Linus Torvalds, who started the Linux operating system project in 1991 and is still in charge, said Friday that he's initiating the preliminary versions of the kernel intended for serious "production" use instead of just development of new features.
The preliminary production version of the Linux kernel is arriving a little late. Torvalds said at a Linux conference in February that he would start the production kernel process. In addition, he earlier hoped the new kernel would arrive in late 1999, whereas he now expects it in the summer of 2000.
The new kernel includes a smorgasbord of new features. Among the most significant are better performance on servers with multiple processors and support for a multitude of universal serial bus (USB) devices including Zip drives, scanners, digital cameras and modems.
Delays of operating systems, among the most complex software that runs on a computer, are nothing new. Windows 2000, for example, was delayed several times, and the latest version of Sun Microsystems' Solaris shipped March 13 when Sun had hoped for the end of February.
Linux competes with Windows as well as with Unix, the operating system on which Linux is based. It has made its way into the product lines of the biggest computer manufacturers and increasingly is developed by corporate programmers as well as the traditional host of volunteers. This is possible, because anyone can see the original programming instructions by virtue of the "open-source" nature of Linux.
Because Linux isn't controlled by a company, schedules are more difficult to set and keep. On the other hand, open-source fans argue, it also means there's less pressure to prematurely release bug-ridden software.
Torvalds has acknowledged that open-source programmers are more interested in adding new features than in doing the "boring" work of debugging, but said that the corporate involvement in Linux development is addressing that weakness.
Companies such as Red Hat sell Linux along with technical support and other help. And companies such as VA Linux Systems sell Linux-specific hardware.