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Novell plans major Linux OS update

The No. 2 Linux seller says it will begin selling a new version of its open-source operating system in May, revamped with a new core.

Novell, which became the No. 2 Linux seller by acquiring SuSE Linux, will begin selling a new version of its open-source operating system in May revamped with a new core, the company said Thursday.


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SuSE Linux 9.1 Professional will use the 2.6 kernel, a major overhaul of the Linux core designed to make the operating system more responsive. SuSE's new version, which will cost $59.95, supports the 64-bit extensions to x86 chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, a feature that permits easier access to more than 4GB of memory.

Novell also will sell a $29.95 Personal version, which is geared for first-time users and can be run straight from the CD-ROM for those who want to sample Linux without committing to a full-fledged installation.

Novell announced the new versions on Thursday at the CeBit trade show in Hannover, Germany.

Linux isn't widely used on desktop computers, but SuSE and competitors such as Red Hat hope to change this situation--a goal that threatens Microsoft's stronghold. Meanwhile, hardware companies are beginning to show interest. This week, Hewlett-Packard announced that it is selling Linux PCs in Asia.

Novell's SuSE division also sells Enterprise versions of its OS that change less frequently so that customers and software and hardware partners don't have to continually test and certify new software. The Enterprise server and desktop products are due in late spring or early summer, SuSE said.

Cautious kernel
Linux is widely used on servers, which are higher-end networked computers that run tasks such as e-mail delivery. It's in this area that the 2.6 kernel shows some of its biggest improvements, including support for servers with more processors, more memory and more simultaneous tasks.

Still, Red Hat is taking a more cautious approach to the 2.6 kernel. It's only begun testing its first 2.6-based product and doesn't expect to begin shipping its enterprise version using 2.6 until 2005. It has, however, "backported" some of the 2.6 features to its current 2.4-kernel based Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

In the 2.6 kernel, desktop software also sees improvements--changes that make Linux respond more quickly to user actions such as mouse clicks; the new Advanced Linux Sound Architecture; faster writing of DVD and CDs; and support for the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface technology that controls computer actions such as hibernating or running in power-efficient battery modes.

Novell Professional and Personal products include some of the latest software from the open-source community, including version 2.4.2 of GNOME and version 3.2.1 of KDE. These two user interface packages include basic components for graphical applications, as well as broad suites of supporting software for instant messaging, e-mail, Web browsing, music playing and other tasks. Both versions also include OpenOffice 1.1, a suite that competes with Microsoft Office.