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Torvalds test-drives new Linux core

Hoping to focus the attention of Linux developers, Linux leader Linus Torvalds releases a preliminary version of the next kernel of the open-source operating system.

Linux development leader Linus Torvalds on Monday released a test version of the next heart of the Linux operating system, version 2.6.

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Even though it's still a test kernel, calling it "2.6" is a signal for programmers to get down to work testing and stamping out bugs rather than experimenting with new ideas, Torvalds said in a posting to the Linux Kernel Mailing List.

"The point of the test versions is to make more people realize that they need testing and get some straggling developers realizing that it's too late to worry about the next big feature," Torvalds said. Two weeks ago, Torvalds forecasted the 2.6 test versions--somewhat later than hoped--and last week released the last member of the 2.5 development lineage.

Torvalds predicted that the delay between the test, or "pre1," and final versions of 2.6.0 would be shorter than with version 2.4, the core of today's Linux products. "One difference is that while 2.4.0 took about seven months from the pre1 to the final release, I hope (and believe) that we have fewer issues facing us in the current 2.6.0," he said.

Torvalds took leave from chipmaker two weeks ago to begin undistracted, full-time work on the Linux kernel at the Open Source Development Labs . Shortly after, he was joined by Andrew Morton, who has been designated as the "maintainer," or overseer, of the 2.6 kernel. The two have been working with industry programmers to set up an orderly transition to the new version.

The less free-wheeling approach reflects Linux's more mature status in the technology business. Linux is now deeply enmeshed in product strategies from most of the computing industry's biggest companies, including all the largest server companies and all large server-software companies except Microsoft.

Torvalds began the Linux project nearly 12 years ago while still a computer science student in Finland. Linux, in combination with a host of programs from the Gnu's Not Unix (GNU) project and several other crucial software efforts, is developed by open-source programmers, who freely share software without the proprietary constraints that dominate companies such as Microsoft or Adobe.

He called on help from Linux companies such as Red Hat and to spread the 2.6 version out into the real world soon so it improves more quickly.

"I'm hoping that Linux vendors will start offering the test kernels as installation alternatives, and do things like make upgrade internal machines, so that when the real 2.6.0 does happen, we're all set," Torvalds said.

Red Hat, for one, hopes to help.

"We...will be putting it into use internally for multiple purposes and on various hardware," the company said in a statement. "We work on making sure that it is possible for users to run 2.6.0-test kernels, and we will be making 2.6.0-test kernels available in RPM format for user testing soon." RPM, or Red Hat Package Manager, is a mechanism for downloading and installing updates.

Red Hat wouldn't say when it will base its products on the 2.6 kernel. But before it makes the transition, it will release "technology preview" versions of 2.6-based products, the company said.

Version 2.6 includes a multitude of changes:

•  It's geared to work better on large multiprocessor systems, particularly those employing the non-uniform memory access (NUMA) designs where there are a range of delays possible when processors read or write data from memory.

•  It's got better support for "embedded" computing devices such as handheld computers, DVD players or printers.

•  It responds more quickly to human actions such as mouse clicks or keyboard commands.

•  Its "block device" drivers, the software modules for communicating with devices such as hard drives and CD drives, have been overhauled.