New version of Linux in the pipeline

IDG News Service

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Linus Torvalds wants more battery life from his Sony Corp. Vaio notebook, so naturally, better power management is among the improvements planned for the next version of the Linux kernel. Apparently that is how it goes when you have been anointed "the leader of the free world" by your open-source peers.

In an upbeat keynote speech at the LinuxWorld conference here last week, Torvalds, the creator of Linux, briefed a packed conference center about which technical features will and will not be included in Version 2.4 of the operating system's kernel, which he said will be available by the end of the year.

A kernel is the central component of an operating system and provides the essential services required by other parts of the operating system.

Power management is high on Torvalds' list of improvements for the next release. "I want my Sony Vaio to stay alive a bit longer," he said.

Better support for Universal Serial Bus, which enables multiple peripherals to be connected to a computer without the need to reboot, also will be in the next kernel, along with plug-and-play capabilities, he said. Torvalds also is working on increased support for PC Cards—the credit card-size devices that slip into a notebook to add memory, storage and modem functions.

For servers and workstations, the new kernel will have better support for symmetric multiprocessing, Torvalds said. The current Linux kernel scales comfortably to four- or eight-processor systems, and Version 2.4 will be "much better," he explained. Torvalds did not say exactly how much better, but he implied the improvements will give Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT operating system a run for its money.

"I'm sure our friends in Redmond will try really hard and access our test site and find some problems, but they'll have to work much harder at it," he joked.

Support for clustering and Digital Video Disc (DVD) will not make the cut this time around, Torvalds said."Clustering was another feature we were kind of thinking about, but basically it didn't make it, so we'll aim for that in 3.0 in another year or two," he said.

DVD will not be included any time soon thanks to trade secret restrictions over the information needed to decrypt DVD signals. Users who want DVD in a Linux system can buy a separate hardware decoder or just buy a DVD player, Torvalds said.

Torvalds ultimately is responsible for how the new Linux kernel will look, although much of the work is delegated to colleagues, and the kernel incorporates suggestions from Linux enthusiasts the world over. The kernel underlies the performance capabilities of the Linux releases distributed by Red Hat Software Inc., TurboLinux and others, and so its development is closely watched.

The current Version 2.2 took two-and-a-half years to get out the door, and that was "way too long," Torvalds said. This time, he and his team decided "not to go for the sky" and have focused on enhancing features in the existing kernel and adding a few new capabilities.

Hastening the introduction of the new kernel seems to have come at the expense of a few features that might have benefited Linux for use in high-performance computing systems.

Because Intel Corp.'s 64-bit processor, Merced, is not due out until mid-2000, support for the IA-64 architecture will not be in the initial Version 2.4 kernel.

Also absent will be a journaling file system, which a few developers spoken to after Torvalds' speech said they had hoped for.

The file system keeps track of events in an operating system and can therefore mean faster recovery after a system crash, as well as less data being lost.

The Linux chief followed his remarks with a question-and-answer period. In the laid-back spirit of the open-source community, Torvalds conducted the Q&A with his young daughter draped across one shoulder and his other toddler propped against his legs and tugging on his trousers.

Asked whether the involvement of big corporations such as IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp. with Linux clashed with the community spirit of the open-source movement, Torvalds said he has seen no sign of trouble.

"The commercial people have a different agenda. They support the developers because they love the end result, and the developers just love it when the commercial people hand them wads of money," he said.

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