The new version of Linux is finally here, in beta form at least. A test version of the much-anticipated version 2.6 of the Linux kernel has been released by Linux's creator, Linus Torvalds.
The release of the new kernel, which is being called 2.6test, means that kernel development will switch focus from feature development to bug testing as the Linux community scrambles to get the final version of Linux 2.6 ready over the next few months.
"The point of the test versions is to make more people realise that they need testing and get some straggling developers realising that it's too late to worry about the next big feature," Torvalds said, in a post to the kernel developers' mailing list.
The release of the test code sends a message to software developers and Linux vendors, according to Joseph Pranevich, a system administrator at Terra Lycos and long-time Linux kernel watcher.
"It says, we're in freeze, we're not making any changes, and pretty much what you see, plus stability, its what you get," Pranevich said. "Now it's time for the people that are interested in developing (applications) to take a look at 2.6 and become acquainted with it."
The 2.6 kernel includes support for Non-Uniform Memory Architecture (NUMA) servers, which means that it is expected to strengthen Linux's appeal as a multiprocessor operating system. It will also include support for embedded processors that do not contain memory management units, such as Motorola's Dragonball and ColdFire processors.
"The concept that you can have, out of the same source tree, something that works on a PalmPilot and something that works on a 64-way NUMA machine is just amazing to me," Pranevich said.
How long the beta phase of Linux 2.6 will last is anybody's guess, but Torvalds expressed optimism that it would be shorter than the seven months it took to finalise Linux 2.4, which was subject to repeated delays.
"I hope [and believe] that we have fewer issues facing us in the current 2.6.0.," he wrote. "But very obviously there are going to be a few test-releases before the real thing."
Other Linux developers shared Torvalds' optimism.
"The core of 2.6test seems to be a lot more solid," kernel developer, Alan Cox, said.
Changes in the way the kernel is managed would also speed up the testing period, Cox said. With this release of the kernel, Torvalds has handed over the management of the test code, something he has historically done himself, to another kernel hacker, Andrew Morton.
"The most important thing is probably that [Linus] is leaving Andrew in charge of such stuff," Cox said.
He expected that Morton would be less inclined than Linux's creator to add new features into the 2.6 code base. "Linus faced with a neat new feature is rather like a small child faced with chocolate," Cox said.
Linux vendors Red Hat and SuSE Linux are now preparing their own Linux 2.6 test kernels to offer to adventurous customers and software vendors who may want to test the new code.
SuSE's test kernels would become available near the beginning of the third quarter of 2003, according to a company spokesperson.
Red Hat's would be available within the month, the company said.
SuSE expected to have an "enterprise-ready" distribution based on the 2.6 kernel available by May or June 2004, the spokesman said.
Red Hat declined to say when it expected to ship its 2.6 version.