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Linux improvements should appeal to desktop market

The kernel for version 2.4 could be ready by the fourth quarter, with plans for Firewire and USB support, as well as "plug and play" capability.

A new version of the core Linux software is well under way, improving the upstart operating system's abilities to run on home computers.

The new version will add support for Universal Serial Bus, improve Linux's abilities to use infrared ports, and benefit from a better video system, according to Linux chronicler Joe Pranevich, who has posted a description for discussion at Linux Today.

The new version of the core parts of the Linux operating system, called the kernel, is tentatively scheduled to arrive in the fourth quarter of this year, said Linux Today's Dave Whitinger.

Linux is derived from Unix, which got its start in servers. As such, it competes with Unix, Novell Netware, and Windows NT. However, Linux has a growing popularity in desktop machines, where it competes with Windows, MacOS, and other operating systems aimed at average consumers.

Several companies, including Caldera Systems, the Linux Store, and Corel, are betting that there will be a widespread use of Linux on computers for novices.

Philosophically, Linux and Microsoft Windows are miles apart. While Windows is developed under tight secrecy, Linux is developed openly by hundreds of programmers collaborating through the Internet. Linux is released under Gnu's General Public License, one of the most popular legal frameworks for the shared-development model called open-source programming.

The two operating systems don't just compete for the attention of users. They also compete for the resources of developers, particularly in companies such as video card manufacturers who must decide whether to support another operating system or help the Linux community do it themselves.

Linux comes in two basic versions: the stable version, currently numbered 2.2.x, and the development version, currently numbered 2.3.x, which is where new code is tested. When Linux leader Linus Torvalds and his colleagues consider the 2.3.x developer version to be stable enough, it will become the new 2.4.x stable version.

The new version, 2.4, appears to be developing more quickly than its successor, 2.2, which took more than two years to create. However, Pranevich said, 2.4 will be a less dramatic change than what came with 2.2.

Version 2.2 improved Linux's ability to run on multiprocessor systems and added a number of other features that made it better suited to businesses. While 2.2 was introduced in January, it wasn't incorporated into the leading versions of Linux until April.

Among other consumer-friendly improvements in the new version:
• It lays a better foundation for winmodems, the inexpensive software-dependent modems often found in low-cost computers.
• Support for the IEEE 1394 high-speed interface known as "Firewire" is under way. Two different efforts at adding Firewire support were merged earlier this month.
• The new version will be set up to be able to use the "plug and play" feature that comes with many add-on PC components.

Although Universal Serial Bus support is under way, many USB devices aren't yet supported, Pranevich said.

There also are improvements in the pipeline aimed at business users, including a planned adoption of the XFS file system that SGI plans to contribute to the open-source community.