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At long last: Linux 2.4

Linus Torvalds and the army of programmers who collectively develop the Linux kernel deliver the final release of the long-awaited 2.4 code.

The much-anticipated next version of the core of the Linux operating system is ready at last.

Linux creator Linus Torvalds and the army of programmers who collectively develop the Linux kernel delivered the final release of the long-awaited 2.4 code Thursday. The code is now available for download.

A prerelease version of the kernel was made available to testers on Dec. 31.

Torvalds, in an email sent to a Linux mailing list, said he "decided that enough is enough, and that things don't get better from having the same people test it over and over again. In short, 2.4.0 is out there."

The 2.4 kernel contains several improvements. For desktop use, the most notable improvement is support for the multitude of printers, digital cameras, scanners, keyboards, mice, network cards, modems, Zip drives and other devices that plug into the universal serial bus port.

For server use, the most significant changes are improvements that will let Linux take better advantage of systems with multiple processors--a key feature for spreading Linux into more powerful servers.

What's new in Linux 2.4:

•  Support for three new architectures: IA64 (Itanium), S/390 IBM mainframes and SuperH (chips embedded in many Windows CE handhelds)

• Support for processors faster than 2 GHz (Intel expected to deliver this in the third quarter of 2001; AMD in the first quarter of 2002)

• Better linear symmetric multiprocessing scalability

• Ability to address up to 64 GB of physical memory on Intel-based servers

• Support for USB drivers, 3-D accelerated graphics cards for desktop systems

Source: Linux distributors

Linux 2.4 is running about a year behind schedule.

Torvalds said in June 1999 that Linux 2.4 would be done by last fall. In May 2000, Torvalds acknowledged that 2.4 was likely not to see the light of day until October 2000, since developers were attempting to cram more new, high-end features into the final release. On Oct. 6, at LinuxWorld in Frankfurt, Germany, Torvalds was quoted as saying Linux 2.4 wouldn't be launched until December at the earliest.

Linux distributors have CNET's Linux Centerbeen counting on including the 2.4 kernel in versions of their products starting in the first half of this year.

Red Hat has been planning to make the 2.4 kernel the heart of its next release, code-named Florence, due out in the first quarter. Caldera Systems has been planning to upgrade to the 2.4 kernel for both its eDesktop and eServer Linux releases in the second quarter.

Linux is a clone of the Unix operating system. It competes with Unix variants such as Sun Microsystems' Solaris and with Microsoft's Windows operating system. Unlike those commercial packages, it can be obtained for free and can be freely modified.

Linux burst onto the scene in 1999, when big computer makers adopted it into their product lines. That popularity led to wild successes on the stock market for a few publicly traded Linux companies, enthusiasm that has since waned.