The FreeBSD Release 5.0 operating system is finally available to the general public. Three years in the making, the OS provides first-time support for Sun Microsystems' Sparc64 and Intel's IA64 platforms.
While some effort had been put into Advanced Micro Device's Hammer architecture, there was presently no usable support for the 64-bit mode of Hammer, FreeBSD engineer, Scott Long, said.
One of the key new features of release 5.0 is the inclusion of fine-grained locking in the kernel, allowing for much higher efficiency of multi-processor systems.
The traditional BSD kernel only allowed a single thread of execution to be in the kernel at one time, regardless of how many CPUs had running threads, Long said.
"If two or more threads need to execute kernel code, only one can get in while the rest tie up their CPU waiting for their turn, " he said. "Fine-grained locking allows this barrier to be lifted and multiple threads to execute at the same time in the kernel, with the arbitration of resources handled in a fine-grained manner."
What this meant, he said, was that "real world" applications such as file and Web servers could scale better as more CPUs were added to the system.
Storage is also tackled. The GEOM storage framework allows for transparent block encryption schemes that lead to encrypted partitions and swap space.
A logical volume manager was in the works, as well as several efforts to integrate software RAID functionality, he said.
Long said the FreeBSD Project was hoping as many people as possible would try the OS. "It's quite usable on the desktop: XFree86-4.2, KDE, Gnome, WindowMaker, and Mozilla are supported out-of-the-box, as are thousands of other applications," he said.
Other technologies now supported include Cardbus, Bluetooth, FireWire and ACPI.
The FreeBSD Project also hopes that people test it out in enterprise scenarios and let the FreeBSD development team know of their successes and failures.
"We encourage enterprise users to try it and give us feedback," Long said, "but it's probably not ready for adoption yet. We are hoping for 5.1 to be released where these people start seriously considering it, and we need their input and feedback now so we can deliver it."
However, he said that it might be best for enterprise to stick with the previous version of the OS, FreeBSD 4.7.
"It is probably a better choice right now," Long said. "As the fine-grained locking improves, this will, hopefully, be less of an issue. There are several performance issues related to this that we have identified and are working on."
Long said the current version took almost three years to release because of the ambition that the project started out. The fine-grained locking effort had required a tremendous amount of work and exposed countless bugs that were hidden by the traditional BSD semantics. The state of the economy also had been a factor.
"People have less free time to work on FreeBSD, and companies are less willing to fund engineers to work on it," he said. "We've been extremely fortunate that companies such as Yahoo, Apple Computer, NAI Labs, and The Weather Channel have been generous enough to employ many of our senior developers to continue their work on FreeBSD."