Tech Industry

Linux gets more business-friendly

A higher-powered, more business-friendly remake of the operating system is almost complete, which Linux founder Linus Torvalds expects to post on Monday.

A higher-powered, more business-friendly remake of the Linux operating system is almost complete, and Linux founder Linus Torvalds expects to post the final version on Monday.

Torvalds told programmers Wednesday that he was taking a few days off before declaring version 2.2.0 of the Linux kernel ready for consumption.

The only thing that can stop the release? "Something Linus would be embarrassed enough about that he would wear a brown paper bag over his head for a month," Torvalds joked.

Torvalds initiated the Linux project, but countless others across the Internet have contributed to the development of the Unix-like operating system, and even Microsoft has taken notice of the advantages of collective programming. Although the Linux community is famed for its decentralized nature, Torvalds still has control over deciding when the next version is polished enough to be released.

The upstart operating system is on a roll lately. It has benefited from a series of moves in recent months by some of the largest companies in the computer industry, feeding the perception that it may provide a serious alternative to the dominant Microsoft Windows franchise.

The new version of the kernel--the core features of the operating system--is able to wring more work out of multiprocessor systems, has more sophisticated features for managing multiple hard disks, and makes setting up protective firewalls easier.

In addition, the new kernel adds support for Silicon Graphics' new Intel-based Visual Workstations, which came out earlier this month.

The new kernel will make Linux more appealing for the business customers, said Drew Spencer, vice president of engineering at Caldera Systems, which distributes a commercial version of Linux.

Corporate users are putting Linux on increasingly powerful machines, and "this kernel facilitates that," Spencer said. He expects people to speed up their efforts investigating Linux on four- and eight-processor systems.

The new kernel will help multiprocessor systems with the computing equivalent of a server's heavy-lifting tasks, such as generating custom Web pages for people, said Michael K. Johnson, a software engineer at Red Hat, another company that distributes Linux.

Linux developers emphasize that Linux is a constant work in progress, though. Watching the kernel version click past 2.2.0 is like watching your car's odometer click past 50,000 miles.

Version 2.2.0 is just a "milestone along the continuum of development," Spencer said.

"Every program has bugs, and I'm sure there are still bugs in this. Get over it--we've done our best," Torvalds posted in his message to the Linux developers mailing list. "Delaying 2.2.0 forever is not an option."

Distributors gear up for change
Linux distributors, which sell bundles of Linux and related software along with installation instructions and other support, are gearing up for the change to 2.2.0.

SuSE's next version of its international distribution is due by the end of January and will be "kernel 2.2-ready," allowing a relatively easy upgrade.

Red Hat declined to comment on the schedule for incorporating the new kernel, but Johnson said the company won't do so until it's well-tested, Johnson said. Caldera expects to incorporate 2.2 in the second quarter of 1999, Spenser said. Both companies say their hard work is just beginning, making sure all the extra software they ship with Linux will work with the new kernel.

What's new with 2.2?
Version 2.2.0 adds several features beyond improved multiprocessor support that make Linux faster and more useful. Among them:

  • Better support for RAID, arrays of hard disks that servers use to protect data and speed disk access. Version 2.2 makes using RAID easier, Johnson said.

  • Better firewalls, the programs that protect internal networks from the outside world. The new kernel makes Linux firewalls more powerful and makes it easier to configure the firewall to do things like filter out messages coming from certain addresses.

  • Faster file access. Version 2.2 can store filenames in a high-speed cache in memory, meaning that users won't have to wait for the computer to retrieve the information off relatively slow hard disks.

  • More hardware support, particularly for high-speed connection equipment such as Fibre Channel and Gigabit Ethernet.

  • Smoother memory management. Users won't notice as much lurching in system speed as the computer moves data between its real memory and the memory overflow on hard disks known as "swap files."