New Linux kernel out

Just four days after telling the world that a long-delayed upgrade of the Linux operating system’s kernel still wasn’t quite ready for release, Linux creator Linus Torvalds changed his mind and made the code available for downloading last Thursday.

In a message posted on a Web-based mailing list that’s devoted to Linux kernel development, Torvalds said he had “decided that enough is enough” and announced that the Version 2.4 code was being released. “Things don’t get better from having the same people test it over and over again,” he added.

The release of the new kernel for the open source operating system followed quickly on the heels of a New Year’s Eve posting in which Torvalds said Linux 2.4 wouldn’t be finished by the end of December, as he had previously predicted. In that message, Torvalds said there was still “some last-minute stuff that needed fixing” in the kernel.

Torvalds couldn’t be reached via phone or e-mail Thursday for additional comment on why he had changed his mind and released the new kernel, which was originally expected to be out in late 1999. In last night’s posting, he jokingly asked Linux users to refrain from “reporting any bugs for the next few days.”

Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said software developers “can sometimes think that there’s more [work] to do than actually is really needed at the moment.” Torvalds may have been “working with information that was somewhat dated when he said it was going to be a long process,” Kusnetzky said.

But there also was a waiting audience of users and developers that were “clamoring for the new release” because of its promised improvements over the current Linux 2.2 kernel, Kusnetzky said. Before the 2.4 code can be used in corporate applications, though, Linux vendors will have to test the new kernel with their software drivers, installation programs and other products, he added.

Preston Brown, manager of Linux development at Red Hat Inc. in Research Triangle Park, N.C., said the Linux distributor is “thrilled” about the release of the new kernel. “We’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” he said. “We’re happy that it’s happening now rather than six months from now.”

But like Kusnetzky, Brown noted that Red Hat still has to do hardware-compatibility and stress testing, plus other work related to the new kernel, before releasing it to users. “There’s bound to be some lurking bugs in there that will need to be ironed out,” he said.

The 2.4 kernel has been highly anticipated partly because it will offer increased symmetrical multiprocessing scalability, which could be a boon for users who want to run corporate applications on Linux-based servers. The current Linux 2.2 kernel is generally considered to scale well up to only four processors.