

“Gentoo is a key leader in the growing Linux on Power ecosystem,” Charlson said. “With such a high rate and pace of innovation around Linux it is generally difficult to figure out who was “first” at anything, and at any given time, but the Gentoo team is providing its share of technical innovation around optimization.”

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