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Testing on tap for new Linux version

Many businesses will opt to wait for commercial Linux distributors to test and subsequently incorporate the new kernel into upcoming products.

Although early adopters are rushing to download the newly minted Linux 2.4 kernel code, companies that sell commercial Linux versions to corporate customers are setting their wheels in motion a bit more slowly.

Linus Torvalds, creator of the open-source operating system, officially blessed and released the final version of the Linux 2.4 kernel on Thursday night. The code is available for download on the Web.

The tech savvy immediately began downloading and compiling the kernel, or core, Linux code, but many retail and corporate customers will opt to wait for the commercial Linux distributors to test and subsequently incorporate the 2.4 kernel in upcoming releases of their products.

Linux 2.4 offers a number of new features, many of which are aimed at making Linux better able to run the kind of data-center applications that typically are available on mainframes, Unix servers, and high-end Windows 2000 systems.

The 2.4 kernel supports systems with up to 16 processors; IA-64, S/390 and SuperH handheld-device chips; and greater levels of physical memory on Intel-based servers, a requirement of many high-end databases and server applications. On the desktop side, Linux 2.4 incorporates support for universal serial bus-friendly consumer devices and 3-D accelerated graphics cards.

Slower and steadier?
While many of the business-oriented features of the 2.4 release are important to the high-end customers of Linux vendor TurboLinux, the company plans to make sure that its forthcoming 2.4-based release will be able to support mission-critical applications, TurboLinux representatives emphasized.

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 64GB of physical memory on Intel-based servers

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

Source: Linux distributors

"We don't have a strategy of having to be the first ones out," said Craig Oda, vice president of product marketing alliances with TurboLinux. "The (2.4) kernel is still undergoing a few (revisions). We're thinking 2.4.5 will likely be the stable one."

A Red Hat manager agreed.

"We need to do a lot of (2.4) testing internally on hardware and software," said Preston Brown, Red Hat's manager of Linux operating system development.

Red Hat representatives said the company is still on track to deliver a version of Red Hat Linux, code-named "Florence," that will incorporate the 2.4 kernel sometime in the first quarter of 2001. Executives noted that Florence has yet to be released to beta testers, however, because the company had to wait for the final version of the 2.4 kernel to proceed.

TurboLinux, for its part, typically releases new versions of its Linux products during the first and third quarters of the year. At this point, the company expects to issue a 2.4-based release by the third quarter, but executives are toying with the idea of an interim release in the second quarter if the 2.4 kernel passes muster.

Corporations leery
Although corporations are increasingly adopting Linux, it remains to be seen how quickly companies will want to move to the newest Linux release.

As Microsoft found with Windows 2000, a number of corporations were leery of moving their established applications and data to a major new revision of its operating system, preferring to wait for the first round of patches and fixes before taking the plunge.

"People may not want to trust their enterprise data right away on 2.4," Turbo's Oda acknowledged. CNET's Linux Center"They might want to wait for individual software vendors to certify their applications on it first."

Turbo representatives said they are confident that the vast majority of existing Linux 2.2 applications would be backward-compatible with Linux 2.4. They said that drivers and other low-level applications, such as firewalls, would need to be updated for maximum performance but that the inclusion of certain programming interfaces by the Linux design team should ensure compatibility of most applications.

While TurboLinux and other companies emphasized that caution should remain the watchword, some of the more tech-savvy systems administrators at large companies might decide that they have waited long enough and that the new 2.4 features are compelling enough to warrant an immediate upgrade.

The final version of Linux 2.4 was released about a year later than originally expected. Torvalds had hoped to deliver 2.4 in fall 1999. But, as was the case with Windows, so-called feature creep affected the product delivery timetable.

Red Hat, as well as many others in the Linux community, claimed the delays were worth the wait.

"The 2.4 kernel has features that will allow Linux to fit between Unix/Solaris and Windows 2000," Brown said.

Staff writer John Spooner contributed to this report.