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Linux goes to work

Red Hat releases its new version of the operating system today, accompanied by announcements from Dell and IBM.

Red Hat Software released its new version of the Linux operating system today, touting the multiprocessor benefits that come with the core part of the software.

As reported last week, Red Hat 6.0 incorporates the new 2.2.x kernel, developed by a host of Linux programmers worldwide. The chief benefit of the new kernel is better support for multiprocessor machines, Red Hat chief executive Robert Young said when discussing the upgrade.

Along with today's announcement, Dell said it would begin offering Red Hat Linux preinstalled on its business desktop computers beginning in May. Dell already offers Red Hat Linux on some workstation models.

In addition, IBM announced that its ViaVoice voice recognition technology ships with Red Hat 6.0.

Red Hat also has changed its pricing structure. In the past, the software could be downloaded for free or purchased on CD with a manual and some support for a retail price of $50. Now there are two CD versions, said Erik Troan, director of engineering at Red Hat.

The cheaper option, costing $39.95 and available only at Red Hat's Web site, is aimed at experienced Linux users. It comes with two CDs, an installation manual, and no technical support.

The more expensive option, costing $79.95, is aimed at new users and will be the one seen at stores beginning May 10. It comes with three CDs (including one with several Linux applications), 90 days' email support, 30 days telephone support, the installation manual, and a getting-started guide for new users.

Linux has its roots in the Unix operating system, but is growing fast under the formal and informal development efforts of hundreds of programmers. Red Hat, at present the dominant Linux seller, underwrites some of that development because it has a vested interest in keeping the operating system moving ahead, Young said.

Red Hat is the beneficiary of equity investments from Intel, IBM, Compaq Computer, SAP, Novell, Oracle, Dell Computer, and others.

As for Dell, selecting Red Hat costs $20 more than Microsoft Windows NT for comparably configured servers and workstations, but Dell hasn't yet announced pricing details for its upcoming OptiPlex Linux machines, a spokesman said.

Many people, including Young, see Linux as competing with Microsoft's Windows NT. However, at this point, Young said he sees other Linux sellers such as SuSE, Pacific HiTech, Debian, Slackware, and Caldera Systems as allies, not competitors.

"I'm not going to fight over market share in the Linux space. My goal is to compete with Windows NT," Young said last week. "We see all other Linux vendors as allies."

However, as Linux becomes more commonplace in the marketplace, eventually the Linux distributors will be fighting for the same customers, said International Data Corporation analyst Dan Kusnetzky.

Interface choice
Young said that the new version will have an option during installation to select either the KDE or Gnome graphical interfaces atop the Linux system. The Gnome interface will be the default choice, Troan said.

The choice of Gnome or KDE interfaces is significant in light of the fact that Red Hat has been a strong proponent and developer of the Gnome environment. Gnome, part of the Gnu effort, was founded to sidestep concerns that open-source programmers had with proprietary aspects of the Troll Tech graphics libraries KDE used.

However, with Troll Tech's decision to open up licensing with the next version of the libraries, along with the increasing maturity of Gnome, Red Hat decided to offer KDE along with Gnome, Young said.

Troll Tech also helped to write the Lizard Linux installation wizard that Red Hat rival Caldera Systems released two weeks ago as part of its new version of OpenLinux. OpenLinux uses KDE.

The Dell machines using Red Hat Linux will start up with the Gnome interface by default, a Dell spokesman said.

Other improvements
Version 2.2.x of the kernel, originally released in January, shows more "linear" performance improvements than the 2.0.x kernel, Young said. In other words, doubling the number of processors comes closer to doubling the power of the machine.

Troan said the new kernel improves Linux multiprocessor performance during tasks such as executing scripts to deliver custom Web pages, compiling software, or accessing databases. He said the company sees linear performance improvements going up to four processors, but doesn't have data on eight-processor machines.

VA Research, though, a company working with Intel, has been working on adding the software necessary to get Linux working on eight-processor machines using Intel's Profusion chipset.

To better handle different chips and multiprocessor systems, Red Hat Linux 6.0 checks the system and then installs a precompiled kernel for that system. For example, the software comes with different kernels for 486, Pentium-100, Pentium II, and Pentium II dual processor computers.

In addition to the new version, the company released a new version 3.0 of its Red Hat Package Manager, RPM, a software system to ease the process of updating Linux systems, Troan said.

The new RPM has an improved checking method to make sure new software will run, Troan said. In the past, RPM checked each package individually, so that, for example, a problem such as running out of disk space might arise after installing three out of five packages. Now RPM runs compatibility checks beforehand for all the different packages, he said.

RPM also has better macro abilities, making it easier for programmers to write RPM packages, Troan said.

Another improvement is "Kickstart," software with which system administrators can write installation scripts that will make it easier to automate customized installations used on many machines, he said.

The new kernel has better hardware support, too. Adaptec cards are supported out of the box, and Linux can accommodate more video cards and monitors, Troan said.